Small-scale Body Care

self care tips

Cultivating self-love and body positivity can feel so daunting. When you’ve spent ages trash-talking your own physical form, fielding criticism from others, or dealing with any kind of negativity that has jarred you loose from a foundation of self-respect and acceptance, the road back to body love can feel long. The work can seem overwhelming. And there will be days when you wonder if you’ll ever feel at peace with yourself again.

And, the fact is, that total self-love and body acceptance are really, really difficult to achieve. I know I’M not there, and I’ve been actively working at both goals for more years than I can count. So bear that in mind: It’s a work in progress and more about the journey than any imagined destination.

However, it sometimes helps to take small-scale actions as you work your way along, tackle small projects or undertake manageable goals so that progress can be felt. Caring for your body can be expressed through something as ordinary as a manicure – a simple, relatively quick activity that forces you to pause in your daily rush to focus on your hands, a body part that toils tirelessly and is often taken for granted. Going in for a bra fitting can be a nightmare, but it can also be an amazing way to reconnect with your body. Finding, buying, and wearing a comfortable, supportive, new bra can transform your silhouette, posture, and attitude. No, really. And, of course, there’s the triad of well-worn body-love activities that are constantly recommended: Take a bath! Get a massage! Go out for a walk! Cliche for a reason: Efficacy.

But what about less concrete actions? If you don’t have time for a manicure or a massage, what else can you do to undertake some small-scale body care?

Give yourself a break

Vague, right? But I’d wager the very phrase strikes a chord in many of you. Most people are unbelievably hard on themselves (guilty as charged, right here), and seldom allow for simple breaks from their daily grind. Whether you need a short respite from your major stressor, from your exercise routine, from your daily responsibilities, consider how to make that happen. Ask for help from friends and family, take a vacation day on a random Wednesday, find a workaround somehow. Emotional turmoil strains your body, too, and taking breaks can be a great way to offer your physical self an olive branch.

Ask for hugs

I suffer from fairly severe anxiety, and just about the only thing that consistently brings me down from the Stratosphere of Worry is a long, calming hug from my husband. Physical touch can be a fabulous force for healing, and while sexual touch is its own world of wonderful, simple hugs are often easier to procure. Friends, family, lovers, ask anyone and everyone who cares for you to hug it out if you’re feeling disconnected from your body. You’ll be grounded in an instant if you’re anything like me.

Offer forgiveness

Forgiving your body for something that has been frustrating you is another amazing way to scoot your way down the path to holistic self-love. This one may feel more challenging if you’re combating illness or injury, or even if you struggle with feelings of betrayal by or detachment from your body. But if it feels possible, pick something small. Forgive your body for its wiry hair, its jiggly backside, its allergies. Whatever has been irking you most lately, tackle that. Or a chunk of it. Letting go of a specific and tiresome issue can be a surprisingly healing act.

Again, body love and acceptance is a long process, though well worth undertaking. These actions may seem insignificant in the grander scheme, but that grander scheme is nothing if not a collection of small actions.

Image courtesy Julie McLeod.

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  • Helen

    So lovely!

  • This is a struggle for me too. Last year, I started attending yoga classes. I don’t understand how yoga physically works on the body besides the stretching/flexibility aspect, but learning to breathe deeply is wonderful for calming anxiety. Yoga also helps with the blues; I find I leave class (or finish a DVD) and feel much better, though I have no idea why. (Research documents that yoga is an effective tool for depression). Our teacher encourages body love throughout class, being gentle with yourself, and in some poses you give yourself a physical hug, pulling your knees into your chest. So I would encourage anyone to give it a try; unlike most sports or gyms, there are a variety of ages and body shapes there and everyone works to their own ability. You can cultivate a new relationship with your body and feel good knowing you are doing something positive for yourself.

    Other than yoga, I’m a big fan of naps, drinking more water, and buying soaps or lotions with wonderful scents to take better care of my skin.

  • One thing that you didn’t mention, but that I think can be really powerful is making good food choices. Sure, having comfort food every now and again can be a great pick me up, but making a point to get in fruits and veggies on a daily basis and lose some of the more processed foods can definitely be world changing for people who have been uncomfortable in their own skin for so long. It’s amazing what the right food can do for our mood, our digestion, and even our skin!!

    Just wanted to put that out there :).

  • A few years ago, I was hit by a car. I was lucky: my chronic back pain doesn’t keep me from doing much, and it could have been much worse.

    But that pain and its attendant small limitations have given me a new perspective on my body. For me, this is a step beyond “forgiveness”; there’s nothing to forgive. Now it’s easier for me to appreciate and adore my body for its own sake, not for its place in the beauty hierarchy.

    My legs are powerful and flexible: they no longer stop traffic, but they take me everywhere I need to go without complaint. I understand why my partner can’t keep his hands off my waist and hips: where once they were narrow and hard with muscle and bone, now they’re luxuriously soft and silky, irresistible to the touch. My broad, quick, capable hands are a bit scarred and marred, but they’re a map of my long kitchen history.

    When I look at my friends, I don’t see the supposed flaws of their bodies; I see their bright eyes, silken skin, broad smiles, fluid limbs and movements. I need to extend the same affection and fondness to my own body that I would have for a friend or loved one. It’s my body. It’s the vessel in which I travel this world. It’s me.

  • Sarah

    I strongly agree with the “give yourself a break” advice. I am currently laid up with a pulled back muscle from overdoing it and pushing myself past what I knew was my breaking point. The Vicodin is lovely but the pain is not…I am still learning how to listen to my body. It’s definitely a work in progress.

    I had surgery earlier this year and ended up with a shunt in my spine…that was another situation in which I didn’t listen to my body and now, in addition to the shunt, I am also partially blind in one eye. I got away with ignoring my body for a long time but it will catch up with you eventually.

  • Jenna

    You know, I guess the only thing preventing me from taking up this ideology is the fear that it will somehow make me lazy with myself, I’ve always likened it to giving up on being the best that you can be. How do you draw the line between loving yourself for who you are and enabling yourself? How do you know when you’re just built to be curvy vs. needing to lose 15 lbs? I see these conflicting ideologies everywhere, but I never seem to find people talking about where to draw the line.

    • Jenna,
      There is no simple answer to your questions, because they are different for everybody. Personally, I think a good guideline would be the Serenity Prayer:

      God grant me the serenity
      to accept the things I cannot change;
      courage to change the things I can;
      and wisdom to know the difference.

      For those who were injured or have allergies or something they were born with that they cannot change, it seems that the best path is to forgive and be gentle with themselves. For those who have issues with their body that they dislike but perhaps can control, like eating patterns, amount of movement/exercise in a day, making sure you wash your makeup off at night before bed, I wish them the courage to change those habits if that is what they want to do. The wisdom comes in knowing yourself as only you can — if you’ve *really tried* to eat less/eat healthy/move more, and you haven’t lost all of the weight you wanted to, maybe your body can’t be the size you long for it to be without putting your health in jeopardy. At that point, I’d see a medical professional, nutritionist, or personal trainer to find out what is safe and realistically possible.

      I’ll never grow four inches taller or morph into the lithe ballerina body I wish I had, but if I can tone up and lose those pesky ten pounds, I’ll still look slimmer overall. I sincerely hope that helps with your question.

  • hugs are a HUGE way I deal with worry and anxiety as well. I never knew others felt that way too!

  • BelindieG

    I dunno–I think too many of us are willing to give ourselves a break, rather than go for diligence and commitment and perseverance. I’m more inclined to honor myself and my body by keeping my word, acknowledging my short-comings and faults and being grateful, rather than coasting.