Anatomy of a Bad Body Week

This day was the beginning of my bad body week. No idea why – looks harmless now!

I’m committed to a non-diet life, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have bad body days that turn into bad body weeks.

I’d been enjoying my time in Vivienne McMaster’s Be Your Own Beloved class. I was enjoying the challenge of taking a lot of selfies, even if they weren’t what I would have considered “flattering” or “attractive.” I felt I was really getting the hang of this compassion-for-myself business!

Then one day I took several photos for the prompt that day – we are encouraged to take many, many photos – and for some reason…it just set me off. The outfit I was wearing – something I thought looked super cute in the morning – was all wrong. My inner critic came leaping out of hibernation with all sorts of insults for my body, my face, my hair, my very soul, and for reasons I’ll get to, I was ripe for the picking.

I felt down for the rest of the day. I woke up the next morning with residual bad body feelings. I was also going through a period of fatigue (a theme of my life that I’ve learned to respect with rest). I felt like there was no one I could talk to about these feelings, because even if someone else knows the pain of bad body days, it’s hard to understand how other people have them. “You look great!” someone might console. I don’t know why, but that’s just not helpful at all; I know my bad body day is not rational and that others are not seeing what I see. A compliment at that moment just feels dismissive of all the dark feelings. I shared my thoughts with my partner and he was supportive and loving as always, but it’s still hard not to feel alone in these times.

But here’s what I knew, after so many years of experience: bad body days aren’t forever. And for me, they aren’t really about my body. At the same time, I also developed acid reflux and stomach distension that are classic symptoms of stress for me. So I started to think…what am I really bothered about? And I didn’t have to dig far to know that I’ve been a little stressed out with starting my business and dealing with the less fun administrative tasks. I’ve long known that I feel stress somatically, that even as my mind remains calm, my body sends me a multitude of distress signals. My body becomes, then, an easy target when the mental distress finally mounts.

What do I do when I finally realize I’m in the middle of a bad-body jag? It becomes all about self care. For me, that means getting lots of sleep and doing things like reading something fun and relaxing, eating familiar foods, and mindless TV watching or game-playing on my phone. And last week, it also included binge-listening to Julie Duffy Dillon’s fabulous podcast, Love, Food (specifically episodes 25, 26 and 28). Hearing that I wasn’t actually alone in these uncharitable thoughts about my body, that there were others dealing with these thoughts every single day, all over the place, was comforting.

In a culture that actively promotes body hate for profit – especially for women – and as someone who was a victim of this culture for 40 years before realizing it was total bullshit, it is unrealistic to think I’m going to feel great about my body every day. Frankly, I don’t even think it’s necessary to feel fantastic about the way our bodies look every day – that’s something that takes up a lot of mental space I no longer have room for. Feeling good IN my body is much more important to me, and that’s what I strive for now.

Soon enough, my bad body week ended. This week I’m back to being just fine with my body. I didn’t need to go on a diet to cure my bad feelings; I just had to sit with them for a while and be good to myself.

By the way, the photo that undid me is the one that accompanies this post. I look at it now and think there’s nothing wrong with this person in this photo. Some people in our photo group even liked it. In the end, it was all about what I really needed (self-care, compassion), and had nothing to do with how I looked.

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14 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Bad Body Week

  1. Siobhan Curious August 2, 2016 / 12:46 pm

    Thank you so much for this. I’m just beginning my journey with the non-diet mentality, and I have bad body days frequently. Today I was having a good body day until I realized that my new bra was a tiny bit tight – and from there I spun out of orbit. Yesterday I made the mistake of stepping on the scale for the first time in months, and my morning was ruined until I made a decision to spend the rest of the day doing something I really wanted to do ( it turned out that I wanted to spend the afternoon baking bread and preparing an elaborate and very tasty dinner!) I like your observation that “I didn’t need to go on a diet to cure my bad feelings; I just had to sit with them for a while and be good to myself.” After 46 years of being told, and telling myself, that my body is a problem that needs to be fixed, it’s not likely I’m going to cast off those thoughts all at once! I’m going to take a nap and play some Candy Crush, and maybe later I’ll feel like doing some yoga and fully inhabiting my body. Or maybe I’ll watch five straight hours of Netflix. Whatever makes me feel cared for.

    • GlenysO August 2, 2016 / 5:30 pm

      Yes! Siobhan, it’s so wonderful that you’re having these realizations so early in your non-diet journey! I also have some bras that send me down that rabbit hole…I’m forgoing them more often than not these days in this horrible heat! LOL

  2. Victoria August 2, 2016 / 3:10 pm

    I really like this post 😊 I recently experienced a few bad body days and could feel my inner critic tempting me with diet thoughts even though it is a futile endeavour nowadays. One thing I’ve found that really helps me is to read up factual articles (such as your own) about weight set point and the metabolic dangers associated with dieting. Also, reading loads of bopo blogs and scrolling through lots of body positive instagram accounts helps too 😊

    • GlenysO August 2, 2016 / 5:31 pm

      Those are exactly the things to do – surround yourself with bopo and non-diet goodness. Have you read Traci Mann’s book? That is some serious science around weight regulation. Really affirms what we in the HAES community are doing.

