Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.
My goal with this series is to:
Show you learning paths that empower you to feel secure and safe in who you are so that you can go out in the world, be your authentic selves, and achieve your goals without feeling the need to hide or be held back by your past experiences.
What is considered Physical Self Protection? And why does it matter?
Physical Self Protection means more than self-defense, an alarm system, and weapons. It includes:
Feeling safe inside your physical body wherever you are
Making healthy lifestyle choices for nutrition and movement or exercise
Meeting essential needs of food, shelter, warmth, and clothing in ways that suit your life and budget in the present moment while also giving a sense of joy and satisfaction because you CAN take care of yourself in the most basic ways
Personal finance education to learn how to make good spending and investing choices
My process started about 7 or 8 years ago when I decided to break from my family. At the time, I had very little money and less interest in doing more than survive my “new independence”. Rent, medical bills, utility bills, food, and transportation ate most, if not all, of my budget back then. But I also couldn’t afford to get sick or end up in the hospital either. That put my job and independence at risk.
And I was tired of hiding behind ugly, ill-fitting clothes and a meek persona. Invisibility was safe and protected me as long as I didn’t mind observing instead of participating in life. Up until I got a full time position at work and left my family, invisibility felt inevitable for someone lacking confidence and not wanting to be noticed.
While I didn’t much like my physical self (body, face, etc.) at the time, I was learning to love, respect, value, and feel confident in the rest of my self. And I was ready to start making that change from invisible to acknowledged. Nutrition and physical health improvements were already part of my care routine, but I didn’t know anything about style and clothes. Nor did I know where to start looking for something besides fashion that focused on body types and colors. And my “friends” at the time were not exactly helpful either.
So I started a new project: positive self image through personal style. There had to be a way to make my insides and outsides match just like I was doing with nutrition and physical activity. But also within my limited budget.
Fostering a neutral/positive self image through personal style
When I feel confident and safe, I look and act confident and safe. People are less likely to target me.
But what happens if I feel confident and safe, but don’t appear confident or safe to others? People are likely to continue treating me as they always have.
If I feel good on the inside, I want to show that on the outside too.
Does that resonate with you? Because it’s how I started on the personal style journey and found Inside Out Style Blog and Imogen Lamport (creator). She discussed personal style as an expression of our authentic personality and how body/face shape, color palette, etc. are all small parts of the whole package. While primarily an image consultant for women, she has consulted with experts in men’s style and shared those tips on her site too.
I wrote about this journey in some past posts and added information about this blog to the Resources page too. You can read about the results and see some photos in “My Style Manifesto”.
However, looking and feeling stylish WAS NOT the most important lesson I learned as part of that learning group. Here are some lessons:
I can share who I am (sometimes how I feel) with others without talking at all through my physical appearance.
When I make time to put together thoughtful outfits that feel good against my skin, fit well, and express something about myself, I feel safe, secure, confident, and able to interact with others outside of my safe spaces
Every one of us in the 7 Steps to Style Program was on a “recovery journey” of our own to find, express, and feel confident in our authentic selves as women no matter our age, sexual orientation, race, country of origin, marital status, personal experience, or financial status.
As we completed the 7 Steps, many of us used our newfound skills and experiences to create new business and job opportunities in alignment with our values.
One of these people is Liz Klebba of Closet Play Image based in the US. She created an image consulting and personal style business to help empower women to enjoy expressing themselves through personal style while still blending in and feeling appropriate in different environments. You can learn more about this by checking out her post called “Why Trends Matter“.
How can you protect yourself with an expression of your style that fits within your budget?
Creating ways to add movement into your daily routine (physical fitness)
As I’ve mentioned before, I do not have a typical exercise routine or participate in sports these days. In fact, I have not done any of that on a regular basis since college. Not because I didn’t want to participate, but because the pain in my body combined with panic attacks and flashbacks made such activities impossible without also experiencing shame and embarrassment.
So I started by incorporating more movement into my daily routine slowly. Grocery shopping meant walking to and from the store with totes and portable shopping carts that navigated stairs. Walk to and from the public transportation stations and work. Plus house cleaning and laundry require lots of movement + energy + time.
And I move a lot when preparing food and cooking. My pantry and dishes are all in shelves under the sink or counters. My utensils hang from hooks above my head. Reusable containers live on top of the refrigerator/freezer.
What are some ways you can change your routines and environment to include more movement?
Adding sensory grounding strategies and tools (physical objects) to your every day life style (aka magic bag)
I touched on this a little in the last two sections, but there are so many ways to include physical objects or touch stones in our every day lives to help us feel grounded and safe in the present moment. Here are more details based on the examples above.
