Rolling over in bed one Sunday morning, my boyfriend casually said: “I wish you were more toned.” It was one of many throwaway comments about my body that, even after our relationship was over, stuck and began to fester.
I was left with a body anxiety and shame for about three years. It wasn’t incapacitating, but I would often resort to dim lighting or darkness when undressing in front of a new partner, or wearing my boxer briefs high up my waist to cinch my tummy area.
But over the past 18 months I’ve decided to reclaim my sexuality, my confidence and my body in all its imperfect glory. Here are seven practical tools I’ve used to boost my body confidence and start loving the skin I’m in...
Touch yourself, let him touch you
Like any anxiety, one of the surest ways of overcoming negative feelings about your body is to face them head-on. I hated my “pooch”; that small lump of insulation around my front.
I recently asked a guy I was dating to tell me what he thought of it and was surprised to hear he loved it.
While in bed, I asked him to place his hand on it and to stop avoiding the area as I’d previously asked him to do. Breaking that wall seemed insignificant to him but it was HUGE for me. I could feel part of my insecurity falling away.
Default to positive
Ask good friends or family members to tell you specific things that they like about your body. This could be anything from your eyes to your mouth when you laugh or your strong jawline.
Focus on celebrating these areas instead of letting your confidence or sense of self-worth be brought down by a stretch mark or flabby booty.
Hearing people you trust celebrating — openly and honestly — what they love about you physically can shift your mind-set for the better.
Call it out
It’s an unfortunate truth that some gay men enjoy passing judgment on other people’s appearances for fun.
“What they can’t hear won’t hurt them” is often the justification. But this repeated behaviour can create pressure to have unrealistic body standards that may operate on a subconscious level but leaves us all feeling judged.
What makes the problem worse is celebrating these comments with laughter. If you hear anyone body-shaming a lover, passer-by or someone they found online, politely ask them to stop.
Weed out the shamers
Look deep into your life — not just at lovers, friends and family but also at your social media habits. Ask yourself where all this body shame is coming from.
As well as occasional throwaway comments from a work colleague or the ex who pressured you into eating a certain way, it could also originate from the number of ripped guys you follow on Instagram.
Be proactive in removing these people and influences from your life. The purification of your inner circle and social media feeds will mean you’re surrounded only by those who appreciate you as you are.
Stop chasing that guy
When dating someone or just chatting on an app, look for warning signs. If your target speaks about the gym in every second sentence, asks for body pics too soon or over-fetishises a “perfect” body type, cut your losses and move on to someone who is looking for everything else you can offer.
He may be hot and physically your type, but if he’s going to make you feel unattractive then it’s a waste of precious time and emotional energy.
Make small changes
You don’t need to become a gym bunny — cutting out sugary drinks, trying to eat a bit more healthily or being more active, will boost your endorphins and energy levels and do wonders for your mental health. As your motivation increases, you may see some positive physical changes, which in turn will boost your body confidence.
Ask for help
If you’re lacking in body confidence, uttering this aloud to someone you trust takes the problem out of your head and makes it a tangible issue you can begin to work on.
The person you call on can be a family member or a specialist therapist. Seeing a counsellor about my chronic anxiety changed my life. Asking for help can be daunting and may make you feel even more vulnerable, but it’s worth it. By talking through your body insecurities, you are likely to discover that the most outwardly confident people in your life also suffer with similar difficulties.
It all comes down to this: your body does not — and should not — define you. It will morph and change throughout your life and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Be kind to it, look after it, keep it nourished and active but accept it as it is. The vessel you live in is only part of who you are.
Work on loving yourself through your personality, talents, passions and meaningful human connections.
These will last the test of time and be the key, ultimately, to bringing you happiness.