Poor body image/body dysmorphic disorder, although most often thought of in terms of its mental challenges, also poses many physical challenges, at least, perceived physical challenges (I say ‘perceived’ challenges because, even though the uncomfortable physical sensations that someone struggling with their body image experiences may certainly feel real to them, they aren’t actually real at all, they are simply feelings conjured up by their mind– nothing more than yet another symptom of their poor mental health.) An example of how one’s mind can exasperate their poor body image and turn it into something more physical can be seen whereby, on such a ‘bad body image day’, an individual might wake up feeling ‘bloated’, the feeling of their skin touching their clothes being intensified by 10,000 (i.e.., their clothes supposedly fitting tighter.) This in particular can have severe repercussions on the individual in question, not just repercussions of the emotional variety (they are convinced that they are ‘fat’ and subsequently feel embarrassed and ashamed to be seen out), but also of the practical variety, what with them being of the belief that their clothes no longer fit translating to them, more than likely, getting rid of their clothes and having to spend their hard-earned money buying a size up (something that might be wholly unnecessary if their ‘weight gain’ really is in their head, as is often proven to be the case with body dysmorphia.)
In terms of what having positive body image, the thing which we should all be striving for, actually looks like, it should see us; accepting and appreciating the whole of our body as we embrace the beauty of, not just the way it looks, but also the things that it enables us to do. In essence then, having positive or, at the very least, stable body image should translate to us having a high degree of inner, and outer, positivity. In contrast, having negative body image, the thing which we should all be striving to escape from, often involves those effected; comparing themselves with others and feeling inadequate when doing so, feeling ashamed or embarrassed, lacking confidence, feeling uncomfortable or awkward in their body, and/or seeing parts of their body in a distorted way. In some cases, having negative body image can lead to the development of mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety or, as is more commonly the case, eating disorders.
Now, as for what helps me to manage my own body image, the answer lies in clothes- more specifically, good clothes (with ‘good’, of course, being highly subjective to individuals depending on their taste). For me though, what makes clothing ‘good’ is based on the following three questions- Do I love it? Does it fit me well? Does it make me feel good? If the answer is ‘yes’ to all of those questions then, to me, that’s good clothing right there. And wearing good clothing? It really can make the biggest difference to your body image. Why? Because clothing is just an extension of our body, and we can use it to improve our self-esteem and perception of ourselves, thus improving our overall body image.
In terms of how to choose good clothes then, it’s helpful to keep the following quote in mind: ‘you are what you wear, so wear what you are.’ To revert that quote to more simple terms, the basic point to remember is this: you should buy, and wear, clothes that reflect who you are/who you want to be. Make sure that your wardrobe is full of the colours you love, the styles you love, and the things you love.
To make room for all of the amazing clothes that you’re going to treat yourself to, I encourage you to empty your wardrobe and go through each piece of your existing clothing one by one, asking yourself, in the words of Marie Kondo, ‘does this item bring me joy?’ If it doesn’t (bring you joy, that is), then let it go. Accept that, whilst yes, it did serve you once, it’s time to say goodbye to it now and, if possible, pass it on to someone else who will love it like you once did. Letting go of the things that don’t serve you anymore will make room for you to introduce new things into your life that will serve you.
To find new clothes, you could have a browse online on second-hand sites such as Depop, Vinted and Ebay, or you could head out to your local charity shops to source out some second-hand (and often one-of-a-kind) sustainable finds that are kind to your wallet and, more importantly, kind to the planet (and your body image, of course).
Aside from wearing clothes that empower you/make you feel good about yourself, as discussed above, another way that you can improve your body image, is by practicing ‘positive self-talk’ (for example, looking in the mirror and saying ‘my legs are strong’ rather than, ‘my thighs are fat’). The reason why its important to avoid being harshly critical of yourself is because, the more you stand in front of your mirror criticising yourself and what you look like, the more you chip away at your body image- a self-fulfilling prophecy being very much ‘at play’, as, the more you are told something, even if you are telling yourself it, the more you believe it to be the truth. And so, next time you have an urge to stand in front of your bedroom mirror degrading yourself because; ‘my thighs look massive today’, don’t. Instead, remind yourself of what those thighs allow you to do– those being the things that really matter.
Other methods that can be implemented for improved body image include;
– Avoiding comparing yourself to other people (I know that this is easier said than done, but there are ways to reduce the chances of you doing this- by unfollowing certain people on social media, for example).
– Remembering that beauty is about far more than just what you look like or the size of your jeans, it’s about who you are as a whole person, not just what one specific body part looks like.
– Doing something ‘nice’ for your body, like getting a haircut, shaving, moisturising or, if you’re that way inclined, getting a tattoo.
– Similar to the point above, doing something that makes you feel good about yourself instead of spending all your time unproductively thinking about your body.
– Exercising (but for functional reasons, such as your fitness, not for reasons solely centred around changing your appearance), allowing yourself to do it, not always formally and planned, but informally and unplanned sometimes, too (for example, even just a walk to the shops is exercise, albeit of a lower intensity, but still-its exercise).
So, to conclude this post, I urge you to, please, spend less time thinking about your body, and more time living your life. Do this, and notice an increase in your productivity, and all round happiness. Surround yourself with all the things that bring you joy as a reminder to appreciate how much goodness you have in your life. Listen to the music you love, read the books you love, do the things you love. Just enjoy your life in a state of gratitude for the little things, the things that are in no way whatsoever connected to your body. Do this, and feel free.