  3. workingtowardswell August 2, 2016 / 7:54 pm

    This post totally speaks to me! The last couple of weeks have been especially rough as far as my body image but I know I just need to stick it out. At one point or another during my eating disorder recovery, I had a realization about each of the things you brought up in this post so I love seeing them all written out in an organized manner. It stands as a nice reminder that others are going through the same thing but we can get through it. Thanks for posting!

  4. Grab the Lapels August 3, 2016 / 11:48 am

    When I saw the picture, I thought you were on vacation in a beautiful setting and having the time of your life. I was jealous. Then I read the post and felt a little sad for you.

    I started thinking about how the new school year is rapidly approaching, how 80 freshmen in college will be in my care, hoping to unravel the mysteries of writing during three hours each week. I know I will have a massive panic attack the first day when I try to dress myself, despite having picked out the outfit the night before.

    The first day of school outfit is actually quite important; if a teacher is too relaxed, students settle their behavior and expectations at an undesirably low bar, making it easy for them to feel little to no respect for the teacher as things fall apart. It’s worse for women and younger people. Men can get away with jeans and their favorite Hawaiian shirt and be respected, as I’ve seen at a few institutions.

    But if you start on day one very strictly and dress like the most professional of professionals, students are a bit intimidated (in a healthy way) and understand that you have expectations and mean business. It’s then easier to lower the strictness bit by bit (but NEVER the other way around; that’s nearly impossible). All this from one outfit.

    So, as I stand up there and teach, I know that I will, like all 18 semesters before, sweat… Sweat in a way that I feel it running down the curve in the middle of my back. I will wish I had an industrial grade fan in a room that isn’t all that warm.

    Before I even get to school, I will be unable to choose a pair of shoes. I will put on the outfit I chose and change it — again and again, which also means changing into the correct matching undergarments, hosiery, etc, which makes me get sweaty and my hair frizzier and frizzier. I’ll get into class and ramble a bit, wondering why I must read the syllabus aloud when my students surely can read. I try to add extra notes to make the syllabus more meaningful, such as pointing out places of extreme importance. But they won’t take note, because they don’t know they’re supposed to.

    And I will come home feeling like the worst body ever.

    • Siobhan Curious August 3, 2016 / 12:52 pm

      Oh, I so get this! I’m also a college teacher and, having put on ten pounds over the summer, I am rebuilding my first-weeks-of-school wardrobe very carefully. I can’t help but resent the fact that I really want to look like Katherine Hepburn in a button-up shirt and chic blazer, but instead have to settle on something that will stretch, not gape, and somehow turn my lumpy-hourglass figure into something tidy, professional-looking and desexualized. Loving my body while preparing to present myself in front of a classroom is one of my greatest challenges.

      • Grab the Lapels August 3, 2016 / 1:00 pm

        I’m not even so much worried about the shape of my body (you mention your “lumpy-hourglass figure”) so much as does it all come together to look authoritative. It’s harder to look authoritative when you are fat, but once that first day is over, I’m fine again.

        • GlenysO August 3, 2016 / 1:24 pm

          One thing I’ve been exploring lately is this idea of “female empowerment” vs having actual power. And I think, if we can’t just chose the clothes we want and still expect that at the head of the class we will have authority that is due to the head of the class, then we still don’t have any power. I guess what I’m thinking is, will the clothing make that much difference? Is there a different way to exercise your authority to the students while getting to honor the clothes that would make you feel happiest and most comfortable? I know it’s a tough question and sometimes we are trapped into these double standards whether we want to be or not. Smash the patriarchy!

          PS – I’d love to know what Virgie Tovar thinks on this issue and how she deals with this. She teaches and she’s got a wild, wonderful wardrobe.

        • Siobhan Curious August 3, 2016 / 1:34 pm

          This is definitely a feminist issue, but a male colleague of mine (white, middle-aged) also recently decided to wear suits in the classroom instead of jeans because he found the difference in the way students responded to him to be remarkable. I think it’s particularly an issue when dealing with young adults (first-year college students, for example), some of whom are struggling with and challenging the boundaries of authority. Clothes are not everything, but I think they have an impact, and the impact for women is disproportionately large.

        • Grab the Lapels August 3, 2016 / 4:48 pm

          The clothes thing is advice I’ve received from graduate advisors about classroom management rather than a personal idea. It’s proven true, to be honest. I’d give several examples if I weren’t typing on a cell phone.

        • GlenysO August 3, 2016 / 4:58 pm

          Oh I believe it 100%, it just sucks that it’s still very rooted in sexism. As you said before, it matters more for women than it does for men. Just because a thing is proven, doesn’t mean it’s not sexist or completely sucks. I do sort of love California for the personal freedom instructors tend to exhibit, though again, I’ve seen that more for men than women.

    • GlenysO August 3, 2016 / 1:15 pm

      Oh wow – I’m not sure I’d survive in an environment where my clothing is so important! My strategy is usually to act so weird it distracts from clothing – haha. I also agree that men don’t get judged on clothing so much as women, and it’s a shame we have that double standard. I’m committed to not living by any double standards so I’d have to deal with my students thinking I’m kind of nutty simply based on what I’m wearing! I hope you’ll treat yourself well on that very tough day!! Best of luck!

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