In the personal style section, I mentioned putting together outfits with clothing and accessories. Wearing clothing and accessories can be a confidence-boosting, joyful sensory experience if we allow it.
Clothing has a texture and evokes a tactile sensation as it rests on and moves with the skin on our bodies.
Accessories also have a texture and evoke sensations as they move with, enclose, or rest on our skin/hair, etc.
The colors and patterns or prints engage our visual senses and bring out different emotions – not always consciously.
And let’s be honest here, our shoes, jewelry, even clothing sometimes, make sounds as they move with us – thus engaging our auditory senses.
Why not choose fabrics and textures that feel good agains our skin? Choose prints, patterns, and colors that flatter our coloring and remind us of positive emotions? Include accessories that remind us of positive experiences and express our genuine interests?
In addition, there are other portable items we can take with us and use discreetly wherever we are.
Healthy snacks and drinks engage our sense of smell and taste. Sometimes even our visual and tactile senses too. If sustainability is a personal value, reusable containers add in another element of self care. Plus bringing your own food instead of buying take out can be budget friendly and give an excuse to get creative too.
Aromatherapy and herbs come in many portable forms these days. You can carry them in pockets, backpacks, and handbags. Take them out and use when you need a moment to yourself without disturbing others or making a mess. Then put away for use in the future.
Then there are less obvious physical grounding objects we can take with us. Some are more portable than others. Here are some examples:
What are some items you can take with you to feel safe and grounded as you navigate the outside world?
Incorporating physical protection or grounding objects throughout your living environment
Plants and sunlight are the two most important grounding objects in my apartment right now. I often feel like I’m still living in the cage when I can’t leave my apartment. Plus I worry about privacy since some of my neighbors and I can see in each others’ windows. So being able to grow plants and keep my windows unblocked bring the outside world in when I can’t go out.
After that, I’ve worked hard to save money and purchase home goods like bed linens and towels made with different fabrics and textures that feel good against my skin and help me with some of the PTSD symptoms and side effects.
Two examples here:
Bed linens. I experience night sweats and intense nightmares that soak/stain my sheets, pillows, blankets to the point where I had to get up and sleep somewhere else multiple times a night. Can’t tell you how many polyester pillows and acrylic sheets I ruined with the constant washing and sweating. Or how often I ended up with unexplainable rashes and acne or contact dermatits because of the fabric rubbing against and getting into my skin.
Solution: purchase pillows, bed linens, blankets, etc. in fabrics with natural antibacterial and cooling properties – i.e. linen, wool, and percale cotton (organic if possible)
Problem: cost and expense of replacing everything at once
Solution: prioritize self care and move 3/4 of money from “fun” to “home goods” until I replaced all of the items on my list.
Reward: purchase a book, see a movie, or something equally fun, budget friendly and frivolous after I buy 3 items.
Cleaning and laundry products. In college, I learned that my body and nose were extremely sensitive to conventional cleaning, bath, and body care products. The smell made me physically ill or caused breathing problems. And the chemicals gave me rashes, acne, eczema, etc. That included: cosmetics; cleaning products; bath & body; perfume; and laundry products.
Solution: research how to make my own cleaning products or find non-bleach and petroleum based cleaners, detergents, and soaps. Or stop using cosmetics, etc. I did both for a while.
Problem: back then, the sustainability and “green” movements were grassroots and not well known. Not many products available on the market.
Solution: compromise. Use a combination of aromatherapy and recipes from diy housecleaning websites/books/blogs to keep things clean at home.
Reward: fun experiments with essential oils, mixing cleaning solutions. Find a learning path that led to this blog and other job opportunities. Apply my personal finance education to be “thrifty” and meet goals.
Crystals, stuffed animals, books, and figurines on my alter spaces and walls come in second. In my living room and bedroom, I have what I call “alter space” or “sacred space” for objects of meaning and spiritual or emotional power. They are combinations of objects arranged a certain way on corner shelves and remind me of my past and present. Before, my living spaces were bare because I used them as a place for sleep and storage. Now, I have a real home that reflects who I am and how I choose to live.
Do you have certain objects at home or work that act as protection to help you cope with stress or flashbacks?
Pulling it together
I protect myself and feel confident moving through the outside world because I’ve learned how to use every day objects in creative ways as armor or shields – aka grounding objects. The learning process was and continues to be difficult with lots of mistakes and challenges from expected and unexpected sources.
For example, I used to be afraid of anything related to my senses because I thought “sensual” was another word for “sexual”.
