Many of us are struggling with our body image in quarantine, Têra Kaia Collective community member Ryley Rush puts voice to what we are all feeling while we are cooped up inside.
Yesterday, I heard a voice I hadn’t in a long time.
No, it wasn’t an old friend quarantine FaceTiming me out of the blue (though that has been a bright spot in this quarantine business). This was a less welcome voice, and I was surprised to hear it.
“You’re gaining weight,” it said, simply. “You’re losing progress.”
I was throwing a shirt on before I went for a run, and the voice in my head was loud enough to make me pause and scrutinize my reflection in the mirror, seeing if reality lined up with the words. Wondering if my body image perception lined up with reality.
The Start of Ryley's Body Image Journey:
For years in high school and college, I lived with this voice raging in my head. I listened to it, too. I believed every word it said, followed its instructions, waged a war against my body to the point that I couldn’t trust it or myself.
I restricted food obsessively or tried not to eat at all. When I did indulge, I was wracked with guilt and the occasional anxiety attack. I ran miles and miles fueled by fear, and at the end of the day, I never really liked what I saw in the mirror, anyway. It was sad. It was mean. It was exhausting.
Over the years, thanks to a host of different factors, I’ve healed and found freedom in the realm of disordered eating and body image anxiety. I genuinely like my body, appreciate its strength, and care for it well. I love how it knows to drop-knee or hip-turn before my mind ever does on a tough climb. I love how it powers me through long days of creative work and gives me the strength to show up for my people. My body is good. Yours is, too.
Our body image does not reflect who we are as a person:
On top of that, I also believe that our bodies are far from the most important thing about us. Think about it! In a world that too often reduces women to the physical, think about the women you love, and why. A wicked sense of humor, an adventurous attitude, a calming presence, ambition, intelligence, all-time belay skills — the reasons our mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends mean so much to us could fill a book, and the way they look in a swimsuit wouldn’t even make the list. I’ve learned, slowly but surely, to see myself the same way. It’s my wish for every woman out there.
the reasons our mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends mean so much to us could fill a book, and the way they look in a swimsuit wouldn’t even make the list.
But that doesn’t mean that voice doesn’t occasionally crop back up; and these crazy times of coronavirus, quarantine, and social-distancing have given it more opportunity to be heard than ever.
For those of you whose “voice” is extra loud these days — or simply trying to resurface — I thought I’d share some of the tools I personally have for confronting my body image negativity, conversing with it, and hopefully shutting it up.
Tool to Help Rid Body Image Negativity During Quarantine:
1. Repeat after me: This situation is temporary.
We may not know how long this season will last, or exactly what life will look like afterward; but we do know there will be an afterward, and a chance to go back to more regular eating, workout, and recovery patterns. When I’ve found myself stressed because my food revolves more around what’s available than what’s best for, say, high-performance climbing; I remind myself that this too, shall pass. And in the meantime, it’s much better to fuel your body than starve it.
2. Don’t stress.
Easier said than done, I know. There’s plenty of evidence for the negative effects of stress on the body, though. No matter what your goals are, putting your body in a place of stress is the fastest track to failure. It took me years of trying to eat as little as possible to learn that my body responds to starvation mode by coming to a screeching halt, holding onto every fiber and bit of energy in understandable alarm. On the other hand, when I feed my body, it relaxes; trusting it has (and will continue to be given) what it needs to speed that metabolism back up, burn calories, perform, restore — whatever it needs to do. While your body’s response to stress will likely look different than mine, the principle stands. Don’t be stingy with your body, especially in a season when your mind and emotions are already on edge. Feed it. Fuel it. Love on it a little extra. Give it what it needs to take care of you during this time.
3. Choose your movement based on emotion.
Somewhat, at least! As a climber, I’m still strategically choosing a lot of my workouts — doing my best to maintain upper body, finger, and core strength. But I’ve deliberately chosen to base most of my workouts purely on enjoyment. I recognized early that this situation could be a trigger for old, fear-based workout habits, and have decided to make sure the bulk of my time and energy is given to movement that directly combats that. For me, deliberately slow, leisurely running does the trick, as do long bike rides! What workouts soothe anxiety or simply make you feel good? Make more time for those than ever.
4. Get scientific.
I’ve always found that when I’m having trouble sorting out what’s true and what’s an irrational concern, returning to scientific fact is calming. The voice in your head always takes things to wild, unsettling extremes. Let the facts calm you down. Your body is the culmination of days, weeks, months, years of habit, effort, and activity. A brief period of altered routines isn’t instantaneously undoing that.
5. Be outside however you’re able.
I’ve taken to working with my window open or even moving my home office to the back porch. I go on walks, runs, and bike rides. Whatever you’re able to do in the outdoors these days, prioritize doing it. There’s nothing like nature for a frenzied mind — even in the city or the suburbs. Go getcha some sunshine and fresh air. You need it more than ever.
6. Curate who you follow carefully.
If you’re feeling guilted by any account you follow on social media — stop following it! The same goes for anyone that you find who throws you into a comparison game or encourages unhealthy tendencies. (For those who may be feeling the negativity from family or close friends, there’s a “mute” or similar option on most platforms that allows you to block their activity from your feed without actually hitting them with the unfollow. Don’t hesitate to use it!)
7. Remember those women you love so much? Pretend the voice is talking to them.
Look, it sounds ridiculous — but would you stand for someone talking to your best girlfriend like that? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
8. Finally, and most importantly: If you need support, get support.
For me, at the stage I’m at, this may just look like letting a handful of trusted friends know what’s going on, and asking them to check in on me and hold me accountable when it comes to specific behaviors. But for a while, it looked like counseling or therapy. If you already have a therapist, give them a call or set up a telemedicine-style appointment. If you don’t, what better time to find one? Ask friends or people you know with similar struggles who they see, do your research, and get that ball rolling for your beautiful, brave self.
Other than the linked articles, all of the information shared above I’ve learned from a variety of sources, including
Laura Ligos, Christa Roberts of Restored Nutrition Coaching, Rachel Garmon, Alyssa Olenick, and similar, credentialed nutritionists and trainers. I would encourage you to check out their work and resources!
About the Author
Ryley Rush is a Texas-based writer, photographer, climber, and general over-stoker. You can find more of her ramblings on her Instagram; and if you see her biking the bayou or whipping off a route at Reimers, say hi!
Looking for more from the collective? Check out the articles below form other collective community members:
- How Coronavirus is Impacting the Lives of Outdoor Women Around the Globe
- Betsy Dionne on body confidence, mental health, and wildlife.
- Têra Kaia Update Regarding COVID-19 Coronavirus
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