How To Improve Your Body Image

The Body Image Battle

Body image; a person's perception of the aesthetics or attractiveness of their own body. It involves how a person sees themselves, compared to the standards that have been set by society. Body image is the perception that a person has of their physical self and the thoughts and feelings that result from that perception. You can read a more in-depth analysis and description of body images (plus lots of tips) here.

Perhaps a simpler everyday question more aptly defines it; 'how do you feel when you look in the mirror?'. I am not an expert in body image, in fact very much the opposite hehe! This is just the rambling for a girl who seriously struggles with her body image and who hopes to help you through the various techniques and tools learned. I understand how lucky I am to have received help and to have had professional treatment from some of the best in our small country and so if anything I learned can be shared and help others, then, I hope and pray I can do that and that it does! I'm not going to lie, the exercises and tools I will be sharing with you did not change my life or in true honesty, impact on my body image for more than a few minutes or hours. However, everybody and every body is different, perhaps these exercises may transform your thoughts or maybe, like me, the may even ease your unease for a few moments..and that's fantastic too! Maybe my thoughts may enlighten or perhaps upset you but I hope by the end of this, that you may leave with something greater than when you came <3

My beautiful sister made me this scrapbook a few years ago. Looking back at it again now fills me with tears. I am so lucky to have her. It makes me emotional also looking at photos of me as a young girl who was happy and free and only cared about how fast her legs could run and not their size.

My Body Image Journey 
My personal body image issues seemed to begin at around the age of 8 when I was making my communion. I don't know why but I felt fat, short and stout. Even looking at pictures of the girl I once was now, I see a chubby little piggy, a lego man; boxy and compressed. Fast forward 12 years later, this is what I still see. It's strange because without a doubt, the degrees of which this image is seen varies daily. When I eat a scary food or before a big event or when I am having a stressful day; I can interpret myself as the Michelin man. When it comes to describing my body, I am the human thesaurus heheheh 'little miss piggy, garden gnome, fat dwarf, big clunky box (like what?!?! how does my mind interpret my body as that lol!!), squashed marshmallow, Toad from Super Mario Bros, chunky mushroom, hippopotamus, Oompa Loompa, munchkin'...the list goes on! (I spent hours combing through my diaries to find each description so I do promise you that those thoughts and feelings are wholly true and real for me). I am giggling away at myself as I read these as to how absurd they may sound to you but its what I see yet more importantly, how I feel. While on other days, I can accept that maybe my vision is a little bit skewed. I find that particularly scary about my own sense of my body. How, without any physical change in appearance, the mental image with which my own eyes perceive can completely transform, petrifies me.

I feel so lucky that I don't have full fledged body dimorphic disorder however, a few years ago after being asked to draw a picture of what I see when I look in the mirror (see below), I was diagnosed with body dysmorphia (or distorted body image) as a direct symptom of anorexia. It's terrifying, not because of what I see, but because I am being told to trust and believe that what I see isn't real. I remember trying to explain it to someone, asking them to describe the colour of the night sky which was sparkling above us. When I told them that their answer was wrong and the sky was not black but in fact a bright neon yellow, they laughed and told me I was crazy. That's what body dysmorphia feels like. It is seeing something with your own two eyes, it is feeling it with every cell in your body, it is deeply innately knowing a truth which is disputed by the world as a lie...and that is what terrifies me. I don't understand how I can read a novel, rejoice at the colours of the rainbow and compliment the beauty of my best friend yet when I look in the mirror, the reflection I perceive is said to be a lie. Then, even if I do try to consider that perhaps what I see isn't real, I quiver at the thought that maybe exactly what I see is real yet I just don't like it and this is people's way of trying to make me feel better about it all and to accept myself as is. What if I can perceive myself perfectly as is and it's all just a lie?! I always try to remember one doctor's response to these fears, 'that is a symptom of the dysmorphia in itself, the belief that you don't have it, the belief that everyone is lying except your mind'.

