We live in a world of mirrors. We live in a world of selfies. We live in a world of social media. We live in a world that encourages us to evaluate and monitor how our bodies show up in the world.
Monitoring, evaluating, critiquing, and controlling our bodies is just part of being a woman…isn’t it?
While this is definitely a common experience, this doesn’t have to be your reality. Just like dieting and scales only serve to derail you from your purpose and power, so too, body checking, only serves to cause pain.
Body checking can take many forms. It may be trying on specific clothes to ensure they still “fit.” It may be using your hands to physically measure and squeeze parts of your body like your thighs, waist, and arms. It may be taking selfies with your phone to check your profile. It may be compulsively checking your body in the mirror from a variety of angles, in a variety of different clothes, and across a variety of times during the day.
Body checking increases suffering. Let me tell you why.
- While body checking serves the function of control and reassurance that our bodies aren’t changing, our bodies can literally look and feel different day to day. This can happen for a variety of reasons. For example, our body may be retaining more water. Our body may be bloated and uncomfortable. We may be at a different point in our menstrual cycle. We may be sleep deprived. These are all physiological reasons why our body might literally show up in a slightly different shape or size on a different day that has nothing to do with any feared “true” change.
- We also may experience our bodies as different from the day before, depending on our clothes. We may have just washed our clothes and so our clothes are a little tighter. We may be wearing something inherently tighter opposed the comfy clothes we wore yesterday. By that contrast alone, we may feel our body is changing, even if that change is an illusion.
- Mirrors don’t reflect reality accurately. We all know this intuitively. Sometimes we feel we look better in one mirror vs another. Maybe you have a favorite mirror and maybe you have a mirror you avoid for this very reason. Maybe you know that the mirrors in the Athleta dressing room make you feel and look more flattering than the mirrors in Nordstrom. I don’t make mirrors, and even though theoretically they should all reflect back the same reality, they don’t. Just like scales, each one is off in its own unique way.
- Our moods and cognitive states impact how we perceive our bodies. So while our bodies are likely, literally, the same size and shape they were yesterday, depending on how we are thinking and feeling about ourselves and our bodies, this can change what we see in the mirror. It’s fascinating how distorted our perceptions of our bodies can be depending on our internal states. Have you ever noticed that you thought you looked horrible in a photo taken on the night you felt badly about yourself and your body, and then months later, you looked at that same photo and realized you didn’t look as bad as you thought?
- Finally, the most important problem with body checking is that it reinforces the illusion that our bodies are the problem. By focusing on our bodies, we continue to believe in the importance of how our bodies look and that how our bodies look are the most important aspects of who we are. This causes the most suffering of all.
Your size and shape are the least interesting things about you. Your size and shape do not embody your power, your voice, nor your purpose. Moving away from body checking frees you up to spend your energy and time pursuing what really matters in your life. Even if you don’t feel confident in your skin, you can commit to spending less energy on checking your body. You can commit to turn your attention to your truths and your values. This is where you can take your power back from the mirror!