On Sunday night, I was looking at myself in the mirror, and my self-talk was pretty negative. I was noticing the parts of my body that I don’t like, and I was letting myself focus on them.
It just so happens that I’ve been doing this quite a lot recently. I’ve been spending time in front of the mirror, critiquing my stomach, my hips, my thighs. And I don’t like doing this.
My body critiques tend to come when I’m taking a hiatus from exercise. I find this peculiar, but it’s true: since my running break started in December, I’ve been noticing more about my body that I don’t like.
Body positivity is a hard thing. I think everyone struggles with it to some degree. And honestly, I feel guilty when I feel negative about my body. It’s like negative emotions on top of already negative emotions.
Realistically, I know my body doesn’t change dramatically after a month and a half of reduced physical activity. But in the part of my mind that doesn’t think logically, this fact doesn’t matter. This part of my mind is looking in the mirror, and perceiving the images it sees as unsatisfactory.
Here’s the interesting thing: I went to bed Sunday night feeling pretty down about myself. I woke up the next day, went to class at 9 a.m., and then went running. When I got back from my slow 3-mile run, I felt completely different. I looked in the mirror and saw my glowing reflection staring back at me.
Surely it’s impossible for my physical appearance to be any different after a 30 minute run. I didn’t come back with a 6-pack and longer legs. But something about the run–the physical act of moving my body–that made me feel better about myself.
Now, I could go on about what this says about my body acceptance if I feel icky about myself after a few days off from running. There might be some truth to that. But I think getting out for a run changes my state of mind.
I feel strong finishing a run, no matter how fast or slow it was. I feel powerful. Maybe that’s what’s translating into the image I see in the mirror. Maybe it’s not my mind saying “Oh, you’ve burned enough calories to appreciate your body today.” Maybe the run triggers a response that says “You feel good, so you must look good!”
Maybe instead of my mind perceiving my body as less-than-perfect after a few days away from running is less about body image and more about craving that feeling I get after a good run. Maybe it’s not guilt that I feel for not exercising, because a simple, slow, 3-mile run cured my case of the body blues.
So I’ll keep chugging along, moving my body in old, familiar ways (running) and in new ways (ballet), hoping to capture that great feeling I get after a good workout. And I’ll try to leave the negative thoughts behind.
How does exercise affect your body image?