Body Image: We All Have Bad Days / by lee tilghman

Do you obsess over certain parts of your body?

Do you poke, prod and obsessively check these body parts out in the mirror?

Do you spend too much time comparing yourself to others?

Then this post is for you. 

You know those days where you look in the mirror and you think, “Damn, I look sexy” today? Those are great days. But this post isn’t about those days. ‘Cause those are the easy days. Today, I wanna talk about the bad days.

The days where you look in the mirror and don’t like what you see. The days where you CANNOT stop comparing yourself to other people. You can’t get the negative voice out of your head, despite your better judgement. You may (and probably do) look the exact same as the day before, but you see a different person. Those days are long, hard, and really emotionally draining.

I know because I have them, too.

And these, my friends, are called Bad Body Days. 

I know both men and women struggle with body image, but I can only speak from a woman's perspective. As I grow older, I realize that women are highly emotionally intelligent human beings, we are so in touch with ourselves and the world around us and its emotions that we can carry all that baggage with us wherever we go. We process things internally and tend to take on a little too much. My reasoning behind this post is to shed a little more light on body image and how it affects us as women in the world today.

Women's bodies have always been a topic of discussion. The female body is a beautiful and amazing thing! It brings new life into the world. It's also the vehicle through which we experience life. However, it is unfortunately also an object upon which both men (and women) cast judgements (and laws!) upon.

Are our bodies our own? The media keeps telling us to look a certain way and exercise obsessively and try this diet and avoid this food.  Society tells us all issues will be over as soon as we have the perfect body. No matter what society tells us, I keep finding that in the end, the biggest critic is always ourselves.

I feel like there is an absence of content and discussion about bad body days in the health and wellness world because we only want to celebrate when we are feeling our best. We want to remember the days that we looked and felt our prettiest, lightest, glowiest.

There are plenty of articles about how to feel good about yourself, how you should drink tea, do this workout, get enough sleep, blah blah blah. But I looked long and hard and couldn’t find a good post just about how having these kinds of days are normal and perfectly OK. So, I wanted to write my own.

Sure, healthy eating and exercise are great. But I want people to know that you can still be doing all the bootcamp classes and detoxes and still have bad body days. It does not mean you are a total failure, doing anything wrong, or that your thoughts are true. It’s just part of life. It's a part of being human in the world today. 

I know this because a few weeks ago, I was having a few really bad body days that turned into a bad body week. As you can imagine, I was really bummed out. It was all I could really focus on that week. I was stressed out about work, and because old habits die hard, I kept getting down about my body. Even though I knew my work and my body are two separate entities that have very little to do with each other. When I get stressed, I get body conscious.

I kept catching glimpses of myself in the mirror and really disliking what I saw. I knew that nothing had changed except my mindset. I lost my motivation for working out, but I still dragged myself to my workouts thinking they'd make me feel better, only to find that I'd feel even worse. The entire workout I'd compare myself to others if I was in a group fitness class and just kept asking myself, "What’s the point? Why even try?”

I also caught myself doing something else. I would do body checks in the mirror when I was in private. I hate admitting this, but I need to be REAL. I'd lift up my shirt and check my stomach, to the point of getting obsessive on certain days. I wouldn't look at the parts that I love about myself (my legs, for instance), just the part that I was self conscious about. I jotted this behavior down and immediately did some research and found that I am not alone- in fact, it's so common that psychologists have a name for it. It's called obsessive appearance-checking behavior.

This is something women (and men) do when they are hung up about something they dislike about their body. In my opinion, though, it's also something we do when we are actually upset/obsessed with something else (a shitty job, a problem at home, financial stress, a breakup) and it's our way of escaping pain. I mean, think about it. It is WAY easier to stress out about the size of our thighs than figuring out how to get out of credit card debt or tell our boss we want a raise. It's a way to distract ourselves from finding our authentic voice and facing our fears. Human beings are very weird. 

Back to the bad body week, I had had enough moping around and feeling badly about myself. Let me mention that I've been recovering from an eating disorder for over 8 years, so this isn't my first rodeo. Nope. Recovering from an eating disorder is a long and excruciating process; one that, in my opinion, never really ends. Sure you can go through treatment, gain a healthier relationship with food, and your body, but that part of you never leaves you. I spent a large part of these 8 years in recovery keeping quiet about my bad body days as to not scare my parents and loved ones that I was relapsing or anything like that.

With that said, in any other circumstance, I would just keep these thoughts and experiences to myself. But this time, I couldn't. I decided to do something drastically different. I confided in my best friend about it. I told her I was having a bad body day. I was so scared she wouldn’t understand what I meant.

But to my surprise, she looked at me and said, “oh my gosh, I’m having one of those days today too. Actually, I’ve been feeling like that all week. It’s SO annoying!” And instantly, a weight lifted off my shoulders.

“Wait, really, you’re feeling this way, too?”

She laughed and said, “yeah”.

I can’t explain how much BETTER I felt that I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t taking pleasure in my friend’s pain, but rather just feeling so relieved that I wasn't alone in my despair.  The whole week, I had felt so absolutely isolated in my thoughts, and that only contributed to the negative feelings and self talk. I had somehow convinced myself that I was the ONLY person in the WORLD who felt uncomfortable in their skin. That made me feel so alone. Talking about it with my friend helped me realize I was SO far from being alone.

Bad body days come in different forms and the experiences accompanied with them vary from person to person.

