Suzanne Manser, PhD

Licensed Psychologist

Bringing Our Bodies Back Into the World: A 5-Step Guide

As mask mandates are lifted, we are bringing our bodies back into the world, and some of us – a lot of us – are not thrilled about it. We don’t feel good about our bodies, and we feel even less good about them being seen by others. We’re bracing ourselves for being judged as “too big.”

There is so much that comes with being perceived as “too big” – it means you are being seen as not good enough, not acceptable, not loveable, and you need to change. That is a crappy message to receive, regardless of its complete lack of truth. No wonder so many of us are feeling various levels of anxiety, panic, and dread at the thought of being amongst society again.

How do we deal with this? Lose 20 pounds real quick? Stay home? Apologize for our bodies wherever we go and try to take up as little space as possible?

Those are the options society presents us, and they’re all reprehensible. I have an alternative, based on body neutrality. Body neutrality takes our focus off how our body looks and puts it on the actual purpose of our body – that it allows us to have all of the experiences we have. It reminds us that we don’t have to buy into the false narrative that the size of our body is relevant.

With some effort, we can take charge of our own narrative. We can be in charge of whether we think we need to feel bad about our bodies or pay attention to anyone else’s opinions about them. Sadly, we can’t control whether other people think body size is important or whether they are judging ours. Where we have control is on our end of things. We have control over what we believe is important and meaningful. We just have to pay more attention to our own beliefs than other people’s. That’s the tricky part.

I’ve developed a strategy to help you bring your body back into the world on your terms, grounded in your narrative. It is not a quick, breezy process. Your brain has been trained by society for decades to think along one pathway when it comes to bodies. It will take a little time to create a different, more compelling pathway. It also takes focus. Paying attention to your attention is a part of each step.

Step 1.

Think about what is important or meaningful about your body. To be clear, I am not asking what you like or love about your body. I am asking what makes your body worth having. I hope some obvious answers jump to mind, like, “It keeps me alive” or “It allows me to do every single thing I do.” Clearly, we take these facts for granted – it’s hard not to. But when it comes down to it, the point of your body is to allow you to live and have the experiences you have. That is what matters about your body.

There may also be specific things about your body that are meaningful, like your eyes that look just like your mom’s eyes, or your belly that grew your children, or the long fingers that allow you to play beautiful music on the piano. Your thighs might make you feel powerful when you’re on a bike. You might love to sing. You may appreciate your body for fighting off a serious illness. You might find it especially meaningful to be able to see sunsets or smell roses or feel grass on your bare feet.

That is what matters about your body. Bodies are not intended to be decorative. They are not supposed to be one-size-fits-all. Bodies have immense value, obviously, but it has nothing to do with their size. When we attach our worth to the size of our body, we’ve drunk the Kool-Aid. We are caught in society’s narrative.

Start to build your own narrative around the beliefs that body size has nothing to do with worth, acceptability, or lovability and that bodies are meaningful because they allow us to have every experience we’ve ever experienced. Think about your lifetime of experiences and decide what is especially meaningful to you about your body. Don’t skimp on this step, please, and come back to it as often as needed.

Step 2.

Practice building your narrative. Every day, write down (yes, write it down. You’re worth it.) three things that were meaningful about your body yesterday (if it’s in the morning) or today (if afternoon or evening). Try to actually think about your day instead of automatically writing the same thing each time. The goal is to start seeing your body through this lens without so much effort. The more you practice, the more quickly it will happen.

Whenever you notice yourself judging your body, move your focus back to body neutrality. Notice what your body is doing for you right now. Most or all of your organs are working, which is always a plus. There is probably something else that your body is doing that is valuable right now, if you pay attention.

Step 3.

When you are leaving the house with your body, take a minute or two beforehand to connect to what is meaningful about your body. Also take a couple of minutes to identify what is meaningful to you about whatever you are leaving the house to do. If you are seeing friends, think about what is important about being with your friends. Keep your focus on that. If you are going to work, think about what is important to you about being at work. What makes it worth being there? Keep your focus on that.

This is your narrative. Get grounded in it before you leave and get bombarded by society at large. It will help you to refuse the Kool-Aid and stick with your own Cherry Coke.

Step 4.

Stay in your own head. As much as you want to, do not venture into other people’s heads – that is none of your business in there. Truly. Your power and control come from staying in your narrative, not theirs. What they think about you has no bearing on who you are. What they think about your body has no bearing on your worth. When you notice yourself wondering what someone else is thinking about you or trying to make them see you in a certain way, bail out of there and bring your focus back to yourself and your own narrative. This is going to take practice. This is a big one.

While we’re on the topic, stay in your own body too. Don’t go looking around thinking you should be in other bodies. That’s not how this works, no matter how much the Kardashians say otherwise. It’s natural to compare your body to others, but stop it. Comparing takes you right out of your narrative. You are you, not them. That’s where your power is.

Step 5.

Remember that your body is you. It is not a machine or a vehicle. Society has us seeing our bodies as objects we should be able to simply manipulate. When diets fail, we blame our bodies, not the (always unrealistic) diet. Our bodies are a part of us, equal to our minds, regardless of how hard we try to treat them as separate from us. If you pay close attention, how you feel about your body is a reflection of how you feel about yourself.

So practice treating your body kindly, as you would want to be treated. Practice appreciating it and accepting it. None of this requires loving how it looks, right? It’s just saying, “Hey, here’s my body that already exists. Since it already exists, might as well notice if it’s a part of me that does anything helpful. Oh yeah, it does. That is kinda cool.”. It’s just being nice to yourself. Nothing too radical.

This is doable. It involves a big perspective shift, from focusing on what your body looks like to focusing on the role it plays in your moment-to-moment life. It requires you to unhook from society’s rhetoric about the value of bodies and develop your own narrative, based on you. The payoff is that you will be able to go out into society and know that what other people may be thinking is irrelevant. You’ll be able to focus on what you want to focus on, what feels helpful, fulfilling, or good. You’ll be able to bring your body into the world on your terms, and you’ll be creating a more meaningful life in the process.

6 Responses

  1. This is so helpful! I was at a pool gathering yesterday with close friends and I felt uncomfortable. Because of the thoughts in my own head! Thanks for this approach!

  2. So interesting this is the new post! Going through fertility treatments and have zero control over what is happening to my body and can’t workout as a means to control how I am feeling. I found myself making excuses the other day about my appearance to people I haven’t seen for months and had increased anxiety prior to meeting up with them thinking “What are they going to think about how my body has changed?” Time to take all these steps to heart! Thank you, Suzanne! This is more helpful than you know.

    1. Meghan, you are so welcome! I’m so glad this is helpful. It’s not easy staying out of other people’s heads!!

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