Breaking the Body Shame Cycle: A practical and philosophical guide to feeling good in your skin

Full confession: I changed my clothes 12 times before work on Friday morning. Twelve. And it’s not because I don’t have anything to wear.

It was because I felt fat. Again.

You’d think after a lifetime of wrestling with this issue I’d be able to kick myself out of these fits of dysmorphia before they start and be happy with the body I have. But… it’s wet and muddy early spring. End of trimester and final exams are stressful. If you’re like me, times of stress often lure us back into our worst habits.

Feeling good about your body is a major step in creating an easy, effortless wardrobe. You will never feel comfortable in your clothes if you don’t feel comfortable in your skin. I have written about this in the past, (Love and Appreciate Your Body ) but if all you need is a later-winter body-confidence pick-me-up, read on for some practical and philosophical advice on loving yourself at winter’s end.

Set a fitness goal that has nothing to do with wearing a bikini

“Get your body bikini ready!” the media has been screaming from all angles, spraying us down with photo-shopped pictures of women who have somehow become tan in the dead of winter. I’m sorry, media, but how did wearing a bikini become a goal? Any one can put on a bikini. Even the president, were he so inclined.

Fitness, on the other hand, is a fantastic goal. When you decide to push your body, push it in the right direction. Maybe you want to try a half-marathon, or learn to play tennis, or ride the recumbent bike a little bit longer and faster. These are sound goals. Attempting to make your body into some media-fed myth by deprivation and exhaustion is insane.

My goal this year is to become a stronger lead-climber. In order to do this, I will need to lift weights, build up my core muscles, hang from my fingertips in the breezeway of our home, and spend a lot of time climbing. If I am successful, I will be more fit than I am now. But I won’t be any more tan or photo-shopped than normal. And I certainly won’t be wearing a bikini. Those things are ridiculous, they fall off if you so much as move! One jump into the river and you’re flashing the fish. No thank you.

I’ll just be here, getting my fingers bikini ready for the summer.

Use your body for something it’s good at

In the throes of self-hatred, flip the switch by doing something your body does well. Whether it’s yoga, going for a hike, riding a bike, or dancing in the kitchen. Allow your body to show off a little, and appreciate its ability.

I’ll never forget watching my friend Janet pull a weighted sled during a Tabata workout. A grandma, with a lot more fully-lived life behind her than anyone else in the room, Janet casually grabbed a hold of the rope and set her face in determination. While the rest of us were sweating and grunting as we attempted to make that thing budge, Janet just reeled it in hand over hand. Do something you’re good at, and if a room full of younger women happen to be watching, so much the better.

I’m pretty good at playing with my goat.

Find a better mirror

Basic mirror facts: The larger the mirror, the smaller you look. Overhead lighting makes you look larger, lighting on either side of the mirror makes you look smaller. Cheap mirrors can distort your image based on the weather.

Thus, the little sliver of a cheap mirror you picked up for $10 at Target and stashed in you overhead-lit closet makes you look your absolute worst.

Stores have figured this out, of course. So if you need a quick, body-confidence pick-me-up, stop by a clothing store known for having great mirrors. In Eugene, Talbots, WHBL, and TJ Maxx have great mirrors. Just don’t let them fool you into buying clothes you don’t need!

I have no intention of buying anything. I just want to enjoy the big, well-lit mirror.

Choose self-care over self –indulgence

When I am struck by an attack of dysmorphia, I start by taking a day to treat my body well. Then I do it again the next day. Healthy breakfast, endorphin producing work out, calm, leisurely lunch, time outside, ensure a good night sleep by avoiding screens, alcohol and caffeine in the evenings.

So often when we feel bad about ourselves, we dull our discomfort with food, alcohol and distraction. Honestly, when I don’t feel great, I don’t want to go outside. I want to go to Pinterest. But treating our bodies poorly to distract ourselves from the fact that we are unhappy with our bodies is a vicious cycle. If I just drink a glass of wine, I haven’t gotten to the root of the problem, which in my case is almost always school stress. On the other hand, if I take a walk, I can let my mind unravel the problems of the day, and soak in some feel-good vitamin D while I’m at it.*

I didn’t want to go for a walk, but after 10 minutes of fresh air I’ve revamped a failed lesson plan AND set off a few endorphins.

Don’t buy anything new**

Body-shame shopping will derail all your goals for an easy, effortless wardrobe. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve blown money in early spring on clothes that were completely inappropriate for my life, simply because they made me look a little thinner. Plan your wardrobe thoughtfully, and buy what you need, but don’t go shopping out of a sense of unhappiness with your body, or anything else for that matter.

Don’t let this happen to you.

Do not, under any circumstances, cut off all your hair

You are free to cut all your hair off at any other time of year, but not early spring. When you are feeling down on yourself for any reason, a major haircut will not cure your blues. If you feel like cutting all your hair off, message me and I will convince you to keep it until May. At that point feel free to go pixie at anytime.

My face, when you tell me you want to cut off all your hair in March.

To everything there is a season

In March, I am pasty-skinned, a few pounds heavier than normal, and pretty tired. By then end of August, I will be tan, rested and a few pounds lighter. That’s just being a human.

Weird outfit, covered in dust, bad hair and no bath for four days? There’s no end to my confidence in August.

As the sun comes out and the days lengthen, I will plant my garden. I’ll walk up and down the hill to grab the first leaves of lettuce, then be hauling armloads of veggies up to the house. I’ll walk up to the neighbor’s more often, and down to the river. And by mid-July I’ll find I feel pretty good about my body. Then fall will blow in, with the excitement of a new school year. I can wear my boots again! All the leaves will drop off the trees in one week. I’ll look forward to holidays and make a hundred delicious choices to eat rich, wonderful foods through December. The rain will come, there will be beef stew with lots of potatoes, and full Saturdays cozied up before the fire with good books to read. Suddenly it’s March, and students turn in late work with desperate pleas for mercy and I will feel frazzled and unable to keep up with my job. I’ll have gained a few pounds and gotten kinda pale, and probably have to deal with a few more dysmorphic episodes. Then I will plant another garden. All the time I will still be me, rocking the same denim jacket and the same size pants, and the only thing I have to change is my attitude.


Does this sport make my butt look big? And does anyone really care?

*OK, there’s actually no Vitamin D to be had this winter in Oregon, but there could be elsewhere in the country.

** Yes, you are sick of all your winter clothes by now, I understand. But it is still pretty cold out, and no amount of shopping is going to change that fact.

*** My face, when you tell me you’re cutting all your hair off in October

One thought on “Breaking the Body Shame Cycle: A practical and philosophical guide to feeling good in your skin

  1. Beautifully written and oh so true. I’ve learned over and over again, as stress comes it’s easy to let one thing go, like something as important as adequate sleep. Times like these I reevaluate and go back to the basics: Am I sleeping 7-8 hours? Choosing nutritious foods? Working out? Taking breaks when I am feeling unproductive instead of just trying to work through it and get more frustrated? These things allow me to feel comfortable in my own skin and change my attitude for the better. But of course, there are always these seasons of life where it seems to come easier than others. Thank you for the great incite!

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