Traveling to new places across the world (or even a trip to a new part of your town!) can offer a break from our daily lives. We are thrown out of our normal routines, and for some of us, that is a welcomed break. If you are someone who suffers from or is prone to anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, or other anxiety disorders, this break from normalcy can be fear inducing. As a therapist who specializes in eating disorders, here are some suggestions on how traveling can improve body image, and actually be a helpful way to break the constant rigidity and hyper-focus on body image.
Leave Your Rules at Home
Because traveling to a new place requires you to physically not be at home or in your familiar environment, this can be a great opportunity to “leave your worries behind”. Likely, and unfortunately, they will be there when you return. Give yourself permission to take a break from the structure and rules that may feel so important to follow. By doing this, you are allowing yourself to be more present, mindful, and really take in the experience of being somewhere new. It is always okay to bring pieces of your home with you to help ground yourself, though (i.e., pictures, jewelry, favorite sweatshirt, etc.). Some of the greatest parts of traveling are to enjoy the unfamiliar foods, the culture, and interactions with others. If you notice you’re spending that time thinking about how others may be perceiving you, it may be keeping you from fully enjoying all aspects of your trip. Keep in mind that depending on where you travel, other cultures may have different body image standards than where you are from. Therefore, comparing your body to others does nothing but reinforce beliefs that someone has to be “better” or “worse”.
“Don’t post that picture!”
Taking pictures, having visual memories and reminders of where we have been, can be some of the best souvenirs from a trip. Many people who have body image concerns may not want to be in these pictures, or if they are, may spend excess time thinking about how they wish their body would look a certain way. While it can be totally acceptable to not want to be in pictures, think of what kind of memory you could have if you were a part of those memories. The purpose of these pictures is to remember what we did at those times, remember the experience, the feelings of how it was to be at that place at that moment in time, and to remember the smells and the sounds. Instead of critiquing how you appear in that picture, consider that the purpose of the picture (and you being in it), isn’t about you at all – it is about the experience. You are in it to remind yourself that you were there. If we can allow ourselves to shift the focus from ourselves to the world around us, we can take a mental break from body critique.
What Your Body CAN Do, Not What It Can’t
Depending upon the type of trip you take, there may be more physical exertion than you normally have in your daily routines. Feeling exhaustion, winded, or sore can be a totally normal part of travel. When it can turn negative, however, is if it is taken as a sign of weakness. We may be more likely to judge our bodies if we perceive we “can’t handle” it. Instead, remind yourself of all the things your body CAN do. Your legs took you to this part of the globe, your eyes are helping you to see new surroundings, your senses are helping you interpret your experience, and your stomach is helping you to digest the new foods that help describe a new culture. When we can focus on what our bodies are doing for us, rather than the things it is not, we are more likely to appreciate our experiences and less likely to critique them. It is a privilege to have a fully functioning body, and we must appreciate this as often as we can!
If we are traveling for joy, intention, and enlightenment, being fully present will only enhance the experience. While intrusive body image thoughts may be present with you while you travel, we can work to decrease the power they have on your day. Leave your rules behind, being a part of those pictures, and loving what your body is capable of doing can also help you once you get home. These ideas can be used at any time, not just for traveling! And, having the opportunity to break from your normal routine can shake up the usual way we see ourselves. Knowing that we have seen different cultures, with different body expectations, can remind us that we are likely our own biggest critic – and that there are many more precious things in this world than what we look like.