(Editor’s Note — 1120 Press is thrilled to publish this important essay by West Virginia-based writer Frannie Bray. A dedicated yogi, she is committed to moving every day in whatever way her body needs. She’s also been known to seek out donuts in every city she visits, and rest assured: If she walks by a cool stick or rock, she's gonna pick it up. We hope you enjoy this brave work.)
My biggest struggle this year has been body-image distortion and poor self-esteem.
Body image is defined as “the subjective picture or mental image of one's own body,” according to Oxford Languages. A concise, simple definition of such an elaborate concept.
My body image changes daily, sometimes hourly. It's confusing, annoying, and incredibly difficult. Although I've dealt with this for many years, it waxes and wanes in severity and impact on my daily life. Even though this seems like it might just be a problem teenagers face as they deal with hormones and growing up, I can assure you that it impacts adults just as much.
So this year has been one of acceptance. Accepting myself, my body, and the cyclical nature of my needs.
The idea of “acceptance” seems straightforward. Just accept yourself! Okay, cool, but how?
Some days it is just a warped, mucky mess in your head. I call them “bad body days.” Some are particularly cloudy and warped, causing sensory issues with clothing, anxiety, nausea. At one point this year I actually took down some of the mirrors in my house so I wouldn’t have to look at myself.
Other bad body days are just a little rough, where I can still focus on daily life and tasks, and am not consumed. Some days it changes from hour to hour.
Earlier this year, I was battling extreme depression and body image distortion, while also being the strongest and most body-aware I’d ever been. How confusing. How can I hate myself to the point of being physically ill, if my body is so strong and capable? What the frick, brain? After an overuse injury completely upended my routine and structure, and rendered me unable to move in the way I had been, I felt like I’d never be at home in my body again.
I hadn’t set a New Year’s resolution to accept myself. I didn't go into this year with some prefabbed idea that I was going to find peace and acceptance. And the concept of body neutrality is not new to me. But in the middle of a particularly bad slump – several weeks of body image distortion so bad I could barely function – I started an internal mantra I did not intend. The mantra:
"This is my body today."
I've heard before that if you consciously change how you talk to yourself, it becomes second nature. But I'd never really understood my actual need for that, or how to apply it to my life. I just started repeating to myself: "This is my body today."
My body image distortion was so strong, it was overtaking every thought. I knew that my mind was spiraling and telling me bullshit lies, and the mantra helped to make that clear to myself. I was treating the voice inside me like a stranger, a hater on the Internet, a critic with no base for their judgment – and I was talking back to it.
Bodies change daily, bodies change weekly, monthly, cyclically. Needs change too, from hour to day to week to year, back and forth, up and down. The distortion in my head was so overpowering, I was beginning to convince myself that I was supposed to only be one way (and not the way I currently was).
It's okay to change. Fuck the little part of my brain that told me it wasn't.
This is my body today.
It's been several months now, with my accidental mantra. When I look in the mirror, I find myself saying it unconsciously – it has become a part of the way I think. Belly rolls prominent today? Cool. My body carried me through a work day and gave my dogs something soft to cuddle. This is my body today. Feeling long and strong and lean? Congratulations. You moved in a way that was intuitive to your daily needs. This is my body today.
I created a new thought process, and started looking at myself with less judgment and more objectivity. I am training my brain into acceptance. I can still sense the bullshit and it certainly doesn't mean the voice is gone. I am putting in the work to control my inner voice, and my inner voice is becoming more true to who I really am. I feel less and less like I am battling some evil-twin version of myself in my head.
I didn’t mean to retrain my brain, but damn – that accidental mantra really did something for me. It's put a lot into perspective for me about how I approach other aspects of my life.
Who would've thought, a kinder and less judgmental gaze could help so much?
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If you or a loved one are struggling, there are many resources available, including:
— National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline: (800) 950-NAMI
In a crisis, text "NAMI" to 741741
— Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration helpline: (800) 662-4357
— National Eating Disorders Helpline: (800) 931-2237