Have you ever had the experience where you wake up feeling OK about your body, but then the negative chatter creeps in, and all of a sudden, your ears stick out too much, your hair isn’t behaving, and nothing seems to look like it should?
Our perception of how we look can change as quickly as our mood. In fact, it might just have more to do with our mood than the facts. Anyone can struggle with negative thoughts about their body, regardless of their body size or shape.
Often people believe that attempting to change their body will improve how they feel about it. However, the real way to create positive change is to be more mindful of the thoughts that you have about your body. As a psychotherapist and individual who has learned how to accept and appreciate my own body, the following are some tips for coping with those dreaded bad body image days.
Pay attention to the thoughts you are having about your body
When you notice that you are starting to feel bad about your body, it’s important to pay attention to the individual thoughts you are having, rather than letting them accumulate and affect your mood. As humans, we have thousands of thoughts per day, but just because we have a thought doesn’t mean that it’s true. The practice of mindfulness helps us to recognize that thoughts (whether positive or negative) are just thoughts. We don’t have to allow them to dictate our every action.
Jennifer Taitz, a psychotherapist, explains, “When we observe our thoughts, we have more perspective than when we’re drowning in our thoughts. If we notice our unhelpful thoughts and choose different actions, e.g., wear that bathing suit when we are tempted to hide in a cover-up that keeps us out of the water, we’re especially free.”
Try to simply observe the thoughts that you are having without judgment. When a negative thought about your body comes up, instead of trying to eliminate it, you can note it as just a thought and let it pass by. Ultimately, the less that you engage with your negative thoughts about your body, the weaker they become.
Ask yourself what else might be bothering you
We have been conditioned as a culture to project our feelings of vulnerability, inadequacy, or failure onto our bodies. Often it is easier to focus on our dislike of our thighs or arms, then to think about how our partner is causing us to feel unworthy and unloved. When you suddenly find yourself flooded with negative thoughts about your body, pay attention to what other stressors might have triggered the onset of negative thinking.
For instance, perhaps you are feeling insecure and nervous about meeting your significant other’s parents for the first time.You might look in the mirror and suddenly be bombarded with critical thoughts about your body. When this happens, it’s important to take a moment to be mindful of what is really triggering the negative body-focused thoughts.
Recognizing that sometimes other stressors in your life trigger your negative body image may help you to address the root cause of your distress.
Make a gratitude list
Gratitude is a powerful tool for shifting your perspective to the positive. When you are struggling with a bad body image day, it can be helpful to make a list of the things that you are thankful for, which your body enables you to do. Some examples of what you might include in your gratitude list are the following:
- I am thankful for my strong legs that enable me to go up and down the stairs all day
- I am grateful for my agile fingers which type so quickly
- I am thankful for my lungs which allow me to breathe
You can also include things in your gratitude list that are entirely unrelated to your body. The more you can work to focus on what you truly have to appreciate, the easier it will become to detach yourself from the voice of your inner critic.
Beating yourself up for feeling badly about your body is a surefire way to make yourself feel even worse. When you are struggling with poor body image, it’s critical that you work to be kind to yourself by practicing positive self-talk and self-care.
Hilary Kinavey, MS, LPC, CDWF, explains, “I try to remind myself that none of us are immune to bad body days.” Anytime Kinavey is feeling down, she turns to her personal mantras to reroute her thoughts to the positive.
The aim of practicing self-compassion is to treat yourself the way you would treat someone that you love. Whether it’s using a mantra, enjoying a bubble bath with a new book, or making yourself a delicious dinner, you deserve to treat yourself with kindness and care. Ultimately, you are not alone in struggling with negative body image. No matter what size or shape your body is, all that matters is that you’re healthy mentally and physically. More importantly, you are so much more than your body. You are the pursuit of your passions, the values you hold, your relationships, and the kindness that you show to others. Sometimes we just have to remember to show that same kindness to ourselves.