I once met a fabulous guy who had body dysmorphia. His pain and suffering was tragically incomprehensible. The intensity and power of the lies his mind was telling him just truly did not make sense to me. His horrific pain (I hope and pray that he is doing well) however now has purpose in my life and that beautiful soul luckily helps me in trying to remember that he couldn't perceive himself properly even though every doctor and stranger and friend tried everything to convince him, so perhaps maybe neither can I, and maybe, neither can you. I would really recommend the BBC3 documentary 'Ugly Me' which beautifully captures the pain and irrationality of body dysmorphic disorder.

The #bodypositive movement seems to be everywhere recently which I think is so exciting and brilliant yet slightly intimidating. The concept of body love seems both magical yet, personally anyway, extremely allusive and inconceivable! At times, even body acceptance seems too far fetched, which is why for now I am striving towards body tolerance. The other day I was having a really tough time. I tried my best to ignore every mirror, camera and shiny surface, however that evening when I shuffled through the kitchen ensuring I wasn't looking at the reflective spoon in my hand, I caught a glance of my thighs and hips in the mirror and immediately broke down. Whether you can stare at yourself forever (go you!!!) or cripple walking past a shop window (I feel you honey), I believe we could all do with cultivating a more positive life long loving relationship with our one true home, our body.

The image I drew of what I believed I looked like. This is the image I still hold today and work to change.

How To Improve Your Body Image
When I was in hospital we had a weekly body image group. It was the only group we always had and was of course the one which we all absolutely dreaded. It was hard; really really really hard. Some of the exercises were, while extremely painful, transformative. Others however, like having to stand with minimum clothes on in front of a mirror and stare at yourself...were not. I recently found my notes from those groups so I thought I might share somethings with you that may spark a counteractive body thought within you or perhaps help you in your body image journey someway. PS these are my own notes and writing so I hope I am not doing anything bad or illegal by sharing some of the help and guidance I received from these classes ahh! I believe that I am truly so lucky and blessed to have received help and guidance from services and I am so aware that not everyone can access these. I hope that I can share everything and anything that I learned (whether I found useful or not) and that they may be of help to you. I wish every single person, specifically every young adult and teenager, could access this information but I hope in sharing these exercises that a change in how people view and treat their bodies may begin. You will need a pen, paper, a cup full of compassion, an open mind and a tissue (you may just cry, hopefully with tears of happiness).

Dear Body
If you could write a poem to your body, the one thing that has been with you for every single moment of your existence, what would you say? Would you scream at your thighs for not being skinny enough? Would you yell at your legs for not being muscly enough? Would you roar at your hips for not being curvy enough? Or, would you thank your legs for holding you up while you dance into the early hours of the morning with your best friends? Would you rejoice at your brain for getting you through an exam having pulled an all nighter? Would you smile at your palms for allowing you to hold the hands of those you love? Or perhaps you would apologise; say sorry for all the years that you hated it for not being enough. Or, maybe you would say nothing, maybe engaging with your body now is still too scary but at least you may have just opened up that initial space for thought and conversation. Maybe even just the idea of cultivating a more loving and accepting relationship is enough; maybe that is where the healing begins.

Image Impact
Draw a small circle, another circle around it and finally a third circle encompassing all three. In the middle write 'me', in the second perimeter write 'loved ones' and in the third write 'others'. Beginning from the side out, insert the effect of having a negative body image relationship upon each of the various titles. For example, in the innermost circle you may have 'self hatred, anger, low mood, anxiety, avoid social events, avoid photos, fearful of intimate relationships, unable to enjoy shopping' etc etc! Then work outwards until each circle is complete eg loved ones may contain 'distrust towards others, feeling left out, too self absorbed to interact fully with them' while others may contain 'perceived as a loner, inability to develop more meaningful relationships, perceived as uninterested'. I found this exercise really helpful when I did it, as upon completion, I realised that the issues within the two outer circles all stemmed from the pain of which I held within me. For example, if I could improve my body image and ability to attend group gatherings well then I would solve the problem of feeling left out and then I would solve the fear of being perceived as a loner. Apparently it is the whole point of the exercise; to help us to recognise that in order to change our life and situations, we must first change ourselves. This can be hard as while we may do everything to shift our own mindset, it can take a while for the ripple effect outwards to occur and thus we may give up thinking 'it's hopeless', however 'never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn'.

