External Body Image Triggers and Remembering We Have all the Tools
Right around this time last year I felt some familiar pangs of anxiety in my stomach. I knew where they were coming from because I felt the first wave of them when I noticed some guys cleaning out the pool in our building and getting it ready for its grand summer opening. I felt the second pangs a few days later when I saw the calendar and realized what moment of the year it was and that the weather was getting warmer. I felt the third pangs a few days later while scrolling through instagram and seeing the last remnants of my instagram clean up (more on this later), in which someone was getting "bikini body ready".
The biggest pangs came when I remembered what I had been doing to get my "bikini body" ready two years earlier and how I never wanted to be in that place again. So I did what I normally do when I know I can't go back to what I'm triggered to do, but I'm still feeling slightly anxious.
I sat down to write.
What came out was our bikini revolution series. Three posts and podcast episodes (links are below) that ended up being one of the most popular series in our podcast. It was such a huge relief to put what I was feeling on "paper", and share with you all the things that have helped me step out of a space of body shame and feeling the need to alter my body to meet some sort of beauty standard, and step into a place of total love, self care, and realizing that the only thing we need to alter is the culture that we live in, and we do that by saying a loud NO.
This year, as I saw the little pool truck park outside while I was walking the dogs, I felt no anxiety pangs, no stress about the warmer weather approaching, and I instead remembered the amazing fun times we had by the pool and in the lake last year. How it was such a fun thing to just be myself after I recorded our Bikini Revolution. How the fun didn't come because I was feeling confident after spending hours exercising or measuring out my meals and changing my body, the fun came because I was feeling confident just being myself, knowing that so many of you were right there with me after all the letters and stories you sent me.
This year that was all I could remember, the thought of checking to see how my body was doing before summer didn't even cross my mind when I walked past the guys putting chlorine in that pool.
I did however, feel majorly triggered a few weeks later, when someone from our family was talking about their body, how they're planning to change their body and why they're unhappy now because they've gained a bit of weight. This person's trigger was looking at a family photo we had taken, which sent them down this whirlpool of body shame and straight into diet land.
This is a whirlpool I know well, and as much as I tried to give this person a different perspective, they didn't really get it.
I left it at that and went home, and a few days later, after we had been incredibly busy with our top secret project and filming, which meant a bit of a detour from our regular routine, exercise habits and also meant eating in more of a hurry, being extra tired, etc., I felt an all too familiar voice creeping back up.
There was no swimming pool or bikini attached to this voice but it was the very same one.
The voice that tells you you haven't been doing enough.
The voice that tells you you should restrict a bit here or there.
The voice that tells you that that yoga that sounds so good right now doesn't really count as exercise.
The voice that tells you that when your loved ones decide they must start dieting and that their body's aren't ok, makes you wonder if yours is ok.
I had escaped the pool trigger and had run straight into the diet conversation at a party trigger.
The story had a very happy ending just a few hours later though...
Fortunately, I'm so far down this path of self acceptance and a better relationship with food and my body that I noticed it immediately, and instead of saying, "should I...?", what kept answering that voice was an astounding "NO. Nope. NO... you're not getting that. You need something else, what is it?"
"You need something else, what is it?"
When I asked myself this question, and I kept saying no to the request of going back to old ways which is just not happening in my life anymore, two things kept coming up. I noticed I had been triggered by that conversation at the party, AND something occurred to me. It came from that space that I help you develop in this blog and podcast more than any other, and that is your internal guidance system, your intuition, your self soothing voice, your internal wisdom. It said, very softly but loud enough for me to hear: "you already have all the tools".
"You already have all the tools"
As soon as I heard that phrase I knew I was safe.
Safe from the horrible internal banter of "I'm not good enough yet", and safe from going back to old habits that don't serve me anymore.
I was also safe from that external trigger that appeared unexpectedly, and trust me, these will appear no matter what, and are actually little blessings in disguise once we take away their power. These external body image triggers appear because we still have a little more to learn and here's what I learned this time around:
There is no such thing as a straight road ahead with no detours or complications, flat tires or bumpy roads. At least not when it comes to body image
No matter how great we're feeling with our new love or acceptance of our bodies no matter what they look like, there is going to be a day in which we find something that triggers it and moves us a bit off center. There are going to be days in which we didn't like a photo that was taken of us and we're going to feel defeated. There are going to be days in which our jeans are too tight, or someone made a comment at our expense, or we just don't feel like ourselves. This is a part of the path and it's important.