As I learned that sensation, sensual appreciation, and sensuality DID NOT EQUAL sexuality or sexual anything, my whole world expanded.
Sensuality and Sexuality are different.
A person can be sensual and indulge in sensual experiences without falling into addiction or having to engage in sexual experiences.
Pleasure can equal joy and peace.
Grounding strategies teach people how to uses their physical, emotional, and spiritual senses to feel safe in and focused on the present moment wherever and whenever they are.
Confidence and security in oneself are the best kinds of protection and can be expressed in physical ways. Some are visible to everyone while others are more personal and customized to individuals.
These days, sensory grounding is an essential tool in my toolbox of coping techniques and strategies. I use it all the time.
Finally, physical protection provides a strong foundation to become emotionally, spiritually, and energetically protected too.
Apologies for the late post…I slept late and then fell asleep after exercise and a phone call with my mentor yesterday. By the time I woke up, it was time to go back to sleep again.
It’s a big deal, especially in today’s world where anything can pop up in the mainstream media or on social media (on purpose or by accident) and anyone can comment.
I had another post in mind for this week, but Grant Gustin of CW’s The Flash spoke out about body shaming in this article on Digital Spy. Gustin fights back and speaks out against body shaming – in general and by addressing comments directed at himself.
The Flash is one of the few TV shows I enjoy and follow via Internet news. It addresses a lot of interesting topics from alternative and unique to me perspectives without a lot of bias or stereotyping. My other favorite CW show is DC’s Legends of Tomorrow for similar reasons.
But back to the main topic – Body shaming is a form of bullying. Depending on the circumstances, context, content, and perpetrator, it can also be a form of sexual & physical harassment or abuse. It’s something I still struggle with as an adult and experienced from many people growing up.
Body shaming is more than talking about how physically attractive or unattractive a person is. It goes deeper and can affect self-esteem, self-confidence, and one’s sense of self. Body shaming covers a lot of topics. Here are a few:
How I smell
A flabby belly instead of a flat one
Having slanted eyes
Being curvy and Asian
Looking younger than I am
How I dress (style and type of clothes I wear)
And just for fun…since you already know my face…here’s a photo of me in one of my favorite summer outfits – no makeup as per usual.
BODY NEUTRAL & BODY POSITIVE – Body Image alternatives to shame/negativity
I’ve mentioned these terms before. And I try to stay true to them in real life – for myself and for the people around me.
It’s not easy to change the tapes in your head when the people who are supposed to guide, support, and protect you are the ones making these comments. The person who body shamed me the most was my mother. Being sexually and physically abused further damaged myself and made me hate my physical appearance to the point where I didn’t trust anyone who made a comment about me; positive or negative.
What helped me most was putting aside concepts of attractiveness and beauty in favor of learning how to love, accept, respect, and value my physical self for all of the positive blessings it provides me as I work to achieve my goals of overall wellness and independence.
Something else that helps is to stop making negative comments (in my head or out loud) about my own and other’s appearance, whether on purpose or by accident. It took me many years to stop automatically thinking in the negative about bodies (etc) in general.
I still don’t see myself the way other people see me. Looking in a mirror can be tricky depending on who is watching through my eyes. Every alter has a different perception of our physical self. And none of us really enjoy the attention we receive. Our goal is to blend in, not stand out.
But I/we also want to feel comfortable, confident, secure, and happy with our physical appearance/body/self too. And that means creating and using a personal style to guide how we present ourself to the outside world.
Maybe these concepts and tips will resonate with you. Maybe they won’t. but you are not alone in experiencing the body shame.
I don’t know about any of you, but sometimes I wonder whether or not “doing nothing” is a contradiction.
Because choosing not to do anything is doing something.
Even when I am not moving, active, or working on a physical task, my mind is still working. My senses are working. Something is occurring.
Plus, being tired slows a person down, correct?
Eventually, “slowing down” becomes “stopping”.
In this case or situation, does “stopping” mean “relax” or “rest”?
For me, yes. For others, maybe.
Even if I am not doing anything (aka doing nothing), my body is doing something
My body is digesting food, healing itself on the inside, circulating blood, breathing, and providing energy for future use.
Sometimes, but not always, DOING NOTHING is actually DOING SOMETHING. You don’t have to see or hear or smell or taste or touch what’s happening for it to be real. You don’t have to believe or have faith or approve of these opinions.
You can accept that sometimes more happens when a person stops and takes a moment to exist than in all of the minutes, hours, etc. spent being busy.