My body image impact diagram from that point in my life. 

Body Blessings
This exercise may be very similar to the body letter but perhaps your piece of personal prose had a completely different approach! This is to simply write a list with a steady beating grateful heart, of everything your body can do and has done for you. Your eyes allow you to view the magic of sunsets, your ears enable you to wake up to the sound of birds chirping (or your dreaded alarm heheh), your nose reminds you of a magical childhood memory as you walk past the sweet shop. These tiny things we take for granted, yet, such luxuries are not available to everyone sadly. Can you imagine just how much someone without the ability to see would give up just to see the faces of those they love? To make this exercise even more powerful, try appreciating the very specific parts of your body which you detest the most. It's hard and will go against every grain of your soul. Crying about my hips last night seems incredibly insignificant and ignorant now.

Shedding the Struggle
What could you lose if you ended the conflicting relationships with your body? Personally, I fear losing a sense of control, that I would let myself go and be 'happy' and 'accepting' of my features and flaws. I also fear losing my identity, who would I be without this self awarded 'I hate myself' label? My biggest fear in essence, perhaps what it all bubbles down to, is happiness...but that whole topic is for another day maybe lol! More importantly however, the question is; what would you gain if this struggle was severed? Freedom in mind, body and soul, headspace, peace, joy, better relationships, enriched experiences, ability to reach your full potential...the list goes on and on! What could you absorb or shed in growing towards the light of love?

'Listen to me, your body is not a temple. Temples can be destroyed and desecrated. Your body is a forest—thick canopies of maple trees and sweet scented wildflowers sprouting in the underwood. You will grow back, over and over, no matter how badly you are devastated.'

This can be quite a hard and painful topic for many people. Please seek the adequate support and self care you may need. If you are suffering from any pain, please reach out for help. You do not deserve this pain and your suffering should not be in silence. It's ok not to be ok but it is absolutely NOT ok to do nothing about it. As a species, us humans are not doing too ok and that is ok! If we were we wouldn't have overflowing psychiatric hospitals, countless therapy centres and numerous mental health campaigns. Your feelings are valid but that doesn't mean they are true and deserving of inflicting pain. If you or anyone you know is in pain, scared, suffering, lonely, sad, angry, addicted or hurting please please please do not suffer in silence. Reach out for help, talk to someone. 

I hope this post may have helped revolutionise your reflection, open your mind and maybe even lift your heart. Please leave any suggestions or questions below in the comments section. Thank you so much for reading!

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 lots of love & peace & happiness

I'm Quitting Social Media

Digital Detox

Hello there, I'm giggling away as a type this due to the very fact that I had to first post this on social media for you to access it but lol I hope you are doing well and that you are enjoying the sunshine in whatever part of the world you are reading this. I'm quitting social media...(well for 30 days initially anyway). It has taken me a long long time to genuinely accept this but I think I have a bit of an addiction, perhaps you reading this may have it too. For so long I have been in complete denial, even fighting with others when they voiced their concerns over how long I can spend scrolling on Instagram. 

I truly believe in signs from the universe and recently, everywhere I look, everything I read and all that I listen to seems to be pointing me in the direction of embarking on my own digital detox. Some of my favourite Youtubers recently undertook their own such challenges (here, here and here) and their results were so uplifting and hope instilling that I hope and pray it may have such an affect on my life too! 

