Here's How to Talk Yourself Down From a Bad Body Image Day
Bad body image days can happen to all of us, no matter how onboard we are with the whole body-posi movement. Sure, I know that all body sizes and shapes are valid and worthy of celebrating, but it's hard to extend the same grace to myself 100% of the time. Some days, reason simply doesn't work and I convince myself that my body and I need changing.
And it's no wonder why so many of us deal with blah (or straight-up bad) body image days: "From the time that we are children, diet culture teaches us that 'thinness' is the magical solution to all of our problems," says Jennifer Rollin, therapist and founder of The Eating Disorder Center. "[This] is what helps to keep the $70 billion diet industry alive and thriving. It is also rooted in systems of oppression like racism, sexism, and ableism. It is not your fault that you are struggling and you deserve to be kind to yourself."
Even if you generally feel comfortable in your body, something unexpected can still trigger negative thoughts about your appearance that can send your self-esteem down the drain. For Sian Westley, a content creator who often speaks out about body confidence, "it usually happens if something I've worn for a very long time doesn't fit me anymore," she says. "I might tell myself the clothing doesn't fit because I have made a bad decision at some point."
To help you find a little much-needed self-compassion, I spoke to real women who, like so many of us, have days when their personal body image moves from positive to neutral, and into downright negative territory.
Ahead, their strategies for turning a bad day around.
How to Stop Negative Thoughts About Your Body from Ruining Your Day
Experiment with your wardrobe.
Fashion can be empowering — and that goes for bad body image days, too. You should have fun with dressing up, wear pieces that make you smile, not ones that are considered "flattering" (read: "slimming"). Anything that fits well and feels good right now (not someday) is a good choice.
"The go-to color for bad body image days is black," says Josie Buck, a food and eating psychology coach and founder of The Mindful Cook. "[This is] borne out of toxic advice, no doubt rooted in diet culture, that black is the most flattering color." Buck rebels by wearing the brightest clothes she can find in her closet.
You may also find it useful to designate a "bad body image day outfit" you can throw on any time you're not feeling great about how you look. "Bonus points if it's cute too because that's an added mood booster!" says Shira Rosenbluth, a body image therapist and style blogger. "Many of my clients fall into the trap of trying on half their wardrobe on hard body days and that usually only makes things feel worse — so having that go-to outfit can be useful."
Make time for self-care.
Doing nice things for yourself is one of the most powerful things you can do to remind yourself that you're important — and that your body deserves care. "My favorite things to do for a pick-me-up are painting my nails, washing my hair, putting on some makeup, shaving and [moisturizing] my body, wearing an outfit I feel amazing in, calling a loved one, eating some good food," Westley says. Whatever makes you feel best, do that.
That said, it's also important to remember that when you're feeling a bit down on yourself, you're under zero obligation to do anything you don't feel like doing. If dressing up and putting on makeup feels like the last thing you need right now, that's OK too.
Olakemi Obi, a model and body positivity advocate, finds fashion and beauty to be helpful tools, but within limits. "I am not glam all the time," she says. "I like to still be carefree, [with] no makeup on and in comfortable loungewear. We need to be comfortable in our OWN skin no matter what. That is what I think really helps with body confidence: Truly accepting and being happy with who you are."
Lastly, self-care isn't only about pampering. "In general, think about activities that you can do, which help you to feel relaxed, that boost your mood, or that are tied to your values," Rollin says. Whether it's journaling, spending time with friends, taking a bath, or meditating, there are plenty of ways to practice self-care that have nothing to do with your appearance.
Move your body, mindfully.
Working out is so often associated with changing your body, but it can also be a wonderful way to connect to your body in a non-appearance-related way. Just make sure to do an activity you like — for example, going for a walk or dancing around your room — not something you think you "should" be doing. "For me, it's getting outside in nature and walking (nature has a way of grounding you)," Buck says. "I'm also a bit of a lover of anytime sea dipping and I love yoga as a way to reconnect, too."
Blast some pump-up music.
When you're feeling down, the key is to surround yourself with things that bring you joy. And what's more joyful than blasting your favorite songs? Westley loves a little Lizzo to dance around to, while Buck swears by Nina Simone's "Ain't Got No, I Got Life." And can we interest you in a little Rihanna to hold you over until her alleged new release?
