A while back, I shared a bit about my inner struggles with insecurity in relation to my appearance. The way we view ourselves, particularly our bodies, can have a tremendous impact on the way we interact with the world. When you’re not comfortable in your own skin, it’s easy to cut yourself off from joy. You shield yourself. You act from a sense of fear and self-preservation. You fill yourself with doubt.
In short, it’s not a good place to be.
The root of these insecurities is a lack of confidence, a feeling of not being good enough as is. Of course, this can come from many places. From the cruel words of others, from the unrealistic expectations set by the media, from the way we talk about beauty as a culture. Regardless of how you came to have this struggle, I want you to know you are not alone. You are not shallow. You are a human having a human experience.
It has taken me a long time and an incredible amount of work to get to a place where I feel good about myself. A lot of the techniques I’ve used, such as implementing a solid self-care routine, have already been shared on this blog. Today, I would like to share some of the exercises I have found most helpful in dealing with body image specifically.
The Lotion Ritual.
This is the single most helpful trick I’ve ever learned. After reading countless articles suggesting that you spend time in the mirror looking for things you like and even more articles focusing on saying loving things to yourself, I developed my own little routine that I built into my day.
Every morning, before you get dressed, whether it’s a shower day or not, stand naked in front of your mirror. Look at yourself, tell yourself you’re beautiful, even if you don’t feel that way at the moment. Grab your lotion, I don’t care if it’s something fancy and scented or plain old Lubriderm, and slowly apply it, starting with your legs and working your way up. Massage it in and tell each part of your body that you love it and thank it for what it does for you. Thank your legs for carrying you around. Thank your butt for giving you a place to sit. Thank your tummy for holding in your guts or for carrying children. You get the idea. As you notice things you find beautiful, make note of it.
Once you get to your face, grab a suitable moisturizer and do the same. Focus on sending thoughts of love and beauty to yourself. It will feel silly at first, but I guarantee that over time it will become a powerful tool. You’ll start to appreciate the things that make you, you. You’ll find more things to love about your form. Those negative judgements will start to decline. You’ll stop thinking of yourself in parts and begin to see yourself as one cohesive being that is worthy of love. As an added bonus, you get super soft skin, and who doesn’t love that?
Focus on health rather than size or shape.
Too often I hear the criticism that body positivity and the act of accepting your body as is means throwing in the towel and “letting yourself go”. First of all, I hate that phrase “letting yourself go”. I also hate the idea of women being cruel to themselves because they don’t look exactly like someone else. The problem is, when you’re focusing so hard on what you don’t like about yourself, you take away your will-power to change the things that you can control. When you don’t love yourself, you don’t have the inclination to take care of your body. You treat yourself the way you feel you deserve to be treated.
Instead of striving for a perfect body, strive to treat yourself well. Drink more water. Eat better food, without denying yourself the pleasure of indulgent treats from time to time. Work out because you want to keep your body strong, not to fit into some narrow definition of the perfect body. Love your body as it is at each step of the journey. Remember that even if you were the fittest you could possibly be, there are somethings that cannot be changed without drastic surgery. It’s just genetics. Those differences are what make us uniquely beautiful.
Challenge your perceptions by replacing negative thoughts with positive ones.
Instead of focusing on something you hate (say, your thighs), focus on something you love (perhaps your shapely hips). Try to reframe the way you view your “flaws”. Those stretch marks are physical markers of your strength and resilience. Your thick thighs prevent your lover from developing bruises during intimacy. If you stop to think about it, you can find something good about anything.
Whenever you catch yourself thinking one of the myriad of negative thoughts that can sneak up on us, immediately say to yourself, “that’s not very kind, I’m sorry” and then replace it with a positive. It takes time but you can retrain your brain to focus on healthier self-talk.
Appreciate beauty in other women.
This one can be especially difficult. Forget what you’ve been told is beautiful and really look at people. Whether they are on TV or in a magazine, or a person standing right in front of you, take them in. What do you think is beautiful about them? What makes them unique? Maybe you’ll find something in them that is similar to yourself and gain a greater appreciation for what you have. Maybe you’ll simply broaden your sense of how diverse people really are and challenge the narrow conception of beauty we have all been programmed with.
Of course, there will be times when jealousy arises. When this happens, notice the feeling and then tell it to get lost. Remind yourself that a sunset and a flower are both beautiful, and they look nothing alike. Take a minute to think about your own body and what you like about it. Although I hate to give advice that furthers comparative thinking, it can be helpful to find a way to compare yourself favorably. Maybe you wish you had her breasts, but she may wish she had your eyes. Remember it’s all about perspective!
Focus on being present and truly experiencing life.
Slow down and really taste your food. Light some candles and inhale the scents deeply. Really feel the textures in everything that comes into contact with your skin. Indulge your senses! Notice what things make you feel good and what don’t, and strive to bring more of those good feelings into your life. Do the things that fill you with joy and confidence…and share them with others! The more you allow yourself to be present in your body and allow your body to serve you as an instrument of experience, the more you begin to appreciate all that it is capable of. This in turn helps you feel more comfortable in your skin, which then helps you feel more confident. And confidence is the sexiest thing a person can wear.
Learning to love your body won’t happen overnight. You will face setbacks. You just have to keep your eye on the prize, be gentle with yourself, and get yourself right back on the horse. Be intentional with your practice and celebrate your growth. Encourage the women around you to overcome their insecurities as well. Give them sincere compliments. Share the tips and tricks that have helped you. And most of all, enjoy the process.