This piece originally published on Aug 13, 2020.
I think we can agree that there have been many unexpected, unwanted, dare I say unprecedented changes over the last six months. (Sorry, but it wouldn’t be an article-during-COVID-times without the use of “unprecedented.”) One constant is that we’ve had to tolerate a lot of change, some devastating and some welcome, like blissfully peeling off pajama bottoms in exchange for some top-tier leggings.
A change that I am grateful for, and did not expect, was the subtle shift in my body image — specifically, feelings regarding cosmetics, my physical body, clothing, and exercise. I am going to use the term “body image” to encompass all of these concepts.
Isolation has made me more conscious of how frequently I criticize my body.
Like many of us, I’ve had to spend more time working from home and disengaging from social sceneries. Isolation has made me more conscious of how frequently I criticize my body. As someone who values living with intention, I’ve started putting energy into reconciling those unhealthy thoughts and beliefs.
It was a fortunate coincidence to be bound to my small apartment. It’s prompted a crude look at just how overgrown my negative self-talk had become. I’ve been trying to “do less” in general and instead listen to the thoughts that need to be weeded out and cultivating the ones that help me grow. I can’t pinpoint where this quote originated, but the variation I like to live by is: The most important relationship you will ever have in your life is with yourself. Strive to make it a healthy, loving one.
In trying to weed out the more critical thoughts, I began experiencing small moments of healing (and still am), in which I noticed my inner dialogue saying more neutral — and even nice — things. Having not experienced this kind of mental rest since I was a child, I immediately noticed the new voice.
Listed below are five thoughts I’ve had about my body in self-isolation. However, the changes that happen for my better may not necessarily be for your better. I encourage you to honor where you are mentally, emotionally, and physically. Strive for progress, not perfection. Chasing ideals pulls you away from the present and from the contentment you deserve.
1. My face is great with or without makeup.
When I do dip into my makeup bag it feels like a treat, an intentional activity that I chose of my own accord.
When I first began working from home, I carried the pressure to wear a full face and then some, to make up for that unsavory webcam complexion. However, as I spent more time at home, I began to wear less makeup. The extra 15 minutes of sleep was more valuable than the same 15 minutes in front of a mirror. Many people wear makeup as a form of self-expression and empowerment and I am all about that. But personally, I wore makeup to appear more “put together,” especially as a new professional. The societal expectation I unconsciously followed was to diligently apply makeup before work every morning. Now that I wasn’t leaving the house for work, and I wasn’t seeing nearly as many people, I realized that I was only motivated to wear makeup for others and not for myself.
The remedy: I’m a therapist doing telehealth via video calls all day long, so I look at my face. A LOT. It’s weird seeing my face this much, but it’s had a positive effect. I’m used to my face now, used to it with makeup, used to it with very little makeup, and used to it without any makeup at all. So when I do dip into my makeup bag it feels like a treat, an intentional activity that I chose of my own accord.
2. All bodies are good bodies.
I’ve focused on fostering a gradual acceptance of the parts of my body that have been historically criticized by myself or other people.
I’ve never been on top of shaving, waxing, and haircuts, but not having the option to get my brows cleaned up or my ends trimmed has made these activities more of a treat, a luxury that I don’t need but certainly enjoy. I have also grown more comfortable with my body hair and the unwashed, untamed messy bun that makes an appearance before wash day. Everyone’s hygiene requirements are different but, for me, not having anywhere to go or anyone to smell good for has been empowering.
Beyond this, I’ve focused on fostering a gradual acceptance of the parts of my body that have been historically criticized by myself or other people. Being at home means being more raw. This exposure to my natural self has helped to build a healthier mindset. There is something hugely therapeutic in walking around your living space in your underwear.
3. I just want to be comfy in my clothes.
I have allowed myself the grace of wearing clothes that I am nothing short of smitten with.
From a very young age, I have dreaded the idea of wearing professional clothes. A huge plus of having fewer social engagements and only your upper half showing in video calls is that it’s casual Friday every day, and let’s face it, more casual than that sometimes.
So I have allowed myself the grace of wearing clothes that I am nothing short of smitten with. Like many, I went months without wearing work pants and blouses. On my first outing to see a friend from six feet away, it felt especially good to be dressing up in jeans. I think this was due to realizing that I want my clothes to actually fit me, in sizing and in style. Recently, I donated a bagful of clothes that I determined were not my style and did not fit my body type and have enjoyed just wearing t-shirts and jeans. It’s been seriously freeing.
4. If I’m not having fun with exercise, I’m not doing it.
I learned about the concept of Joyful Movement.
My relationship with exercise in 2020 has been tumultuous. The journey began with a lovely locally-owned gym. Then COVID hit, and like a dog excited for a walk every day, I religiously walked two miles a day after work. I had a falling out with walking and began a toxic relationship with working past my allotted hours until my hips began to hurt.
So I made exercise more convenient by buying an indoor bike off Facebook Marketplace (a purchase I slightly regret). Wanting something gentler, I got back into yoga, doing Yoga with Adriene on Youtube and going to socially-distanced outdoor classes with a friend. In this process, I learned about the concept of Joyful Movement, a more positive and inclusive form of exercise that focuses more on movement than aesthetics. Now I look forward to biking, rollerblading, and doing dance videos. I am happy to be doing activities that are not defined as better or worse than others, honoring the movement that made me happy as a child and still does today. If you want to learn more about Joyful Movement, read this article by Rachel Hartley. It’s a great starting point.
5. I want to keep learning about body positivity.
The rate at which I used to keep myself busy was not conducive to meaningful learning.
I have been utilizing my time off to understand more about movements and concepts such as Health at Every Size, Intuitive Eating, Body Positivity, Diet Culture, Fatphobia, and more. The rate at which I used to keep myself busy was not conducive to meaningful learning. I have made more time to talk with my friends, family, and therapist about body image and the greater mechanisms of control. I am grateful to have people in my life whose experiences I can learn from, who happily send me recommendations for Instagram accounts, Youtubers, Tik Tokers, podcasts, books, etc. I am always looking to learn, so please leave any of your personal favorites in the comments below.
Since COVID-19 began, there has been a lot of toxic content on the Internet around body, beauty, and exercise. I would be lying if I said it didn’t pull me in at first, and still does some days. But body image is ever-changing. Being human means an amalgam of good days, bad days, and some utterly average ones. Continuing to nourish a healthier body image is going to require hard work. It’s like digging up nasty, gnarly weeds in your garden and replacing them with flowers completely to your taste and choosing. Now, I am not an expert in body image nor do I consider myself a representative of the body positivity world or any of the other amazing movements. However: I have a body, I had some nice thoughts about myself, and they seemed healthier and more meaningful than much of the crap on my Instagram feed. My hope is that you have some nice thoughts about yourself too. Remember, you are your own gardener.
Skylar is a school-based mental health counselor who talks about self-care as the foundation of a prosperous life. You can usually find her listening to a Harry Potter audiobook, talking about compost, cooking up something colorful, or chilling in downward-facing dog. You can find her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin.
Image via Pexels