Been bullying your body more than usual? It makes sense that in the middle of a freakin’ global pandemic your go-to body-love and self-care practices aren’t quite cutting it. Whether you’re on the frontlines (and, as a result, stressed as hell and barely sleeping) or sheltering at home (and moving less and emotionally eating more than usual), there’s a good chance this *gestures around wildly* experience is putting your body and mind through hell.
And while a global pandemic is certainly an ~extreme~ example, it’s worth noting that, throughout your entire life, your body will continue to change. Whether it’s weight gain or loss, muscle gain or loss, skin stretching/sagging/shifting, injuries, pregnancy, illness, or age, bodies fluctuate pretty consistently for the entire time they’re on Earth. Here’s the thing: Aside from doing your best to live healthily, there’s very little control you have over these changes—making one thing very important: Learning to love your body unconditionally.
Of course, that’s easier said than done—especially in times of change or turmoil.
Society is full of expectations and unrealistic standards that can make loving your body in any shape or form extremely difficult. “Society, diet culture, and body shamers have brainwashed us into thinking that only certain bodies are good bodies,” says Jordan Underwood, a non-binary, fat-positive model, actor, and influencer. “Deprogramming that thinking and learning to love your body in its current state is really hard work and takes a lot of practice.” But, it’s like building a muscle, and the more you train it, the quicker and stronger it will respond. And if there’s ever been a time to flex that self-love muscle, it’s now.
Below, experts share ways to show your love- and pleasure-worthy body a little extra TLC right now, plus tactics to help you get in the right self-love headspace. Hopefully, these will take you through quarantine and beyond—no matter what life brings to you and your body.
1. Create a self-love mantra.
“How you talk to yourself and your body in your head sets up how you feel about yourself and your body,” says Jessica Cording, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., author of The Little Book of Game-Changers: 50 Healthy Habits for Managing Stress & Anxiety. Unfortunately, chances are, you’re not talking to yourself the way you’d talk to a bestie or partner, which is with compassion.
That’s where self-compassion comes in; it’s all about showing the same kindness that you’d easily show someone else, to yourself. “How often do you give a friend empathy for something you criticize yourself for? Without showing yourself compassion, you will constantly be fighting against your own feelings, thoughts, and experiences,” writes Rachel Wright, M.A., L.F.F.T., is a psychotherapist, licensed marriage and family therapist, and sex and relationship expert in this story about exercises to build self-compassion. “Your internal dialogue matters. It creates your thoughts, which create your feelings, which leads to your behavior. So, if you’re constantly speaking poorly about yourself to yourself, it’s going to be difficult to perform at your best.”
Having a self-love mantra to chant (out loud or in your head) anytime your inner bully gets a little mouthy, can help retrain your brain to be kinder. “Mantras, for some folks, are a powerful component of healing and self-compassion,” says Cording. If you struggle with self-love, you might find that coming up with a mantra is incredibly cathartic. “There are no rules for what that mantra is, or how many words it has, or what language it’s in,” she says. “It just needs to be authentic to you.”
You might tailor one of the below to best-suit your needs:
- “I am happy. I am enough. I am beautiful.”
- “Thank you, body, for carrying me through this pandemic.”
- “I am growing stronger and healthier every single day.”
- “It’s not my body, but my heart, that is most important.”
2. Thank your body.
Underwood explains how this works: “Get into a comfortable position (not in front of a mirror), either sitting or laying down, and thank the parts of your body that you love. And then thank the parts of your body that are harder for you to love.” You might start at your toes and slowly travel up your body thanking each one, or you might bop around. Just be sure to thank at least (!) three different parts.
“Thank your belly fat for protecting your organs! Thank your sexy parts for making you feel good! Thank your skin for allowing you to feel the soft furry friends we’ve gotten to pet. Thank your butt for the thirst traps you’ve been posting!” they say.
If thanking a specific part of your body is too hard right now, skip it and try and love on the parts it’s easier for you to love on. But ultimately, “you want to work up to being able to tell each part of your body ‘thank you,’ for its purpose—and that purpose is keeping you alive,” says Underwood.
3. Give your social media feeds a makeover.
Time to KonMari your timelines. Scroll through your “following” list and, as body-positive sex toy guru and pleasure expert Carly S., founder of Dildo or Dildon’t puts it, “unfollow (or even block) any account that’s ever made you feel like sh*t about yourself.”