So what does this mean? I'm quitting, cold turkey. I'm sooo scared. Honestly terrified and perhaps that is more of a reason why I need to take a break. Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, VSCO, Pinterest, Tumblr even Youtube...everything and anything which can be used as a platform for interaction. The only apps I will leave remaining are Viber/Whatsapp, so I can contact those close to me if and when needed. I think I will really struggle with this, specifically without Snapchat, Youtube and Instagram. I don't know what I'm going to do if (more likely when lol) I am lost on a night out with my friends and can't use Snapmaps to track down their location. The pre-FOMO of wondering if perhaps the love of my life might slide into my DMs and I won't be there to respond, has already kicked in hahaha, for real though! I am so nervous of not having access to the inspiring accounts and motivational recovery bloggers I follow. I have no idea how I will adjust to not being able to flick on Youtube for some instant entertainment, escape and education. However, there are ways around all and solutions to everything and so I am going to learn how to adapt and do things in a more traditional and less direct way which may require more effort yet will reward greater freedom.

In January I began going on mini media breaks. I would promise to delete social apps for a week and usually re-download them after a day, or even a few hours. I would hide them in a 'DO NOT TOUCH' folder in my phone, only to touch very very soon after! I would set a screen limit on my phone for 45 minutes max a day only to click 'always unlimited access' every single time the alarm appeared. But this time, I truly think I have had enough. Of course social media can be so helpful and absolutely brilliant; it connects us, removes barriers, opens up new pathways and reveals new worlds of endless possibilities. However, where there is light, there may also be darkness and such shadows have become cast upon my life. I need a break, a breath of air, a space to clear my mind and these are my reasons why.

'The tycoons of social media have to stop pretending that they’re friendly nerd gods building a better world and admit they’re just tobacco farmers in T-shirts selling an addictive product to children. Because, let’s face it, checking your “likes” is the new smoking.'

Information Overload
Comparison is the thief of joy. I have written about this topic before in my post Compare to Despair, yet no matter how hard I try, with every scroll and each double tap, I find myself falling deeper and deeper into a seemingly bottomless pit of self loathing and hatred; of not enough-ness. No matter how hard I try to remind myself that 'all that glisters is not gold' and that people more often than not show their highlight reels and not their behind the scenes; I can't help but contrast the whole ever running movie of my life to another's edited short snippet. I truly think it is so sad and it makes me so angry at myself. I am so lucky, we all are, to live the lives we live yet no matter how good we have it, it never seems enough; someone always has it better. Of course, we all know in the back of our minds that there are people who are better, richer, prettier, smarter etc than us yet social media provides us with constant up to date exposure to such standards. I had a discussion with my family recently about this. I explained to them how I need social media to keep me in line. I need to be reminded of my lack of worth and not enough-ness so that I can strive for improvement. I must be under a never ending bombardment of 'truths' for fear that I ever so dare to believe that all that I have is enough. I ought to have any slivers of happiness self-belittled and disregarded as mediocre and irrelevant. I explained to them my fear of oblivion. I have a fear of not seeing how much greater others have it. I am terrified of being ok with being ok. I am afraid of settling, of becoming complacent, of falling out of line and actually accepting myself...I am petrified perhaps of being happy. (Is it just me or do you also think that sounds like an irrational addict who fears losing their fix trying to justify their habits lol?!). I laid in bed last night, having deleted instagram for the day, and my mind was racing..'what if a gorgeous model has posted a beautiful tanned skinny bikini photo of themselves and I have missed it and now I'm missing out on feeling bad about myself, how dare I have the audacity to lie here in oblivion and pretend that everything is ok now that I am unaware of an exterior far away world...oh gosh I must re-download it and check everyone's posts just to remind myself that I must feel bad, that I am not enough, that there is nothing to be ok about, there are so many improvements to be made; I must not be happy'...and so I spent 30 minutes scrolling; full of envy, desire and torment which combined together to form a toxic poison of self hatred, sending me off into a not so blissful sleep. It's safe to say that my family looked at me like I have 2 heads when I explained my fears, but luckily my sister (who has fortunately much greater wisdom, self assurance and maturity than me) could relate to certain points I was making. Her answer really stuck with me, 'Lauren, how come you choose to focus on all that is seemingly better and greater than your life yet when you hear of another car crash, see another city being bombed or read of another natural disaster you don't rejoice and scream 'oh wow how wonderful my life is, how lucky I am, how good I have it, I must constantly compare my life to all that is worse than mine so that I never ever forget how beautiful all that I have is', why do you pick and choose what to focus on?'. I was reminded of a psychological phenomenon exploited by marketers today called selective which we subconsciously choose what to ignore and what to absorb based on our base line beliefs. Thus, with quite a negative underlying self view, I have chosen to concentrate on things which will further deepen these pessimistic views and ignore anything which may suggest that my engrained beliefs and thoughts may actually be not so true! And so, long story short, social media is annihilating my sense of self worth, destroying my ideals of what is true and false, distorting my beliefs of what is good and bad and trapping me so far inside my mind that my thoughts have turned into ones of complete irrationality, of which 'normal people' (perhaps our parents or young children and elders who are unaware of social media), will never ever have because they just don't make sense to a normal sane person...just like an addict! 

