Self-care and body image are confusing. Here are a few thoughts on what self-care truly is and how it can help cultivate a peaceful, grateful body image.
Self-care. It’s something I’ve grappled with. And it’s something I’m still working on. Before we get into body image, let’s look at what self-care is.
Underlying my self-care struggles were misconceptions based off the the self-care trend, the craze that zones in on only a sliver of the whole. You know the one: the mandala coloring page, bubble-blowing, manicure-day sliver. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of that.
But it’s not enough. If you stop there, you might come to these same three conclusions I did:
One, I thought self-care was comprised solely of bubble baths and sandalwood vanilla candles. And as much as I love a vanilla candle, how will it really solve life’s problems?
I wrote about coping mechanisms versus working on an issue in this post. The same holds true here. Healthful coping mechanisms, while good things, are not cure-alls. And thus, always falling back on coping mechanisms while not addressing the root issue isn’t really holistic self-care.
Two, I believed that practicing self-care was selfish. Not for other people to practice, but for me.
I know. It’s not true. Is it inherently selfish to eat satisfying foods that nourish your body so you can do the things you want to do–and not be hangry 24/7? Or to take time to process the hard things that come your way? (Hint: the answer is no.)
And three, I didn’t realize neglecting self-care could hurt me and those around me. In reality, it cultivated fertile soil for my plethora of negative body image issues.
Here’s where it all ties in to body image. Acknowledging our need for self-care means acknowledging who we are. We’re humans. Unique, individual humans, but imperfect and limited nonetheless. Likewise, denying our need for self-care sets unrealistic goals for ourselves. Super-human goals, in this case, for how we think our bodies should look or function.
When I struggled with body image issues, I refused to pay attention to a range of needs. Instead, I tried to “manage” myself to perform to my impossible expectations: do the hill sprints running on too little fuel and sleep, drink the kale smoothie when all I wanted was a bagel and schmear of cream cheese, and by no means never, ever eat a snack.
My priorities were skewed. This wasn’t about taking care of myself, this was about pushing myself to fit the mould I adopted from a diet-indoctrinated culture out of my desire to do life all on my own. But. Self-care does not equal restriction.
So what to do? How to shift from micromanaging my body to caring for myself? If I had to condense it down to the three first things, here’s what I’d say:
- Realize the problem. Be able to differentiate between two opposing motivations–fear and love. They give rise to micromanagement or care respectively. Are you eating or moving or writing in your journal because you want to nourish your whole self, or because you’re afraid of what will happen if you don’t? Do you ask yourself, “what will this do for my body?” or “what will this do to my body?”
- Surround yourself with people who care for themselves and for you. I’m grateful to have several role models for this and the word that always comes to mind when I think of them is “graceful.” Not necessarily in the pink leotard, tulle tutu sense; they move through life compassionately and fully.
- Listen. Listen to your emotions, identify what you feel. Cue in to your hunger and fullness cues. What are you hungry for and when? Before you go on that run or do those jump lunges, check in to how your body feels. I know. It’s all a lot harder to implement than it is to write about. I often have to stop myself and make myself practice listening.
After that, real self-care, the kind that actually helps you be YOU, will be easier to implement. The specifics will look different for different people in different circumstances. You know what works for you. If you don’t, try new things!
Sometimes, self-care means vacationing on the coast while you wait for answers, cooking your favorite meal when you need a little tangible comfort, saying no to another commitment when you need rest. Sometimes, it means having the tough conversation, writing the book, or saying yes when you’d really rather curl up in bed with a chick flick. Maybe watercoloring is your stress-be-gone, or maybe it’s playing with your dog.
So how does this help your body image? Once you move from making choices based on fear to choices based on love, your mindset shifts from one of striving to one of gratitude. For example, I used to force myself to run because if I didn’t, I was going to gain x pounds–the worst possible thing that could ever happen to me. Body acceptance was conditional on how I performed–and even when I performed to my liking, feeling comfortable in my own skin was a rare thing. Once I shifted my focus from managing myself to caring for myself, I started running when I wanted to, because I enjoyed it. I appreciate that I’m able move my body and be outdoors. My self-worth is no longer rooted in how I look.
And yours shouldn’t be either. It’s a process. Do the hard work, but give yourself grace and permission to make mistakes. It’s all worth it.
Linking up for Thinking Out Loud!