Then, keep this practice up after the initial purge. Anytime you’re tapping or scrolling and stumble on something that floods you with shame or self-doubt: *clicks unfollow.*
You never need to explain your decision to unfollow someone. But let’s say, for instance, your oldest friend from childhood keeps posting #quarantine15 content, try this: ‘Hi! I just wanted to let you know that I’m unfollowing you. It’s not because I don’t love you (I still do!), but I’ve been struggling with my body image in quarantine and I’ve been finding your content triggering. Hope you understand.’ (Who knows: It may even prompt them to take a second look at their body-focused self-talk.)
In addition to unfollowing folks, Carly S. recommends “following people who actively enjoy their bodies, make you feel good about your body, and who look like you.” As the saying goes: seeing is believing.
Here are some good places to start:
- Your Fat Friend (@yrfatfriend)
- Molly-Margaret (@whatswrongwithmollymargaret)
- Lisa Spliffson (@lisaspliffson)
- La’shaunae (@lushawnay)
- Henri-June Pilote (@june.pilote)
- Stephanie Yeboah (@stephanieyeboah)
- Hannah Witton (@hannahwitton)
- Sarah Frances Young (@bodypositivepear)
- Grace Victory (@gracefvictory)
- Chinae Alexander (@chinaealexander)
4. Create boundaries IRL, too.
Speaking of creating boundaries with people who make you feel less-than—if you’re currently living with someone (a parent, roommate, partner, etc.) who body-shames you (or themselves, around you), fat-positive activist Madyson Lee (who FYI sometimes hosts Fat Friend Mixers on IG to help people find each other on Instagram), suggests trying to have an honest conversation with them. “Tell them how certain comments make you feel,” she says. For example: ‘When you make comments like that about your own body changes, it makes me feel like you won’t love me if my body changes. I’d love to work together to show our bodies more compassion right now.’
“If a face-to-face conversation feels scary, writing them a short letter and asking that they respect you and what that looks like to you is a really great start,” she says.
Are their negative comments relentless? Body-confidence coach Tiffany Ima, author of the free guide 5 Mindset Shifts You Need to Boost Body Confidence says, “Try to create a space in your home where that person is not allowed and avoid engaging in any arguments with them.” If this hater starts negging you, she recommends saying, ‘I’m learning to respect my body no matter what it looks like’ or ‘I prefer not to engage in this conversation.’ Then, walk away.
If the interaction has (understandably) left you feeling crummy, “chat up some body-positive and fat-positive online friends and talk to them. I guarantee they’ll understand you and will happily hear you out,” suggests Lee.
5. Move your body in ways that make you feel good.
“If exercise is already part of your wellness routine (and is safe for you) continuing to move your body when you feel bad about your body a good idea,” says Cording. Not only is moving and grooving generally a good idea from a health perspective, but exercise can help you feel more compassionate toward your body, she says.
It sounds cheesy, but it’s actually science. When you start exercising, your body releases a rush of endorphins, a neurochemical associated with feelings of euphoria. Fun! “Exercise can also make you feel stronger, more creative, and like you’re able to problem-solve around the challenges life throws at you,” adds registered dietitians Jessica Crandall Snyder, R.D., and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
You might even take this time to try a new kind of exercise! “Learning a new skill can make you feel really good about yourself,” says Cording. Lee, for instance, recently bought roller-skates. “I’ve been out there every other day skating around in the street,” she says. “It’s wholesome, adorable fun that you can do at any size.”
Of course, “just be sure to talk with your healthcare provider or a certified fitness trainer before starting a new exercise regime,” says Cording.
6. Have a partner? Communicate with them.
Need help loving your body right now? Lean on the person who’s there to love you through thick and thin (pun very much intended). ” If your needs, wants, and boundaries around your body have changed, tell your partner,” says Carly S. For instance, “tell them if you need them to kiss your stomach more or less right now, or if you’d feel more comfortable keeping your shirt on during sex,” she says. Ideally, these convos will happen before you’re in the middle of sex because being proactive>being reactive.
Underwood adds that you might ask your partner to do some research on Health At Every Size (HAES). “This will show your partner that there’s more than one way to look at health and wellness (something more people aren’t taught growing up!),” they say. The Health At Every Size website and @thefatsextherapist are great resources to share with them.