Endless Problems
I believe that with social media, every traditional problem that also pestered our past generations, suddenly gain new underlying and complex layers of deeper issues. Deciding what to wear is no longer a question of, 'what will I wear today', but has now transformed into 'how many pictures have I been seen wearing this in', 'this person will be there tonight and I always look so big next to them in pictures so I have to make sure I wear something slimming', 'I must find a pair of heels to wear and then bring a pair of flats for after photos'. Social media seems to add so many additional fears and worries to every basic problem and doubt. What would it be like to just have to worry about the basics? Imagine then what we could be capable of, the mental clutter which could be cleared from our minds could create sacred territory for unimaginable endless new thoughts.

Digital Distraction
Cal Newport is an author and professor who talks a lot about productivity and digital minimalism. He wrote the books 'Deep Work' and 'Digital Minimalism' in which he talks a lot about the flow state. Flow state is almost like an esoteric magical feeling of uninterrupted creative flow in which your brain produces, crafts and creates seamlessly, without stoppage. It feels like floating; without any recognition of time, space or reality. Social media is perhaps like a pop-up ad for our brains. You're effortlessly watching an online video when an ad pops up; your attention is misdirected, you have to change thoughts, behaviour and act upon the ad to shut it down..I see social media as the very same. I was recently studying for my end of year summer exams and I can't count the amount of times in which I was consumed by an accounting question or freely recalling law cases when my phone buzzed and all growth was took twice as long to even try to get back into that state all due to a single bing! Furthermore, I find that the more I use social media, the more diluted my right brain becomes. I find myself less artistic, imaginative and innovative. Constant consumption leaves no room for creation. While sites like Pinterest, Youtube and Tumblr help me so much in harbouring new ideas, other apps seem to drain my vision of all colours and things are left feeling a little grey. 

Sometimes I feel as if I live my life through social spectacles. I find myself viewing the world as a collection of potential Instagram boomerangs, future VSCO photos and promising Snapchat stories. Instead of living in the moment as it is and appreciating the beauty and simplicity in the life that surrounds me; I have found myself instead frantically searching for anything which could be used for social ingratiation and increase or 'proof' of a lovely life. (I am currently working on a coming blog post called 'Living a Lie' where I will talk more about this the false charades we portray on social media, so do keep checking back as odds are you will not see me posting about it on social media heheh). Social media has seriously affected my values as a human being. This negative consequence often makes me think of the quote 'if a tree falls in a forrest and nobody was there to hear it, did it really fall?'...'if something happened and it wasn't captured or posted, did it really happen?'. A beautiful sunset, a lovely moment with friends and a thought provoking piece of writing are suddenly gaining a sense of worthlessness in my life if they have not been shared for outward validation and proof. Why can't my own perception and attached value not be enough?! It makes no sense. At times we feel so busy proving our lives that we can forget to actually live it. I want to learn how to appreciate the magic of each moment exactly as it is and not through the biased blinkers of post-worthiness. Luckily, I personally am not too fixated on the number of likes, followers and views I obtain, however that is an aspect of life in which many other's values are fixated and dictated, are yours?

