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Mornings are the hardest part of the day for many people in the throes of body shame.
When I was weight cycling and food restricting, each morning began with self-hatred. “I hate this body” was my first waking thought - my painful mantra. The terror of my fat body always loomed ominously from the moment I woke up. I was afraid of what I would eat or not eat. I was afraid of my weight changing. I thought each moment represented a new risk to my life spiraling out of control. Each moment presented a new challenge – how could I eat less and move more? Time moved slowly as I waited for my “real (thin) life” to begin.
Even when we transition into recovery, old habits and neural pathways remain. Often, we approach recovery with many of the same frameworks we are trying to escape. For instance, I’ve worked with many people who bring the “I’m never good enough” mentality - an integral part of restriction and dieting behavior – into their body acceptance work. The core anxiety goes from “Why aren’t I thin yet!? Something must be wrong with me!” to “Why aren’t I healed yet!? Something must be wrong with me!”
So, even if you’re recovering from diet culture you can experience the hangover effect of those mornings dedicated to self-loathing. This is something I struggle with.
In this culture I have to take active steps not to get swept up in the frenzy of body shame and body-based anxiety that is all around us. This week I decided to add something to my Fat Body Justice Babe Toolkit. Many of our best tools are really born out of necessity. For me, it was the necessity to radically change how my day began.
Even though I haven’t actively strived for a thin body in several years, I still experience the fear I’ve been taught to have of my fat body. The fear (i.e., internalized fatphobia) no longer manifests as thoughts like “I’m not thin enough to matter.” Instead it’s shifted away from beauty ideals to health ideals: “Am I the healthiest fat person I can possibly be?” (The answer inevitably always seems to be “no”)
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This anxiety comes from both inside and outside the fat liberation/body justice movement. In the culture at large, I was taught to be afraid of my fat body and see it as a sign of ill-health. I have long been surrounded by propaganda that says thinness is the key to a longer life, that sugar is a great threat to the American people, that my body is an acceptable target upon which people can project their fear of death.
Within many parts of the fat liberation/body justice movement, the language around health is less prescriptive but the preoccupation is similarly omnipresent.
The real truth is that the way we think of health is socially constructed. In my 20s I learned that many other cultures feel that the US idea of health is highly ill-informed. For example, I remember a friend who grew up in another country telling me that he couldn’t believe I was advised to eat raw vegetables. He grew up being taught that eating raw vegetables was a quick way to overwork your digestive system and that it led to rapid aging. Further, we’re the best person to decide what we need and want. We each get to decide how we eat and how we move. And no person is better or worse because they pass medical standards of fitness.
I intellectually know all this, and have long used my Instagram to showcase my disregard for Western notions of health by taking selfies with every donut I can get my chubby brown hands on. However, I have not left this discourse unscathed.
And that brings us back to mornings. I got tired of waking up and being terrified for my health and so I decided to do what I’d been taught to do in moments of distress: craft.
I made myself a new script – literally – and put it on the dresser that’s next to my bed, the first thing I see in the morning. Here’s how I did it:
Cut out some images you want to see every, single day for a while from magazines; they will serve as the backdrop collage
Complete the collage by gluing the images to a blank sheet of 8.5x11 “paper. Step 3:
Add a half sheet of blank white paper and write your new morning script on it (see below for mine).
When I wake up I read my new morning script outloud:
I start today with love toward my body & compassion toward myself.
My body is perfect.
My body is strong.
I am capable of truly accepting myself without judgment.
I am exactly where I am supposed to be right now.
I also added the picture of my little bedside poster as a screensaver on my phone. It’s important to have tangible tools we can access outside of our brains in moments when our body fears show up.