What Your Bad Body Image Says About Your Safety

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kettlebell weight

Me “I feel so fat today”


Also me “What’s making me feel unsafe in my own body today?”


Read on..

You might have noticed that your body image is changeable. You feel differently based on who you’re with, what you’ve done today, who you’ve seen, social media you’ve consumed, how much movement (or not) you’ve done, what you’re wearing, how tired you are, the time of year.


Your body image is not fixed. Yes, it might be “bad”, but sometimes it’s worse than others, right? So that shows us that it’s not a fixed state.


Some science for you: body image is partly processed in the limbic system of the brain.


This part of the brain isn’t about logic or processing. It doesn’t do any thinking. It’s not rational. Instead it rules our emotional responses, and it’s responsible for risk mitigation and survival. So when this part of the brain is activated, your safety is the prime concern.


So those times you’re feeling a certain way about your body, something is making your feel unsafe. Or, here’s another way to consider it; something is making you need to feel protected. The decisions you make based on negative feelings about the way your body looks are made for protection, survival.




We’re taught that our health is reflected in our body shape and size, that people will know us, deep down, and be able to make judgements about us, for how well we fit the ideal body of the moment.


And importantly, we’re taught, implicitly, that we should make health choices based on an aesthetic result. Based on a body type.


What this ends up meaning is that our ability to feed ourselves, to regularly move in healthful ways and be deserving of rest is based on looking enough of a certain kind of way.


If we don’t look right (let’s say it for what it is, if we don’t look thin enough), we make food choices out of “what will make me look better?”, not, what does my body need. If we don’t look right, our movement choices will come from a place of burning calories and attaining a low energy state, rather than making our bodies fitter (NOT the same as burning calories, not even close). If we don’t look right, rest becomes laziness, not essential cortisol reduction and body repair.


Read that back. What it equates to, is that if our food, eating and rest choices are coming from a place of “my body isn’t right until it looks thinner” we cannot take care of ourselves. Instead, we put ourselves at physical risk.


If we cannot feed, move or rest ourselves as we need to until our bodies look “right”, we will always be acting from a place of feeling unsafe. That’s no way to live.

What this ends up meaning is that our ability to feed ourselves, move in real healthful ways and be deserving of rest is based on looking enough of a certain kind of way.

Another side of the coin here, is when women worry about having too much muscle. If we consider muscle for a second, it’s an extremely healthful body tissue to both create and possess.


  1. To create it, we need to focus our physical exercise on getting a strong body, we need to take on enough calories to sustain it, and we need to rest enough, to recover from building it.
  2. Possessing more muscle quite literally reverses negative impacts of modern lifestyles, many side effects around menopause and more general effects of aging.


,Yet because we’re taught that women shouldn’t be “bulky”, many women shy away from muscle. They shy away from what will provide them with tangible, inexpensive and potent health effects, and ongoing power in life, because of that body image fear.


If this isn’t a feminist cause, I don’t know what is.


So when you find yourself in a body image spiral, remember, your logical brain isn’t the one in charge at this point. Your panicky reaction, desire to limit what you eat, throw everything at how you move and how guilty you feel about resting based on a bad body image moment is coming from a place of survival, not rationality.


Pause. Realise what’s happening. Be thankful that your brain wants to keep you safe! The think about what you actually need to be kept safe from. Why are you feeling the need for protection against how your body looks?


Anything could be the trigger, but it’s ultimately a stress response. What are you more stressed about in this moment, or what aren’t you doing enough of at the moment to manage your stress?


Our brain is designed to keep us safe. When we can learn what the real danger is (spoiler: it’s external, not internal), then we can make the right decisions to genuinely keep us safe from harm.


Stay safe, my friends 😉


Shell xx

*School of Bells is an online course of short videos teaching you, from scratch, to do the six foundational kettlebell exercises that an entire athletic system is built upon. It’s pretty shit hot. If you can’t get to me so I can teach you in person, this is what you’re looking for. Sign up here to be first to enrol.


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