How many times have you been there? It's 1 am, you're lying in bed constantly updating your snapchat feed to purposely torture yourself as you watch the stories of everyone else dancing to your favourite song in your favourite club having the time of their lives (even if they're not, social media will always make it seem that way..coming in my future post Living a Lie). The fear of missing out, or FOMO is such a real fear these days and a cause of major crippling anxiety. For me, it's not the fear of missing out on a particular moment per-say that worries me, it's the thought of being forgotten, of others moving on without me, of being left all alone while my friends move on without me and realise that moments are much better when I am not there. Isn't it crazy just how crazy social media can make us?! Deep down I realistically know that all of my true friends love me and if my absence makes them relieved or happy then maybe we aren't true friends at all. For me, social media saturates and amplifies my underlying negative beliefs (as I mentioned earlier above), turning trickles of tension into panicked paranoia. I am really excited to see the effects of this social sabbatical on my anxiety levels.

Sometimes I feel like I'm running out of time. At times morning and night morph into one and I wonder what happened in between. I complain about how I wish I had more time to read and write, how I would do anything to be able to gain a structured meditation practice and how I never seem to find the space or energy to journal. When my phone recently updated and I could see how much screen time consumed my waking hours, I was shocked and scared. 5 hours a day. FIVE HOURS A DAY. Thats 35 hours a week, 1,825 hours a year. I am aware that sometimes I use my phone to listen to a podcast, do a relaxing sudoku or google the answer to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, but 90% of my time was spent on social media. Hours which seem like seconds are beginning to steal my life away while I fight for the physical and mental energy to do things that I actually want and like to do in my life that could also actually be of benefit. 

Vicious Cycle
Something so many of us, perhaps all of us, often forget is that social media is a business. It's not our friend, our only means of connection or a necessary factor for survival; it is a business model who's main objective is to make money, and it will do anything to obtain it. I heard recently on a podcast by Matt d'Avella, that social applications are built for creating a loop of constant consumption; an addiction. They tap into our innate human needs and exploit them for revenue generation. We post a photo and it gains a like, this like instantly releases serotonin (a happiness chemical) in our bodies; each new notification is often compared to the mental power of cocaine. Each like generates more of this chemical yet also generates more business revenue, thus, the more such platforms can get us obsessed with the need to gain followers, likes and favourites; the more profitable they can become. When something we post reaches its saturation point of which no more likes will be obtained, we search for a new fix of satisfaction. However, such social platforms have also learned how to exploit this need just incase we decide to find bliss needs to keep us within its grips and so it reminds us that we haven't posted in a while, it rewards us for reaching a new follower milestone, it bombards us with emails of friends' updates so we feel panicked at not keeping up with the Jones'. One of my greatest inspirations, Eckhart Tolle, recently spoke of the horrific impacts the constant influx of both conscious advertisements and subliminal messages we receive daily have on our mind. Social media strips away our real human satiations and replaces them for artificial quick fixes. It gives us everything we think we need; connection, love, validation, friends etc but the pivotal part is that none of it is real. It has been proven that hugging a person releases endorphins that can not otherwise be met...something I really want to keep in mind next time I send an air hug emoji to my best friend!

'If you're listening to the noise of the world, it's impossible to hear the whispers of your soul'.

Would you like to join me on this 30 day detox? We can embark on this new journey together, I am here (virtually) holding your hand hehe! I will be able to access my blog during this detox so feel free to let me know in the comments below (it makes my day getting such kind lovely messages from you, it means the world that these posts are helping people). In the mean time, if you need me, text my phone number, comment below or go old fashioned and send a letter hehe. See you June 15th!

I hope you enjoyed!

lots of love & peace & happiness
Lauren x

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