So first rule of the peaceful body image club? Know that moments like these are going to happen and that they're part of the journey.
Since we all have aging bodies that will inevitably change, since life throws us curve balls, since we go through puberty, menopause, pregnancy, stress, grief, death of loved ones, illness, injury, moments of self doubt, moments where things don't go as planned, and all of these can create changes in our bodies, or, make us feel and think that our bodies aren't what we'd like them to be, just as we have practiced self care and self love towards that body we have now, we also need to practice resilience.
In the first session I ever had with the most amazing therapist that truly helped me change my life around and helped me so much, she asked me about my upbringing and later told me that I had a lot of resiliency.
She said that we were going to hold that as our guiding light.
My answer was "what do you mean resiliency?". She told me to imagine a piece of metal. How metal can twist, bend, you can heat it, and shape it, melt it and put it back into a mold. No matter how many scratches or hits it gets, it can always come back to something strong.
I love that analogy. I've kept it in the back of my mind because it's such a beautiful metaphor to remind ourselves of, how no matter how many times we stray, fall, have heartbreak or unexpected challenges, we are resilient and we can come back to ourselves.
That's why that voice came as a welcome surprise: "you already have all the tools".
On that day I felt so triggered, I had been feeling bad because I hadn't been doing my mindfulness practice those past few days, I hadn't been able to move my body because I had had a cold, I had been eating in a hurry because we were so busy. I had taken a moment away from my regular routine (which is always a good thing too from time to time), and I was in this place when that person in my family made a comment about weight and carbs and photos. The comment wasn't about me, and still, it made the old me pop her eyes open because that old version of me LOVES and I mean LOVES a self improvement project. There's nothing wrong with self improvement, in fact, it's what this podcast is all about in a way, but it needs to come from the right place.
Loving ourselves where we are needs to be the jumping off point to making good self care choices, this can't come from the feeling that we need to alter our bodies or that we aren't good enough as we are.
Remembering our tools
Since we've been going through this journey together, I've shared so many of the tools and the resources that have helped me through my journey, and those are ours for the taking and using whenever we are triggered and start feeling negatively about our bodies.
External body image triggers are everywhere, not only in comments made by people about the way you look or the way your body has changed, but even as comments of how other people's bodies have changed, comments at parties of how well or how badly people have aged, whether someone has gained or lost weight, whether someone's body has or hasn't gotten back to their pre-baby weight. All of these can make us feel like we're under the spotlight too.
Add to these occasional triggers the hundreds of permanent triggers that permeate our culture in the form of ads, images on social media, fitspo, fitspiration, the thin ideal, the obsessive quest for perfection in bodies, in food, in eating and in exercise, and it's no wonder that we might have an off day even after months of more positive body image days.
It's a journey.
That journey is going to have its ups and downs in this world we live in, and since it's really hard to just remind yourself to simply get back on the body love train when you've been swinging on the "I have to fix myself" wrecking ball, I have a better idea:
Remind yourself that you have all the tools and that you simply need to get back to them.
So here's a reminder of where you can find them:
- In the reminder that it's normal to have an off day. We all have them and it doesn't mean these feelings are permanent or here to stay, it just means we're human.
- In the celebration of the "uncomfortable". When we feel uncomfortable or triggered with our body image issues, we can try to celebrate the fact that now we not only have a bad body image day, but that we have awareness of the fact that we're having a bad body image day or that we were triggered. This is a HUGE step forward. This means that we now have awareness! That's half the battle right there. Awareness marks the difference between believing the inner negative voice as truth about ourselves, or as a simple thought that will go away with time and practice. With this awareness, now we simply have to remember to get back to our tools and that if we've found healing from these issues before, we can get there again. If it's the first time for you, I'll be sharing where and how you can get started.
- In the reminder that a trigger is just an external piece of information that is simply one of the many cues we get every day. It isn't "truth" or "fact" about our worthiness. A trigger is just something external, and the thoughts that come to us are just thoughts, they are also not truths or facts about us or our worthiness.
- In getting back to your self care routines with love and kindness as the main motivation. That means the routines that make you feel joy in your day to day. For me that's my mindfulness practice, moving my body in a way that feels good (and that way changes quite a lot throughout the year), it means spending time in nature, cooking, reading a good book, spending some calm and quiet time at home with Carlos and the dogs, having fun, seeing my friends, having great conversations with the people who truly get me,
- In journalling. Write out everything and anything that comes to mind. Start with the comment or situation that felt triggering, and keep writing. Write anything that pops into your head. Leave it on the page. Acknowledge that your feelings were hurt if that was the case, feel that and then let it go on the page.
