The last few weeks, I’ve been feeling out of sorts with my body image - I’ve just been a little uncomfortable for some reason. I’ve been reflecting on my habits to try to pinpoint what’s causing this discomfort. I know that body image is dynamic, but something just had me off. After an incident today and after reading this article from the New York Times, I think I’ve finally nailed it.
It seems like everywhere I turn, I’m hearing people talking negatively about their bodies and themselves. In just the last few weeks, I’ve heard the following language (and keep in mind, these statements may not have been directly to me - but I’ve overheard them from other people):
“It looks so weird when I tuck my shirt in - I’m so fat."
“Those (khaki) pants look great on you. I always think my ass is too big for khakis. Takes a lot of confidence to wear those”
(Eating sweets or candy) “As if I need this…”
“I can't get my picture taken. Look at me, I’m a cow.”
These almost sound ludicrous as I type them, but I’ve heard them coming out of other people’s mouths...and honestly, these statements trigger me. As someone who has done an enormous amount of work to recover from disordered eating and body dysmorphia, I’m instantly brought back to dark times when I hear these statements. I’ve tried to speak up and encourage positivity when I’ve heard comments like this, but it seems like it goes in one ear and out the other.
As women, we can be so self-deprecating that we’re numb to the damage that it’s doing.
We’re so used to being mean to our bodies that we don’t even realize how awful we’re being to ourselves. Even worse: we don’t even realize how this kind of talk affects others. It’s become mindless conversation that’s used to justify every action we take - of course we don’t need that treat, of course we’re ugly and not as pretty as the next girl. Not surprisingly, If you say it enough, you start to believe it. Some of us have indoctrinated self-hatred so far into our belief system that we forget what it’s like to think kindly about ourselves.
When you talk negatively about yourself (both internally and externally), it’s not doing you any good. All it does is further validate any self-loathing you’re harboring and allows it to take up precious head space in your mind. This kind of talk damages you from the inside out, leaving little room for positivity or self- acceptance. It removes the possibility of being kind to your body and allowing yourself to feel content with who you are.
What if instead we extended the same grace to ourselves that we would extend to our friends? What if we allowed ourselves to enjoy a meal without verbally shaming ourselves for it? Imagine a world where your coworker said “I feel strong and happy today,” or “I just had the most bomb cupcake, and it made my day.” Imagine how everyone’s moods might change.
I’m also wildly fascinated with how negative self-talk can change the dynamic in a room. At a minimum, it makes things awkward because usually, people don't know how to respond adequately. It also makes everyone hyper aware of their own flaws and body image, causing them to suddenly start picking apart their appearance. This kind of talk can make others feel judged and uncomfortable. Many times, I’ve heard negative self-talk deflected onto someone else with a statement like “you’re so lucky you are thin/young/(insert adjective here),” or “I wish I had your (insert body part here).” This halts any positive conversation and spreads your negativity to your peers, involving them in it. Just because someone doesn’t have an identical body to you doesn’t mean that they aren’t struggling with anything. We should not assume that others have a perfect self-view and are immune to body discomfort.
I encourage you to practice grace and kindness in the way you talk to yourself. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it can be learned. Start with positive affirmations. Try not to verbalize negative thoughts and give them space in the universe. Practice giving yourself permission to enjoy things (food, rest, etc.) without feeling guilt. Focus on the physical and non-physical things you like about yourself. If it helps, write them down when you wake up. If you see or hear friends/colleagues/family talking negatively about themselves, try to help build them up. Remember, it's also OK to disengage from the conversation if it's triggering your own negative thoughts.
Doing these things doesn’t mean you’ll immediately love your body overnight, and maybe you never will truly love it- but you can move from self-negativity to a place of self-acceptance and body neutrality. Of course these thoughts are likely to still creep in when you don’t want them to (even I suffer from this). However, you have the power to shift your paradigm over time to avoid these feelings, or at a minimum, deal with them in a way that isn’t harmful to your psyche and body image.
You deserve to respect yourself. You deserve to feel love and compassion. Your body deserves it.
If you extend kindness and compassion to everyone else in your life, why shouldn’t you treat yourself the same way? Stop being so mean to yourself - there are a million great things about you that are worth the words you choose to share, both in your mind and with the people in your life.