Scroll through an empowering hashtag.
Social media isn't always the best place for helping you make peace with your body, but it can also be a really valuable tool — as long as you use it right. For example, one of the best decisions I made was to follow the #FoodFreedom hashtag on Instagram while I was working on this article about the movement, for instance.
Especially for those in more marginalized bodies, such as those living with disabilities, social media can be a positive force. "I struggle regularly with body image issues and have had to work through some new negative thoughts about my body since becoming a wheelchair user," says Lisa Walters, a disability blogger and advocate. Walters says on those tough days, she loves to go on Instagram and search the hashtag #BabeWithAMobilityAid that was started by @LittlePineNeedle. she says. "It's really helpful to see so many other people rocking their mobility aids and using them with pride and confidence."
The bottom line with using social media? Follow the creators who inspire you and make you feel good about yourself, and unfollow those who do the opposite.
Don't give in to comparison.
Speaking of social media, one particularly insidious trigger for bad body image is to see other people with a different body type to yours, one that you may think of as "better." When you spend a lot of time scrolling, you'll likely be exposed to a lot of these images, and this can really add up. This is something Obi is careful to avoid. "Comparison is the thief of joy," she says. "You should only be looking at yourself and how you can become better. What is better for YOUR wellbeing and your image of self."
Thank your body for what it does for you.
Your body is so much more than looks. Buck swears by a simple method: writing your body a thank you note. This may feel uncomfortable or even a little silly, but it can help you find a renewed appreciation for everything your body is. For example, when lockdown restrictions eased in the UK last summer, Buck wrote, "Dear body, thank you for getting me through the pandemic unscathed and healthy."
Other women in her community wrote things like, "thank you for enabling me to produce a baby, thank you for allowing me to get out and travel the world, thank you for letting me give blood so I can help others." If writing it down isn't your thing, just acknowledging all the ways your body serves you can still go a long way.
Be kind — to yourself and others.
"Some people feel guilty or ashamed of struggling with body image distress," Rosenbluth says. In that case, "a self-compassion meditation might be useful."
Rosenbluth recommends shifting the language you use to speak about yourself. "For example, if your go-to thought when you look in the mirror is 'I'm disgusting and I look hideous in these jeans,' maybe say something like 'I'm struggling with my body image today and I can still take care of myself and treat myself kindly.'"
You might also find being kind to others helpful. "Doing random acts of kindness for other people can be a mood booster that gets your mind off of your negative body image," Rollin says. "Send a friend or family member a text about how much you appreciate them. Buy coffee for a stranger. Think about how you can make someone else's day and it might just end up brightening your own."
How to Negative Body Image Thoughts In the Long-Term
If bad body image days are the norm for you at the moment, you may need to dig a bit deeper to find self-compassion. Here's how to work toward spending more days on the positive side.
Challenge your mindset.
Rollin suggests asking yourself the question, "What do I feel that having my 'ideal body' would bring me?" Do you sometimes feel like your life will only begin once you have the body of your dreams? Guess what: Your life is already happening. "Every day, people of all shapes and sizes find love, achieve success, and feel joy and happiness," Rollin says. "Happiness and health are not size-specific." Don't let yours pass you by because you're busy grimacing at what you see in the mirror.
"It's important to look at what you're telling yourself that your 'ideal body' would bring you, and if any of those things are positive goals — i.e. confidence, or 'I'd finally start dating' — to look at how you can pursue those goals without trying to change your body," Rollin adds.
Remember that your body isn't the problem.
A lot of times, negative body image isn't about your body at all. "Often it is easier to focus on what we dislike about our outward appearance than to think about the other issues in our lives that the body hatred may be masking," Rollin says. "For instance, it may be easier to talk about hating your thighs than to reflect on how your recent breakup has left you feeling unworthy and unloved."
The burden of feeling bad about your body isn't yours alone to carry. We should be "taking the shame and self-hatred and turning it to diet culture where it belongs," Rosenbluth says. Bad body image days are normal, but just remember: "It's diet culture that's the problem, not your body."