- In connecting with someone who understands why this journey to better body image is important to you. Tell them what happened, do it with someone you trust, and who understands the path you're on.
- In reading one of the many books on self care, intuitive eating or movement, body respect or in listening to the many podcasts on the subject that I recommend through our podcast which are detailed In the series of episodes I'll mention next.
- In re-reading or re-listening to our Bikini Revolution Series and our Body Image Series, the links are below:
Here I give you so many wonderful exercises that help so much, things like the dog love exercise, or the child work mirror exercise, and I introduce you to the dozens of advocates, authors and qualified professionals where you can find help:
- Bikini Revolution Part 1: The stories we tell ourselves and how to change them
- Bikini Revolution Part 2: The pressure to be thin
- Bikini Revolution Part 3: Change what you see - Amazing body image advocates
- Body Image Series Part 1: My rock bottom moment and the tools that helped me climb out
- Body Image Series Part 2: Resilience, self care and body kindness
- Body Image Series Part 3: A different body
- Body Image Series Part 4: Behind the curtain of control
Your tools can also be found once again...
- In giving your social media feed a good scrub, and unfollow any accounts (whether body or beauty related or not) that just don't make you feel good, even if it's someone you know. We need to start shifting our experience in social media since we're spending so much time there, and transform it into true inspiration. True inspiration shouldn't make you feel bad or inadequate afterwards, it should help you value yourself as worthy and capable of creating and doing great things. If you're not feeling happy when you put your phone down, and are instead feeling overwhelmed, competitive or stressed, sad or anxious, something needs to go. Fill it with things that make you smile.
- In remembering that you can improve your body image even when your body hasn't gone through any physical changes, and in remembering that changes in your body image can make such a difference in your wellness, in your self care and in your life.
- In letting go of the importance we give to the opinions of others, not only because of the external triggers we sometimes face, but because of the impact it has on our own well being and body image. So many times our negative body image stems not from our own personal opinions of our own bodies, but from a fear we have that we will not be loved, that we won't be accepted or that people will think less of us or will think that we aren't perfect. It's time to let these go. The people who love us, and I mean truly love us, love us no matter what. In fact, the people who love us are probably not seeing us through the lens we think they're seeing us through. We so often project our insecurities on others giving them even more power because that translates into a lack of approval or acceptance. Start this practice of letting go of the importance you give to the opinions of others, so you can start turning that gaze inwards, and looking for what you truly need when it comes to your emotional and physical well being.
- Your tools can also be found in asking yourself this question: "what would I be doing now if I was already fully content and happy with my body?". Would you be moving your body outside more? Would you be doing a different type of exercise that you truly love? Would you take a break or go on vacation? Would you travel more? Buy clothes that actually feel comfortable and toss the clothes in your closet that make you feel bad? Would you socialize more? Have more fun? More sex? More delicious food? See friends? Get a massage? Start a business? Follow your passion?Whatever it is, know that you can do that now and start living the life you want regardless of the size of your body.
- In taking a moment to feel grateful. Few things are as powerful as taking a little tally of all the blessings in our lives. Not having the perfect six pack will pale in comparison and you'll get an instant boost.
- In remembering that self care isn't synonymous with punishment, pain (as in no pain no gain), perfection, pure diets or spartan fitness challenges. Proper self care has nothing to do with the way our body looks, and it's there for you, in whatever way you can incorporate it, and in whatever way is within your means and possibilities. Self care means you treat yourself with kindness, and that means beginning any habit change, or making any decisions starting from a place of self love, instead of control or the desire to change your body or your weight.
- In remembering that you are not alone on this journey. I'm here, our other readers and listeners are here, send me your story, get support in the comments, get support in the many online communities of people who are on this journey too. You always have a place here for a little hand holding.
These are just to name a few, the episodes mentioned above have countless, and I mean countless tools, practices and exercises, that you can get back into right now if you've forgotten about them and need a little reminder.
It's not in the absence of steps back that we conquer our body image issues, it's in the realization that this is an ongoing journey, one that needs little reminders along the way that you indeed have all the tools to help you get through, when you've stumbled a bit.