“One of the best ways to feel more positive about your body is to do positive things for it and let it bring you positive feelings and sensations,” says Carly S. No doubt, toe-curling orgasms qualify as positive feelings and sensations. In fact, research has shown that women who masturbate have higher self-esteem than those who do not.
8. Invest in yourself—literally.
To be clear: You don’t need to drop coin to practice self-care (ever). But, “if there are tangible items that give you pleasure that you can purchase without putting a financial strain on yourself or your family, buy them!” says Carly S. Maybe that’s a grounding essential oil or candle you can light to signify you’re unplugged for the day. Or maybe it’s investing in a new pair of leggings that fit you well when your other fairs make you feel meh.
She specifically recommends investing in a sex toy: “It’ll make you feel sexy to buy, remind you that you’re deserving of pleasure and bring you pleasure,” she says. (Personally, I’m a big fan of the nJoy Pure Wand, but you might also check out these best vibrators for beginners, these expert-recommended anal sex toys, or any of these best-selling sex toys on Amazon).
9. Take nudes… just for you.
“Taking nudes of your body just for you forces you to see your body for the work of art it is,” says Carly S. Um, hell to the yes!
“Take a picture of the part of your body you feel most drawn to,” she says. You can take photo of a single body-part (love a #belfie!), or your ~whole thang~. Feeling uninspired? She recommends scrolling through IG and seeking inspo from photos posted by your favorite body-positive Instagram model, influencer, or activist.
Remember: If you do decide to share one (or ten) of these photos with your partner or pal, ask consent first! You might say: “hi! I just took some fire nudes of myself that I’d love to share with you, how do you feel about that.” Or, “hi! I just took some sensual nudes ~just because~. Can I send you one so you can gas me up?” (Oh, and if you’re worried about privacy or sketched out by the ~cloud~ ( TBH, fair), you might use an encrypted photo app like Keepsafe Photo Vault.)
10. Dance your ass off.
Light your Boy Smells or Homesick candle (side note: 10/10 would recommend), cue up music that makes your ears downright horny (for me: The Weeknd, Banks, Jhene Aiko), dim the lights, lock the door, and then shake your booty! Or wiggle your hips. Or flip your hair. Or shake your shoulders. Or, or, or… There is no right or wrong here. “Dance without thinking about it!” says Ima. “It’s a great way to connect with your body and practice joyful movement.” (Related: This Naked Self Care Ritual Helped Me Embrace My New Bod)
Sensuality coaches Evyan and Whitney (@evyan.whitney) and Che Che Luna (@che.che.luna) both host sensuality dance workshops, meditations, and Instagram Lives. Give them a follow to dance it out *with* someone else.
11. Explore your gender and gender expression.
Quick Gender Studies 101 lesson: Your sex (sometimes referred to as your “assigned sex” or “biological sex” is a label (male or female) that, as Planned Parenthood puts it, “you’re assigned by a doctor at birth based on the genitals you’re born with and the chromosomes you have. It goes on your birth certificate.”
Gender is totally different. It’s how you perceive yourself, dress, act, etc. While society has taught us that there are two genders (woman or man), gender is far more expansive than that. Some people are agender, bigender, non-binary, gender-queer, or gender fluid (to name a few).
Most people grow up being taught that sex=gender. For some people, sex and gender do align (these folks are known as cisgender). But for other folks, it doesn’t (known as transgender).
Here’s how this all connects to body-love: “A lot of times that I’ve felt weird in my body are not because of self-hatred, internalized fatphobia, or actual body-hate, but because I was experiencing gender dysphoria,” says Underwood. (Gender dysphoria is when someone experiences distress over biological sex≠gender). That’s why they suggest exploring your own gender identity and expression.
“You could do this in lots of different ways,” they say. “Is your hair usually short?”Let it grow out or order a wig online! Is your hair usually long? Consider cutting it all off! You could also play around with makeup! Try on your partner or roommate’s clothes! Let your body or facial hair grow out. Stop tweezing your eyebrows or bleaching/waxing your lip and chin hairs!”
Hey, you never know what’s the thing that will make you feel the most yourself until you try it!
12. Find a body-positive therapist.
“For those of us who learned that our worth is defined by the scale, working with a therapist can be exceptionally beneficial in helping us realize that we are way more than your body or weight,” says Crandall Snyder. She suggests finding a mental health expert who specializes in body dysmorphia, weight gain/loss, or eating disorder… and is currently taking telemedicine clients.
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