Ask an Expert: my body dysmorphia is out of control
A somatic healer’s advice on being present in your body, as it is.
Ask and Expert is a CH-V advice column, where experts field your questions . This month we’re joined by Poppy Sloan, a trauma-informed somatic healer.
I’ve been really down on my body lately—more than usual. I’ve always had a tricky relationship with my body, and while I was never thrilled with the way I looked, I wasn’t obsessive.
However, lately my dysmorphia has really been flaring up. I’ll be out, having a good time and then I’ll look in the mirror and feel shitty about my reflection and want to go home. My negative self-image is beginning to impact my social life.
Do you have any tips on how I can begin to develop a better relationship with my body?
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Hey, gorgeous human. To start off, don’t be hard on yourself for these feelings surfacing. We live in a world that literally profits off us not loving ourselves internally or externally. A world that often intentionally perpetuates unattainable beauty ideals, alongside expectations of constant inner calm. Your experience is not wrong and you are not alone.
Noticing and naming this pattern for yourself, is a huge step. Maybe even trying to note you have any particular triggers—are there words that you hear or say to yourself that make you feel crap? Is it being around a super confident friend? Is it a particular type of clothing or part of getting ready that ‘flares this up’ for you? The more conscious you can be of triggers and thoughts, the more you can begin to dig deep and peel the layers back for yourself. Take notes—literally. Journal it out.
Acceptance is a practice which comes in two parts. Learning to accept what is, as it is. And the acceptance that all things, including our physical bodies are constantly adapting and changing form in response to everything from the environment we are in, stress, water intake, food, the kind of people around us, hormones, the season, how we rest and the ways we move our bodies.
Practicing acceptance is fundamentally the practice of holding loving space for your physical body, as it is right now, and for its many future forms, potentials and adaptations. Practice finding your own way of noticing your inner dialogue without judging it.
The more we can notice negative self-talk and name it for what it is, a passing thought—we stop our mind running wild and creating unhelpful stories that are not supportive of how we see ourselves. Confronting this habit can be tough, but pays off with time and loving patience.
Even simply noticing the negative thought and responding to it with something like: ‘Wow, I’m noticing I’m being really hard on myself.’ Try placing a hand on your belly or chest. Take a breath in and out, and say, ‘I love you.’ Sounds fruity, but it can work wonders, especially if the negative body talk comes from a childhood belief or experience. Keep it simple, like you would if talking to a young person, our physical bodies tend to respond best to soft, easy language. Try practicing these gentle processes.
Alternatively you can try replacing a negative body story with something you love about your body, or what it can do.
Next, I believe it can be helpful to have one or two clothing items or accessories that feel like your signature pieces. Not so much to wear everyday, but an item or two that helps you feel connected to your own essence—an amazing ring, a beret, sparkly boots, a super cool oversized blazer. Whatever. It doesn’t matter if it’s expensive or what anyone else thinks of it, you just need to feel connected to it.
I always make sure my ‘essence’ items are kept in a safe place, clean—don’t lend them out to mates—and are ready to wear. So, on days when you aren’t really feeling yourself, these pieces are always ready to offer a reminder of how much you are worth celebrating. That our physical bodies are simply vehicles for our deepest self to express itself through form, creativity, shape and color.
Biggest piece of advice: on the tough self-image days, give yourself permission to play with how you show yourself to the world. Sometimes the magic is simply in breaking the routine or the pattern, in moving our body in a new way, or experimenting with color or style. Here we can find new ways to reclaim and relish in ourselves as physical beings.