Combating the Body Image Blahs

posted by 
Naomi Finkelstein
  /  
September 5, 2018

A few weeks ago, I found myself in the middle of a bad bout of the Body Image Blahs.

My body was the first thing I was thinking about when I woke up in the morning, and it wasn’t a good thing and it wasn’t a neutral thing. It was like, “Ugh, I didn’t take care of my body well yesterday and I’m probably not going to take care of it well today, and it SHOWS.” I was waking up sad and I was having a hard time getting myself out of bed to stop the negative self-talk.

Why? The week prior, I’d had a triple whammy of challenges come my way: two instances of coming across old videos of my thinner self, and one instance of seeing a recent picture of myself from a wedding that was a shock to the senses, to say the least. Unfortunately, working for The Body Positive doesn’t make me immune to the Body Image Blahs.

The forced comparison between my former and current bodies sent me spiraling into a vortex of self-loathing. It made self-care difficult.

Photo: Michael Paras                                                    Photo: Shawnee Custalow

In the past, this sort of experience would have been the catalyst for a diet or a cleanse. “Enough is enough!” I would have said, “Stop the insanity!” and I would have started pouring all of my energy into focusing on what I was and wasn’t eating, and spending all of my free time exercising. This was an old, destructive pattern of mine: 1) Feel bad about self 2) Try to fix life by focusing all efforts towards losing weight 3) Lose weight 4) Go back to regular, full life 5)  Gain weight back 6) Fall back into self-loathing 5) Rinse, Repeat.

It’s been especially hard not to fall back into this pattern in recent years because I’ve gained a lot of weight. You can read more about that here.

But one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my 35 years is that pursuing weight loss ends badly for me. And I no longer subscribe to the idea that it’s my fault or that I just haven’t found the right formula yet. Once I learned about the famine response and Health At Every Size from The Body Positive back in 2014, my history suddenly made sense to me and my path forward seemed clear: 

If I was interested in long-term and sustainable health, I needed to work on trusting and respecting my body.

So what could I do, if I wasn’t starting another diet? Well, I tried a few things:

1. I turned to my fat community, first in the form of a group text: “Help! Obsessively comparing current body to former body. Send reinforcements.” And the amazing community that I’ve helped build showed up to reflect my beauty back to me.

2. I turned to a friend who loves fat women. I shared both pictures. He reframed everything in a way that allowed me to see things very differently. “Your face has filled out beautifully, you look so feminine. Your arms look incredibly strong. Your belt accentuates every inch of your beautiful belly. More than anything, your aura just shines through.” I wept at these words, and saw the picture transform before my eyes.

3. I saw a gorgeous picture of a woman who was built like me and I recognized HER beauty, which reminded me that beauty isn’t about having a small waist or a defined jawline.

4. On a trip to the beach with my fat friends, I pushed myself to get in front of the camera in my bikini.

Photo: Autumn Duarte

And then I played in the waves. I let them toss and caress me. I dove under and into them. Each time I emerged with frantic aliveness, a euphoric, involuntary yelp escaping from my throat as I recovered and braced myself for the next ride. My whole body buzzed with delight; the pleasure of engaging my muscles to anchor myself at times, to jump and dive at others; the utter bliss when I’d let a wave have its way with me, surrendering to the incredible natural force of the planet. The ocean was more than cold, moving water; it was a friend enveloping me, playing with me, accepting me. 

It was there to remind me that I belong, that I’m not too big, and that my body is a vessel for pleasure and wonder.

It worked. The Body Image Blahs have passed and I’ve escaped unscathed, setting my intention on pleasure. Baths and body lotion, gentle yoga and exercise with my headphones in so I can tune out the world around me and enjoy the beating of my heart and the motion of my limbs. I’m focusing on the place on my lower back where the flesh sometimes creases and meets itself, rejecting my first instinct to judge it, and instead finding comfort in the warmth and intimacy it creates. I’m spending time and energy to create delicious meals that nourish my body and my spirit.

And in the mornings, I wake up and roll over, flipping and hugging my pillow, a sigh of contentment escaping my throat as the cool fabric of the pillowcase hits my cheek. And I remember that I have the distinct pleasure of spending another day fulfilling my purpose and enjoying this precious life in my beautiful, miraculous body.

Photo: Valerie Sagun

Want to work with Naomi? Join her on Sunday, October 14th for a daylong workshop, Abundance: Body Positivity, Yoga, and Art for People in Large Bodies. Please email info@thebodypositive.org with questions.

Naomi Finkelstein
Naomi is a Chicago-raised, Berkeley-based Jill-of-all-trades. She has over a decade of experience working in education and has worked professionally as an actor, writer, yoga instructor, and artist. She has been working with The Body Positive since 2014 and is also a wellness coach, with a passion for working with people in large bodies who want to pursue wellness on their own terms, without the pressure of weight loss. You can learn more about her at www.naomifinkelstein.com.
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