There are days when we feel ugly and gross and our confidence plummets into a very dark, deep well. It is no wonder that we struggle with these feelings.
We live in a media-saturated society, in which we are surrounded by perfectly fit, airbrushed images all the time. This can teach us to hate our appearance and our bodies at the slightest perceived imperfection.
Women Feel This Pressure Deeply
This pressure is especially acute for women, and so in this post I write a lot about concerns women have pertaining to this issue. But I know that men increasingly struggle with these issues, too. And so I have written this post also with you in mind, men. I hope that you will find some helpful ideas here.
When we feel ugly and gross, we feel . . .
Like we want to hide
That no one should see us.
Like we must punish ourselves in some way.
That stringent plans and draconian measures are the answer.
That our body is huge and blobby, or small and invisible.
Like we do not deserve love.
That we are alienated from our sexuality.
Like we are vulnerable and incompetent.
I deeply sympathize with you if you are having one of those days. Sometimes I have them, too. They can be so painful. We often feel like we are alone in these feelings, but they are actually more common than we think.
But we do not have to stay stuck in this place because there are specific practices and thoughts that can help us work through them. Here are five things we can do when we feel ugly and our confidence plummets.
One: Give Yourself Permission to Take Up Space.
One of the primary reasons that women feel ugly when they feel fat is because historically, women have been conditioned to feel bad for taking up space in the world. We have been conditioned to believe that being small, inconspicuous, fragile, demure, and self-diminishing is attractive and feminine.
We are often conditioned never to disagree and never to push back. In fact, historically and even today, women are often conditioned to behave in a docile, child-like manner.
The Sources of This Message
This message can be communicated through toxic media messages, distorted religious teachings, and toxic, unhealthy cultural messages about femininity and masculinity.
We Feel Guilty for Taking Up Space
The result of these messages is that women often feel guilty if they take up space or are very visible in any way. So when women gain any weight at all, they feel deep shame.
But there is nothing to feel shame about with gaining weight. Women gain weight for different, perfectly understandable reasons. They gain weight because of puberty, pregnancy, stress, health needs, or feelings of vulnerability. Weight can be a way that women (and men) help themselves feel safe in the world.
Weight Gain is Normal
All these reasons for weight gain are either healthy and/or completely understandable. There is no reason to feel shame over them. We do often feel shame, however, because we have been conditioned to think that we must be perfectly fit at all times.
Or, in the case of women, we believe we must be small, retiring, and that we must not be any kind of burden (burden = weight).
Weight is Morally Neutral
And by the way, weight is morally neutral, just like someone’s height, their shoe size, or the length of their hair is morally neutral. When it comes to our body, the only important question is if we are acting with the intention of love towards it, not whether we have gained or lost weight.
Interestingly, women feel fat and full of shame when they have not gained any weight at all. In her book Fat is a Feminist Issue (which I recommend), Susie Orbach suggests that often when women feel fat, it is almost always about something else other than their bodies.
Shame and Spiritedness
Often it has to do with women subconsciously feeling ashamed for having a big spirit, for being confident, for asking for more, for being more active and powerful in their lives. You can read more about these ideas here. (I believe more men are dealing with these issues, too.)
You never have to apologize for the space you take up in the world–no matter how small or big it is.
In addition, often when we feel fat, it is because we feel vulnerable. And we are ashamed of our vulnerability. Although we are often conditioned to be shy, retiring, and docile, women also receive the contradictory message that they have to be in control at all times. Men often receive this message, too. So we often feel ashamed and terrified when we feel vulnerable, and we interpret this shame as feeling fat.
Our Feelings Speak in Code
For women, “I feel fat” becomes a code for any painful feeling we have. In fact, saying or thinking to ourselves “I feel fat” may be a way that we make ourselves feel more in control. That is because we often do not know what to do when we feel vulnerable, dehumanized, or unsafe in the world. So because we do not know how to talk about or deal with these issues, we unconsciously switch to something more familiar and say (or think) “I feel fat.”
Next time you feel ugly and gross because you feel fat, here is something you can say:
I never have to apologize for the space I take up in the world. I am allowed to be powerful in my body and spirit. It is okay to feel vulnerable. And it is safe for me to feel and honor all of my feelings.
Two: Practice turning off comparisons and competition.
We often receive harmful messages that we are only lovable and acceptable if we meet some impossible standard of physical perfection.
This message is everywhere in our culture. Because of this, we often feel ugly and gross because we compare ourselves to others, we decide we do not measure up.
On the other hand, it is actually possible to turn off comparisons and competition and to appreciate our own unique beauty.
