Reusing my floss because I’m too lazy to get up and get a new piece. Downing my daily cocktail of Splenda, artificial colors and fake flavors. Sleeping in my makeup (sometimes I like waking up looking like Boy George). Let’s be honest, I have quite a few bad health habits that need breaking but only one is really driving me nuts right now. And it’s a doozy. I’ve been doing this as long as I can remember. Honestly, I can remember doing this in Kindergarten, it’s been with me that long.
So what is it? Body checking. Not the ice hockey kind (although that would be really cool if slamming people into the wall on ice skates were my big problem). The kind of body checking I mean is the kind that makes me have to look at myself in every reflective surface hundreds of times a day. The kind where I am constantly adjusting my clothing or fixing my hair. The kind that makes me change my clothes at least three times a day – and often many more. The kind where the first thing I do upon standing, sitting or changing positions is to put my hand over my lower belly and squish it. Because I have to check myself.
At first glance, I look like the vainest person in the world. I remember my cousin once joking on a group shopping trip, “Quick we’ve got to find another mirror so Charlotte can check herself out again! It’s been, like, 5 whole minutes since she’s seen herself.” But – you must believe me – it is not vanity. Vanity means that you like the way you look and enjoy staring at yourself. I do not generally like the way I look (working on that!) and I certainly don’t enjoy staring at myself. And yet I replay this little ritual of see mirror, turn sideways, smooth tummy, straighten shirt, fix hair, turn forward, check my teeth, smooth tummy dozens of times a day. If you count every little body check, it’s closer to a hundred times a day.
My compulsion – because that’s exactly what it is: a ritualistic behavior performed to relieve a specific anxiety – to check my body is especially bad at the gym. A combination, I think, of all the mirrors (seriously, the Gorgon would be dead before she made it past the lobby of most gyms) and wearing fitted clothing. Although as I type that, I feel forced to admit that even at home in my baggiest of sweats, I still have to smooth my hand over my stomach, still have to look in the mirror.
All of which means I can be really annoying. I’ve had more than one Gym Buddy tell me some form of “Stop pulling your shirt down, it’s fine!” or “Quit tucking your sports bra straps under, nobody cares!” My roommates thought I had a bladder infection because every time I walked past a bathroom, I had to go in it. Even my husband loses patience sometimes when we’re trying to go somewhere and I have to change my outfit for the 17th time (cute when you’re two, massively irritating when you’re 32). It’s even led to a bit of a shopping addiction – thankfully I’m addicted to thrift stores so the financial impact has been minimal – a never-ending quest to find clothes that make me look “not fat.” There are days when I even annoy myself: I’ll be running 10 minutes late but still have to run back inside and change my top or, heaven help me, my entire outfit. I desperately want to not care but I know if don’t change, I’ll be so consumed by what I’m wearing (Do I look fat? Are other people staring at me? Am I underdressed?) that it will drive me nuts.
If you ask me why I’m doing it, I’ll tell you: “I’m afraid of looking fat.”
But I’ve had enough therapy to know by now that “fat” isn’t the issue so much as “crazy” is. It’s turned into a nervous tic of sorts. When I’m feeling happy and well-adjusted – so about 5% of the time – I don’t think about my clothing or hair or stomach at all. When I’m really nervous or upset, I get as handsy as Brody Jenner and Joe Francis at the last sorority party of the year.
Unsurprisingly body checking behaviors are highly correlated with eating disorders. It only makes sense that when a person is hypercritical of their body that it will manifest in a variety of ways. I also know I’m not alone in this. Our society is very reinforcing of body checking with the constant attention to people’s bodies. We blow up celebrity butts and circle them with red pen. We giggle at the lady in Wal-Mart with her thong showing on both ends. We watch so many television shows (in high definition!) about how to properly dress, accessorize and do our make up that they had to create an entire channel to fill the need. When you live in a world where Gwyneth Paltrow has to wear two (!) pairs of Spanx to feel beautiful then who can be surprised that the rest of us become self conscious about our tummies.
Unfortunately I don’t know how to stop doing it. Even though this feels like one of the most embarrassing confessions I’ve made on this site (kinda hilarious when you remember I’m the girl who copped to farting through an entire exercise class after I ate soybeans), I think writing it out here has been a great help. I’ve never really admitted to myself before how much I do this and how much it negatively impacts my life.
So – do you body check? If not, do you have a bad habit that even annoys yourself? Anyone else change their clothes multiple times a day? Have you ever put on an outfit and felt completely awesome in it until the second you step out the door and then suddenly it gives you cankles, a tummy roll and bad skin to boot? What do I do to quit this??