Reflection Questions circling my mind
What is Self Care other than doing something that helps you feel good about yourself or take care of yourself?
How would being busy all the time help people feel good about or take care of themselves?
Finally, how can anyone really help and take care of other people if she or he does not take care of herself or himself first?
Trigger warning: Please take care of yourself and only read if as long as you feel safe/comfortable
For most of my life, I’ve been objectified. First as chattel, then as a sexual vessel, a soldier, a toy, an extension of my mother, a skinny girl/woman, a curvy/feminine/sexy object, a doormat, a “nice girl”, delicate, weak, etc. People looked at me, listened to my voice, and made assumptions. Hardly anyone ever took me seriously, and someone always tried to take advantage.
Years of therapy and spending time with positive, supportive people have helped me realize I am more than an object. Part of my recovery is changing the objectification into a positive sense of self – including positive body image and healthy self-esteem – where people see me first instead of my body. I used to think that body shaming and negative self-image was only connected to my eating disorder.
Now I know the truth.
That a negative body image and body shaming are separate, but related issues and do not always have anything to do with an eating disorder.
Negative Body Image
I used to hate my body, my face, my appearance. I blamed my face and body shape as the reason for past traumatic experiences. So I hurt myself – starvation, self-harm, compulsive exercising, not sleeping, making myself sick, reckless/dangerous activities, not caring for physical or mental health – often and in various ways for decades.
These days, I love my face and my body. I accept all of its quirks and am grateful to be whole and healthy in spite of the pain. I dress according to my personal style, comfort needs, and daily tasks. The colors, the fabrics, the shapes, and the accessories help me feel safe, confident, grounded, and happy. The textures and weights act as self-soothing and grounding objects.
Even though wearing clothes that fit and flatter shows off my feminine body shape and draws attention, I feel secure enough in who I am to ignore all that and enjoy myself. Most of the time, I can ignore people criticizing my clothing choices or commenting on my weight changes.
But sometimes, the comments hurt or bring out anger.
Have you ever been told you are too short or tall? Maybe your eyes bug out or are slanted? Your hips too wide? Your butt too big? Your chest not muscular enough? Your body stick-like? You look too masculine/feminine/boyish/girlish for your age/gender/size? You are flat-chested or large breasted? Your man-boobs are too prominent? You stomach is not flat enough? Skin too flabby?
Has anyone ever criticized your clothing choices? Your accessories? Your posture? Shoes?
These are all examples of body shaming. Many of them I personally experienced. Some I have heard told to people I care about. Others from comments made about celebrities. The comments from my parents, sibling, cousins, and relatives are the ones that hurt most. Second place goes to friends, co-workers, mentors, supervisors, and other people in authority positions. Finally, the random hate from strangers and people posturing for acceptance were the least harmful. It’s hard to take people who don’t know me seriously.
What brings this up now?
Summer time means wearing less clothes for one thing. July 1st is a double anniversary with lots of meaning. July 4th is another anniversary. I remember spending most of my summers locked up and away from friends, relatives, etc. except on certain occasions for most of my pre-adult life.
Added to all that, I’ve been talking with my aunts more often to coordinate my 2-week visit back home later this month. During a conversation, one of my aunts proceeded to body shame me, criticize me, and then act like she forgot I was visiting. No, I am not sure why she decided to cross my boundaries and talk to me this way. I could speculate, but why bother? She is who she is, and I should have expected something like this to happen at some point.
Why is this time more of a challenge than past experiences?
My reaction was different. My feelings were different. My perspective had changed too.
Instead of feeling hurt or guilt or shame, I felt outrage like “how dare you treat me this way” and pushed back instead of retreating or defending myself. My response was simple, non-aggressive, and direct. Then I told her that these days are available if she wants to spend time with me when I visit.
But I still felt angry. The anger scared me for many reasons. Different feelings bring out different reactions and impulses. Anger tends to bring out my rebellious and reckless sides. It also clouds my thinking.
During that phone call I realized the body shaming and criticism did not trigger any negative feelings about my body. It did however knock at my self-esteem a little and bring on some nasty flashbacks complete with physical pain. I felt defensive and uncertain about wearing dresses again. And part of me was justifying my clothing choice for the day on the inside. So I made a plan. When I realized I couldn’t execute the plan on my own, I asked for help.
That was Friday.
Go out for a walk in my neighborhood. Play with friendly dogs. Eat good food. Go home and watch a movie or sleep. Go to counseling the next day. Have fun and enjoy my 4-day weekend even if that means spending a lot of time sleeping. Do some packing for the future move. But most important: RELAX