Maybe you have this voice in your head that is really negative. It keeps telling you you’re not good enough, skinny enough. That if you looked better, you’d be happier, more successful, more accepted. Or maybe you’re facing a big problem in your life, and you feel as though you wouldn’t be facing it if you had a better body or your damn thighs weren’t touching.

Well, I’m here to tell you none of those things are true. And that voice in our head can be really strong, but it’s simply not true.

During these days, It’s important to differentiate that negative self-bashing voice in your head from your authentic voice. What is your authentic voice? The voice that is the truest, most genuinely you. The voice you would use to talk to yourself as a small child, or to your best friend. If you could go back in time and meet yourself as a 2 year old, would you be saying those things to yourself? Probably not. That’s how to differentiate the negative voice from the authentic one. Your authentic voice is the greatest, deepest part of you. It’s at the center of you. It’s the strength, light, and love that is found within every human being.

Some days, it’s harder to find that authentic voice and love yourself.

On these days, it can feel really isolating. It can feel really crappy. And it’s unavoidable. However, there are things we can do to be proactive about these things. I can't stress enough that one of the biggest things that has helped me in these days in TALKING about it. I hope this post is the beginning of a discussion that you will have with your friends, kids, parents, boyfriends. Below are some more tips that help me and others get through these annoying bad body days. 

  1. I write affirmations on the back of my hands. Positive affirmations is one of the most simple ways to stop the negative thought behavior. When we see it, we are reminded to be gentler to ourselves. This simple act of writing down something nice to yourself is incredibly empowering and takes almost no time.  I'll write it on a post it and stick it somewhere I see throughout the day, like a door or on my desk. One of my favorite affirmations is, “Don’t you give up on you” This reminds me to quiet that negative voice that tells me I’m not good enough.
  2. I tell a friend how I’m feeling. And every time I do, I’m so thankful.  It can be really vulnerable and scary, but 10/10, the person is always super receptive to it, and I am often surprised that many of them say
  3. I avoid spending too much time in front of mirrors. Mirrors + bad body days = bad combo. I try to avoid spending too much time in front of them on these days. It can be all too easy to pick apart every single thing about myself, so I just make sure I have no food in my teeth and my hair looks OK, and then I go about my day. No excessive standing in the mirror and no "body checks" either. Back to the appearance-checking behavior bit. 
  4. I get out my journal and write. I'll also flip back a few entries (since I write in mine almost daily) to see how far I've come and to remind myself "this too shall pass" and life will go on. 
  5. I take a social media detox.  Personally, whenever I’m feeling frustrated about something or am procrastinating a lot, instagram can be a huge time sucker for me. On such days, I’ll also find myself scrolling through fitness accounts that may be a trigger for me and will only make me feel worse. It’s self-destructive, but I’m getting pretty good at recognizing this behavior and nipping it in the bud. It takes some serious self-awareness, but I definitely recommend either turning your phone off or at least taking a break from social media for a few hours during these days. I know for me if I don’t delete instagram from my phone, then I’ll just keep going on it out of pure habit, even if I don't want to. 

  6. I stay gentle with my body. On days like these, my first inclination is to exercise to feel better about myself. This is both good and bad. I've tried to exercise the pain away with a heavy-duty spin class or long, gruesome run. And I've found time after time that this just doesn't work because I am usually exercising for the wrong reason. Exercise should be something we enjoy doing as a way to celebrate our bodies and what they can do, rather than exercising to "fit into our skinny jeans" or "look good on our wedding days". So, on bad body days, I go to a gentle yoga class, meditation circle, hike with a friend, or light walk into town. I listen to my body and definitely do not push myself. Now is not the time to begin training for a marathon! Keep calm and listen to what your body needs. 

  7. I try really hard not to compare myself to others. On these days, I will literally go to any length to compare myself to another person. Whether it's at the gym, the grocery store, or walking down the street, I'll look at someone and fantasize about becoming them. This can be really disheartening, but we as humans have this terrible habit of comparing themselves to others. It takes a lot of self awareness and effort to avoid this habit, but just recognizing it is a step in the right direction. I'll also make a list of 5 things I love about myself to physically see my own worth.

  8. I take a yoga class. Yoga is the ultimate mind/body connector. It helps us . Yoga helped me recover from an eating disorder in the biggest way. It helped me appreciate strength over anything. Yoga classes kept my mind so busy that I don't have time to talk badly to myself. Yoga also helped me gain confidence: by adapting a consistent yoga practice, I developed a physical strength that transcended into mental and emotional strength in time. I developed discipline and forgiveness. Yoga is also a fantastic de-stressor. It helps me fall in love with my body and what it can do, every time. Yoga also feels so good. 

I know how hard these days can be. Trust me. I know it.

And yes, even those instagram fitness models have bad days. Even the most beautiful people in the world have them- and if they say they don't, they're lying!

I'm not here to say that we are all destined for a life of negative body image. I believe that the more proactive steps we take to love ourselves and treat ourselves with compassion and respect, the bad body days will happen less and less. If we are loving ourselves through it all, despite what the media is telling us, those bad body days won't shake us up as bad. We will recover from them quicker.

I hope my insights, experience, and tips inspire you and the people around you to take a more proactive stance against these bad body days. Maybe it will inspire you to try a yoga class, meditate, or take a break from social media for the day. 

How do you cope with body image and negative days?