It seems to be such a rare thing to find a woman who is comfortable in her own skin.
And with good reason, I think.
There are far too many people who stand to profit from keeping women insecure, preoccupied and dissatisfied with how they look, to extremely detrimental effect to women, girls and society overall.
So when I encounter one of these unicorn women, I am fascinated.
There are days when I am one myself, days when I live somewhere between “I am stunningly, sparklingly gorgeous!” and “Who cares? I have more important things to think about!”
But there are definitely days when I am not.
So, with the help of my beautifully confident cronies, I’ve come up with a list of body confidence-boosters in the hopes that I (and you, if you need it!) can have more of those radiantly self-assured days, unplagued by concerns about just how many dimples have taken up residence in my butt fat.
Be busy: Finding other things to focus on is a huge help for me. It’s usually when I’m bored or unemployed that I start fixating on my appearance. Volunteer! Work with kids, pet cats, anything that makes you more gorgeous on the inside.
Stay away from reflective surfaces: My friend Emma says she makes a conscious effort to not constantly check her reflection as she goes about her day. I like this idea a lot. I think it’s a really good idea to check in with how you feel in place of how you look, and to try not to get into the habit of obsessing. I say give yourself one sexy grin before you leave the house, in part to start the day on a positive, friendly-type note, and then also to check that you don’t have blueberries in your teeth and then let it go. Win-win!
Focus on what your body can do, rather than what it looks like: Emma says on days when she’s walking down the street and feeling a twinge of dissatisfaction with her appearance, she tries to switch her focus on what her body is capable of, and the fact that she’s able to walk at all.
As someone who has gone through walking being an excruciating ordeal where a walker assisted limp down a ten foot hallway left me ready to collapse, this little shift in perspective is really effective for me, especially when I’m feeling self-conscious about my compression stocking.
Exercise: There’s nothing like feeling healthy and energetic to improve your outlook on everything, including your body. While I typically face the un-mirrored wall at Barreworks, at some point the whole class faces the mirror and it’s often watching my beautiful muscles work while I do bicep curls that I feel just damned great about my body. I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that I’m all high on endorphins either.
Get thee to yoga: Not for the meditation and mindfulness, though I’m sure that is helpful too, but to be surrounded by scantily clad real-life people with a diverse range of body types not seen in our popular media. I find Bikram is especially good for this.
Bypass magazines featuring models airbrushed and photoshopped beyond belief(they exist, I swear! Check out Worn): Even if you’re extremely hip to the fact that what you’re looking at has often been drastically altered, there is still a sense that this is what you are meant to strive for.
Resist joining in group body lamentations: Remember that scene from Mean Girls where Lindsay Lohan is baffled by the rest of the girls’ tearing a strip off their own bodies and faces? It’s so easy to say “That’s crazy, you’re lovely… I know what you mean though, I hate my thighs” We do so love to commiserate, but is it really all that helpful in the long run?
Get rid of your ugly clothes: No matter how much you love that little dress on its hanger, if it makes you tug, cringe and just feel generally self-conscious, donate that thing immediately. Wear clothing that lets you feel comfortable and beautiful. Same goes for the “skinny jeans” you’ve been waiting to fit back into since you were 15. If you happen to lose some weight, just buy new jeans. Those old ones are just undermining the way you feel about your current size.
Get enough sleep: Sparkling eyes and a winning smile are so much harder to summon if you’re exhausted.
Extend the same kindness you would to others towards yourself and your appearance: Don’t be your own bully. When you look in the mirror and think “Stupid giant pores” tell that voice to go straight to hell. It would never occur to you to say that to someone else, so don’t be vicious to yourself.
If all else fails and you find yourself frowning unkindly at your reflection, exaggerate it, make your meanest face and then dance around like a lunatic. I have no idea if anyone else does this, but it always helps me lighten up when I’m about to give myself a hard time.
People who have tried Bikram Yoga tend to have strong feelings about it. They love it or they haaaaaate it.
While admittedly I spent most of my first class at Bikram Yoga Toronto drenched in sweat, lying on my mat and gazing incredulously at anyone who was capable of movement in the oppressive heat, after a couple of classes, I learned the flow of things and for a time was pretty hooked.
At the end of a day of desks and keyboards, it was a relief to stretch and bend, move and yes, even the profuse sweating felt like a great release.
As someone who is naturally about as flexible as a dried-out No. 2 pencil, I was delighted to find that after a few weeks, my toes actually came within touching range.
Often, the most challenging part of the class was simply staying put. There were times when I wanted to just run from the oppressive heat of the room, smashing through the doors and bursting out into the street to gulp in the (comparatively) fresh night air. I would lie still and quiet, letting the sweat roll off me and thinking, It’s just uncomfortable. You’re not dying, you’re not in pain. You’re just hot.
It’s not impossible, it’s just hard. You can do hard.
It might sound crazy to willingly put oneself through that, but finding the discipline to stick it out when things were difficult and having patience when things were uncomfortable or irritating was a victory that translated well into my life outside of the “torture chamber” (Bikram’s words, not mine).
But I think the best thing Bikram did for me was to change the way I felt about my body.
There’s nothing like some extreme heat to make covering up perceived flaws seem less and less important. On top of that, Bikram tends to attract a much more diverse range of ages and body types than other exercise classes I’ve been to. While I swear I wasn’t creepily staring at people in the change room, I think it did me a world of good to see some real-life naked or near naked women, with their cellulite, fat, and sweat-drenched hair decidedly free of airbrushing or photoshop and knowing that all of those bodies with their shockingly different shapes and sizes had just carried them through the same challenges that mine did.
I went from worrying about being judged for not having a manicure to not bothering to shave my legs in a matter of weeks and while my body didn’t get substantially smaller over my time there, my outfits certainly did. It was just too damn hot to cover up, and better yet, I found the most concern I could muster about whether I ought to be ashamed for unleashing my imperfect torso on the world was a hearty shrug.
And that felt amazing.