How checking myself has helped improve my body image

Back in January, HelloGiggles published an article called “How your body image is actually affecting your health — and might even be threatening your life”. I read it, loved it, and shared it on various Keep A Breast channels (as I do). It’s a super important piece about how poor body image often stops women from doing a breast self-check and other such health practices.

People being uncomfortable with touching their boobs is nothing new. Working at KAB, especially KAB events, I’ve come across a lot of women who say they “just can’t touch themselves like that”. Sure, a lot of that is because the idea of “looking for cancer” is scary. Which it absolutely is, and is why we frame the self-check as getting to know your body, rather than looking for something bad. Ideally, getting to know your body benefits both your physical AND mental health. Of course, we also live in a society that hypersexualizes women’s bodies while simultaneously shaming their sexuality. This results in women thinking that touching their breasts is wrong.

While we always emphasize with the sentiment of body image inhibiting a self-check, and articles like the one on HelloGiggles do a wonderful job of providing facts and shedding light on the need of ending body stigma, there is somewhere where we have all fallen short. I have never read a piece or heard a story about someone being open about the realities of body image and checking yourself and the struggles that come along with that.

BODY IMAGE CAN BE ROUGH 

I started interning for Keep A Breast in February 2017. I worked on content and marketing pretty much exclusively for Non Toxic Revolution. Working for NTR, I was pretty detached from the rest of KAB, but I obviously knew about Check Yourself. The moment I started working for KAB, I started learning the statistics: 40% of women find their own lump, early detection survival rates, etc. I absolutely needed to check myself. But here’s the thing… I couldn’t.

Like so many people, I have some pretty severe body issues. One of the things I hated the most was my boobs. I didn’t want to spend any time with them, look at them, touch them, none of it. I kept getting in my head and more and more anxious. I was too ashamed to talk to anyone about it – then I would have to address how deep and dark my body issues were. But enough was enough. Self-checks and early detection are literally life-saving. This was something I had to do but because of my issues, it felt overwhelming and frankly, impossible. So, I devised a path to my self-check that was tolerable and was least likely to trigger my dysphoric and self-loathing tendencies.

No one’s health – mental or physical – should be in jeopardy due to body image. So, I’m going to walk you through the steps that I took to be able to check myself in hopes that they will help you or anyone in your life who is struggling to do so because of how they feel about their body.

HOW I STARTED CHECKING MYSELF

I started really slow. While my overall body image is generally pretty terrible, I would have good days where I didn’t loathe my body so much; I used those to my advantage. On these days, I would spend time looking at my boobs in the mirror – like REALLY looking at them. I would often find poses that were the most flattering and start from there.

While I did this, I did my best to apply as much positivity as possible. I am extremely fortunate to have a wonderful partner who loves me and my boobs. Thinking of him and what he loves about them would help me to attach positivity to the situation – even if it wasn’t my own.

The more I made myself look in in the mirror, the more I found myself naturally doing it. More and more days came where I woke up, looked in the mirror, and didn’t have to force myself to think positively.

Now, in no way did my issues vanish just because I thought about my boyfriend who digs my body. This was just one successful step in a what has been and will be a lifelong journey. And in NO WAY is a partner necessary for this type of process. It’s all about combatting those intrusive, negative thoughts in any way that works for you. I still have more bad days than good, but they have gradually become fewer and farther between.

TIP: If you’re not ready for something like this, I suggest starting even smaller. Get a bra that you like your boobs in or any top or dress that you find flattering. Find some state – any state – that you like your boobs in and then work up to naked.

Next step – touching them. I started in the most natural place – my shower. I think separating the touching and looking is a really great way to start without overwhelming yourself. For me, touching myself seemed way more manageable if I wasn’t also looking at my boobs. I would massage and run my hands over my boobs every time I was in the shower. I’d rub them after taking off my bra for the day. I tapped and squeeze them while hanging in bed or on the couch. I took advantage of any opportunities where I was already doing something with my boobs, that way it felt less forced. I quickly found that I was actually pretty easily able to go through all of the touching steps.

Now it was time to put the two together and honestly, I was able to do it far more easily than I had ever expected. By essentially training myself to study my breasts in the mirror and thoroughly massaging and checking them in the shower and other places, I got super comfortable doing both of those things. So comfortable in fact, that putting it together was far less anxiety-inducing than I thought it would be. Though it may sound trivial to people who do not understand how deep body image issues can be, for me, this was huge. Being able to do it so easily made me incredibly happy and even proud.

YOU CAN LOVE YOUR BOOBIES

I am in no way over my body image issues and I may never be. However, they no longer get in the way of something as important as my breast health. Of course, there are times where I absolutely do not want to look in the mirror or touch my body, but I am able to do so thanks to the tools I have provided for myself.

It’s just like what we say when we tell anyone about the self-check: your breasts are perfect just the way they are. I know, this sounds super contradictory given everything I have just said… but it’s true. Boobs are awesome for so many reasons and one of the coolest things about them is how different they are. Our boobs are perfect the way they are because they are ours. Think of that when you’re looking in the mirror. I do.

It is very important to do your full self-check, including studying your boobs in the mirror as there are many appearance-based symptoms of breast cancer. That being said, we would much rather you start your routine at your own pace and work up to the whole thing, rather than not doing it at all.  

Thanks to Keep A Breast, I have started a lifelong positive relationship with my breasts and now I get to help others do the same.

Download our Check Yourself! app on the Apple App Store or Google Play to learn to do a breast self-check & set up an automatic monthly reminder. Early detection is the key.

Bree is a vegan, coffee and craft beer loving, intersectional feminist who is particularly invested in health. She has a degree in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from CSULB, where she spent her time turning her passions into academic activism. When she’s not busy spreading awareness on breast health and living a non toxic lifestyle, she is most likely taking a long bath, cooking extravagant vegan food, or crying about dogs.

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