Got to chatting in an online group about body image. I’m sure this is a mishmash of stuff I’ve posted here before, but in case this would be helpful to anyone else, I’ll post it.
I hear this intimately, ’cause it’s something that’s always been an immensely emotional sticking point for me. I also feel like I’ve rounded a corner in the past six months, maybe just through attrition, but I’m generally feeling better than I had. There’s a lot of talk about body positivity that never really jived with me. It didn’t seem to fit with my more pragmatic paradigm. To be clear, I think it’s amazing that we’re all talking about this and it’s helping people, but it wasn’t working for my subset of issues.
An exercise that really did help was suggested by a friend. It’s very easy when looking in the mirror to make negative statements. “I don’t like the way this looks when I do that”, etc etc. She suggested instead looking in the mirror and making neutral statements whenever I’d have the compulsion to say something negative. “I have eyebrows and a nose” or whatever. Dumb as it sounds, over time this helped push away my innate instinct to find the things that caused me to feel emotional, and replace them with statements that were empirically true.
Gradually I started experimenting by replacing neutral statements with positive ones. “I like the way my nose looks. It’s very proud” or whatever. I want to stress that this wasn’t an immediate impulse, it came over time. As more time passed, I tried doing this more often. “My eyes have really cool colours” etc. Then as even more time passed, I began to focus on these positive things when I looked in the mirror instead of the negative ones. Noticing things that I did like about myself was hugely refreshing. Yet again, this wasn’t a whole-body love thing. I still had lots of bits that felt like tension points in my brain. But it did help me have a more positive association with my reflection.
I don’t even know if that evolution was a necessary level. The neutral paradigm far and away helped so much with self-image on its own. Being able to just look in a mirror and look away without feeling down was massive, and really helped me to navigate the world with my head held a little higher.
Another aspect that helped me to become more courteous towards my body, was starting to create tacit connections between what it could do and how that made me feel. I began mentally acknowledging when my body did something that I appreciated, and keeping this in mind. If I had more endurance than I’d expected, I’d note how thankful I was. If my strength or fine motor control came in handy, I’d reflect on how this made me feel.
I’ve always come from a baseline of just assuming I hate my body and how I look. Ever since childhood, this is the way I taught myself to navigate the world. As I’ve grown up, the importance of my own physical competence has really reared its head. If I can accomplish a task, that does make me feel really great about myself. If I can accomplish a task well, I almost hum with satisfaction. These little notes and personal reminders have helped a ton, because they allow me to feel connected to my body in ways that don’t revolve around weird body image notions that cemented in my brain at age 12.
Feeling connected to my body has been a more recent experience. Coupled with the ability to see positive things in the mirror, it’s very much allowed me to give positive connotations to parts of my body that maybe I wouldn’t like the look of otherwise. Sure, I may not find them aesthetically pleasing, but I do understand how functionally helpful they are. Over time, it’s becoming harder and harder to cognitively tell the difference between something aesthetically pleasing, and something I’m functionally thankful for. In my brain, I think they present the same way. I’m sure the dopamine spike people get when they look good in the mirror is what I get from looking at my very functional body parts. They make me feel good about myself, and I’m pretty I’ve discovered positive body image by any other name.