The Slow Drain of Body Negativity

Body image struggles come in many different forms: You may feel self-conscious or inadequate whenever your sister-in-law/substitute spin instructor/childhood pal is around, and relatively fine most other times. You may only worry when your weight fluctuates or you notice a bunch of new wrinkles or you have a big, painful acne breakout. But if you're someone who struggles with your body image in a low-grade but near-constant way, you may not be fully aware of how much strength that struggle is draining off you, slowly but steadily.

Because it takes brain space and emotional capacity and ENERGY to roll something over and over in your mind, examine your perceived failures, ponder plans of attack. Negative body thoughts that aren't fleeting or compartmentalized are like apps running in the background of your phone, draining your battery with every passing moment even though you're not even using them. If you're anxious about your body all the time, you're unconsciously allotting resources to a complex and painful cluster of thoughts and feelings. You're pouring precious energy into something that can suck it down forever and never be full.

We talk about wasting energy when it comes to leaving the lights on in empty rooms and letting cars idle, but less often when it comes to thought processes. And I'm loathe to say that negative body thoughts constitute a true waste; As someone who has struggled with anxiety for more than a decade, I know exactly how infuriating it is to be told that worrying is wasteful and pointless. I do, in fact, know that. But reminding me doesn't actually help stem the worrying tide.

I also know firsthand how much energy it can take to feed the body image beast. I'm in a pretty rough place with my own body image right now, and my already-scarce stores of energy are tapped out. Since this is a relatively recent shift I can remember feeling less worried and more confident, and the marked difference it made in my overall state of mind. When I'm low, I burn off loads of precious energy without even realizing it. When I'm not, I can feel how much stronger, more engaged, and more enthusiastic I'm capable of being.

Do I have a quick fix or simple solution? Sadly, no. Am I saying that feeling better about your body will solve all of your problems? Also no. My point here is merely to say that working on your body image isn't a vain or conceited pursuit. And that it may take yet more energy to do that work - mull, recite mantras, read helpful articles and books, talk with people who understand - but that putting that energy in will allow you to withdraw even more. Eventually. Feeling awful about your body drains you, and there's nothing egocentric about searching for a way to conserve your own precious internal resources.