Turing Off Comparisons with the Rose Metaphor
One of the ways I turn off comparisons is to use something I call the rose metaphor. Consider how we view roses. When I look at a rose, I don’t get mad at the rose because it does not look like a lilac or a daffodil.
Rather, I realize that the rose is in the process of unfolding its own unique beauty.
Each of its moments is beautiful: from when it is a fresh, new bud until it is a mature rose beginning to wilt and return to the ground.
I never chastise, punish, or scold a rose. Instead, I honor the rose and enjoy all the moments of its beauty. And I make sure I water it, give it lots of sunshine, and keep away pesky blight. As I do this, the rose does its beautiful rose thing and is a natural beauty.
That is the way you are, too. You are a beautiful, one-of-a kind flower that carries original beauty. You carry this beauty from the time you are a little bud-of-a human being until the time you begin to wilt and return to the ground.
Each of those moments of your life contain beauty. Like the rose needs nourishment, you need the nourishment of love. When you show yourself love, you nurture your own unique and original beauty.
You Don’t Have to Scold Yourself
Just like you would not scold a rose for being a rose, you do not have to scold yourself for not looking some other way. For instance, you don’t have to scold yourself for not being thinner or not being more curvaceous or not being taller or shorter or whatever. Be the kind of flower you are. We need your beauty in the world.
There is No Comparison, No Competition.
One way you can begin to recognize and nurture your own unique beauty is to cut down significantly on the fitness and fashion magazines you read. And you can also cut down on the movies and the television shows you watch that contain images of extremely thin, perfectly dressed, airbrushed people.
Studies suggest that these images are highly correlated with body-loathing and eating disorders in young girls and boys. (And they are likely correlated with these painful conditions in adult men and women, too).
If you cannot cut these types of media out entirely, start critiquing and resisting them. For instance, when you see such images, you can start saying out loud or to yourself “That is an airbrushed image. That is not real.” or “The people in these images have been manicured and posed professionally. This is fantasy, not real life.”
My own peace and self-love began to increase dramatically when I did these things. You can read more about that here.
In addition, if you want to learn how to appreciate and nurture you own unique beauty, some people, especially some women, have found that using “selfie therapy” to combat unrealistic images in the media can be extremely helpful.
Selfies allow us to decide how we will present ourselves, and they can teach us that we can take pictures of ourselves purely to explore different aspects of our face and personality. They can help us celebrate our own unique beauty.
And while you can share selfies, you can also keep them entirely to yourself as a communication tool between you and your heart, mind, and body. They can be a tool to help us practice radical self-acceptance. You might like to read more about that here.
Here is something you can say to yourself the net time you feel like you fail to meet up to some other standard:
That is not the type of flower I am. I am cultivating and appreciating my own, unique beauty. There is no comparison, no competition.
Three: Listen to Your Intuition.
The third thing you can do when you are feeling ugly and gross is to listen to your intuition. Your body and spirit want to be healthy, flourishing, and full of energy and power. By power here, I just mean the ability to be fully yourself.
Our body and spirit know and are always trying to communicate to us about these matters.
And in fact, sometimes we feel gross because there actually is some kind of imbalance we are suffering in our life, and our body and spirit are trying to communicate to us. From this point on, I am going to refer to the communication from our body and spirit as our intuition.
How our Intuition Guides Us
Our intuition never tells us that we are ugly and gross. Rather, our feelings of ugliness and grossness are an invitation to listen to our intuition so that we can figure out what is out of balance. When we learn to listen to our intuition it can be a powerful tool that helps us correct any imbalances in our life.
Sometimes our intuition will tell us that we need to stop playing small or that we need to reject comparison and competition. Sometimes our intuition will tell us that we need to drink more water, eat more fruits and vegetables, or to practice movement so that there is more of us, not less of us.
Listening to and connecting with our intuition is a wonderful way to return to loving ourselves and to overcome feelings of ugliness and grossness.
Of course the question is “How do we listen to our intuition?” This is something I plan to write about in a later blog post, but for now, you can find helpful tips about listening to your intuition here, here, and here.
Here are the things that I do when I want to listen to my intuition:
I go on a slow walk in which I place no pressure on myself and just look at the sky and the trees and listen to the birds.
I sit on the couch and look out the window and do nothing but be quiet and relax. Often all we need to do to let our intuition speak is to create a space for it.
I take a bath.
I ask God for wisdom or for a miracle (a miracle for me is a shift in perspective). If you do not believe in God, you can just be willing to see things differently. That often works, too.
I draw and paint or do something that involves a lot of color.
I watch a television show that involves characters working through a problem or solving a mystery. Often I find some way to identify with the way they are solving the problem, and it speaks to my own condition.
I listen to classical music while being quiet or while cleaning my office.