It was late June when I went for a checkup with my primary care physician. It had been a year and a half since I’d been to see her… Since I’d been to see any doctor. She sent me off to pee in a cup and then ushered me into the examination room. The scale loomed before me.
In the past year or so, I’d been scrutinizing a lot of my beliefs about the body. I’d re-read The F*ck It Diet (a take-down of the diet industry), embraced the idea of feeding my body when it wanted to be fed, and reached toward body neutrality (a work in progress). My body had expanded as a result. And while I knew, intellectually, that the number on the scale did not define me, I also knew that if I saw it, it would haunt me.
I asked to step onto the scale backwards so I could remain in blissful ignorance.
I also got bloodwork done and scrips for other tests. I had been experiencing extreme fatigue and wanted answers. When the results came back, I saw that my cholesterol levels had shot up, my liver levels were off, I had an enlarged thyroid, and there was a benign tumor in my abdomen. More appointments are forthcoming.
As I work toward untangling the many possible causes of my fatigue — my thyroid? stress? anxiety? depression? — I’m also grappling with what it means to be responsive to my body’s needs, while also making sure it remains healthy. After all, the way I look at my body impacts so much of my life. My day-to-day functioning. My self-esteem.
It even affects my sex life.
In Come As You Are, Emily Nagoski writes about what she refers to as the dual control model, a model of human sexual response. According to this model, the sexual response mechanism in our brain contains a sexual accelerator and sexual brakes. To oversimplify things (sorry, Emily!), our sexual accelerators make us more amenable to the sexy-sex, while our sexual brakes can bring us to a screeching halt. As someone with extra-sensitive brakes, there are a lot of things that get in my way when it comes to enjoying sexual pleasure. A big one — and a common one — are body image issues.
If this resonates, you might also be wondering how to find that balance between taking care of your body and giving it some love. The tips below will likely sound familiar, but you may be more inclined to follow through with them now that you know that body image issues affect more than just your ability to rock a crop top.
Pamper Yourself. For me, pampering myself means soaking with a white tea and orchid bath bomb from my favorite local shop. It means using my favorite coconut verbena hand cream. It means hot showers and body butters and that one lip mask whose scent reminds me, for some reason, of apple crumble. These are all things that leave my skin soft and smooth and smelling vaguely of dessert. For you, enjoying non-sexual touch might mean getting a massage, soaking in a hot tub, or getting a mani-pedi. Which activities enable you to feel joy in your body?
Engage in Self-Love. Being able to lose yourself in sexual pleasure with a partner might feel impossible when you’re distracted by self-consciousness about your body. Why don’t you start regaining that connection to your sexual pleasure while flying solo? Set a date with yourself when no one else is home. Pull up your favorite audio erotica track. Make sure your favorite vibrator and lubricant are close at hand. Rediscover what feels good by exploring your body and experimenting with various forms of touch and sensation.
Feed Your Body. Fantastic books like The F*ck It Diet, Health at Every Size, and Intuitive Eating share research on why dieting often backfires and why feeding your body when it wants to be fed can actually help you maintain your healthiest weight. And by “healthy”, I don’t refer to any size in particular. The number on the scale is not an indicator of either your health or your worth. Learn to trust the cues your body is sending to you. Allow yourself to enjoy what you eat. Know that by feeding yourself, you’re taking care of yourself.
Find Joy in Movement. Screw the elliptical machine (unless you enjoy that sort of thing). Screw any sort of movement you engage in solely as a form of weight control. These types of exercise only end up feeling like punishments. Instead, do the things you actually enjoy, whether that be a yin yoga class, a walk around the neighborhood on a nice day, or a dance party in your kitchen while you’re cooking dinner.
Manage Your Stress. For me, yoga does double duty. It limbers me up and makes me feel strong. It also prevents me from going full Hulk Smash on my family. Sometimes, I also do restorative yoga and body scan meditation. You might prefer being in nature, soaking in the tub, or kicking butt in a kickboxing class. Allow me to mention Emily Nagoski again, and her twin sister Amelia. They literally wrote the book on burnout (it’s called Burnout), and it will give you the full lowdown on how best to manage your stress.
Sleep. Finally, when the day is done, you need to rest your body. Research shows that most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep. How many hours of sleep actually leave you feeling rested? Honor that. Sure, I might get teased for sliding into bed with a book at 8 p.m. and turning out the lights by 10:30, but at least I can function the next day. What’s keeping you from getting an adequate amount of sleep and how can you remedy that?
When I teach yoga (because of course I teach yoga), I like to tell my students to listen to and honor their bodies more than they listen to me. And as we emerge from our savasana, I have them take a moment to thank their breath and their bodies for everything they’re capable of. Because, my god, have you ever really thought about all the things our bodies do to keep us alive?!
With all of the suggestions above, you’re learning to listen to and honor your body and its needs. With time, I hope you can feel gratitude for it, too.