What is 'body grief'? Women share what it's like to mourn their former selves.
Watching our bodies change is a natural part of life. But we rarely talk about the complicated feelings that come from that.
It was only yesterday when a friend and I (two women in the 30-to-40-year-old range) were having a conversation, and this friend made more than one wistful comment about being “skinny and sexy” once upon a time.
Her self deprecating jokes were so casual and nonchalant that actual sadness underneath was almost unnoticeable. Almost.
Except I did notice it, because I have it too. That same sense of unease at being a different size that my former younger self. I have it, my friend has it, and nearly every adult woman has it to some degree.
Now we even have a name for it—”body grief.”
Author Jayne Mattingly, who first coined the term, defines body grief as “the universal experience of disillusionment, sorrow, and loss that comes with simply existing in a body.”
Body grief basically sums up all the anger, loss, frustration, sorrow, and general sense of mourning that so many women feel from the “loss” of their former body, and the former self it represents.
@jayneimattingly Replying to @olivepfox i am so happy you are here!!! #bodygrief #disabledtiktok #bodygriever #disabledhumour ♬ original sound - Jayne Mattingly
Body grief can manifest in a myriad of ways—growing older, having children, chronic illness or injury, disability, reactions to medications, huge life changes, trauma, stress. And while it often denotes weight gain, plenty of women who lose a lot of weight can feel body grief too.
Sami Rose, an Australian-based counselor and body image coach, spoke about her own challenges with body grief, especially after reaching her goal weight, then gaining the weight back.
“I’d spent all of my teens and all of my 20s having this number in my head, and this body in my head, that I thought was gonna solve all of my problems,” she said.
@sami.rose_ Replying to @eneesece letting go of the thin ideal can be really difficult, and its okay to miss your old body or old life, but i hope this strategy helps shift your perspective 💖 #bodyacceptance #bodygrief #bodyimagecounsellor #counsellor #bodyimagecoach ♬ original sound - Sami Rose • Counsellor + Coach
After losing about 55 pounds, getting all the compliments from her friends, even being told that her abs were “goals,” Rose was still left with the same insecurities. For her, body grief meant “letting go of the thin ideal” and “griev[ing] the notion of what a good body meant to me.”
Rose’s experience is not uncommon. Countless women are sharing their stories of body grief in a new TikTok trend titled #bodygrief, which has reached nearly 880,000 views.
Women like Aleah Elizabeth, who went from being “super skinny” most of her life to gaining 60-70 pounds after taking birth control.
@aleahhelizabeth Its hard ass thing to go through #gainingweight #beingskinny #fy ♬ original sound - aleahelizabeth💗
“I thought I was gonna be a happy girl because the boys like girls who are thick,” she said. “But as I kept gaining the weight, I literally hated my body more and more and more…And then you gain so much weight and everybody around you notices it and talks about it, and then starts to make you feel bad about it. It is the worst thing I think I ever went through in my life.”
Or Eliana Hope, who, two months into postpartum, cried in an REI store after realizing “the body that used to take me up mountain trails is now stretched and loose in all the places it used to be strong.”
@thesamfamm 2 months PP and feeling like it today… Outdoorsy moms, tell me it gets better? #outdoorsymom #nationalparks #rei #parksproject #newmom #youngmoms #bodygrief #postpartumbody #bodyimagestruggles #bodyafterbabies #hikinggirl #girlswhohike @rei @thesamfamm ♬ Into the wild - Cartwright
Honestly, the list goes on and on.
@stancedexcoaching How body grief came up on vacation. Please please check out @Jayne Mattingly for more on Body Grief! #bodygrief #perceptionvsreality #bodieschange #bodieschangeworthdoesnt #bodygriefwithjaynemattingly #vacation #familyvacation #hardtime ♬ original sound - Stance Dex Dreyfus @madialysefitness you have to remember there is a happier and fuller life out there. #bodygrief #weightgainjourney #bodyacceptance #setpointweight #harecovery #hormoneimbalance #edrecoceey ♬ The Journey - Sol Rising @olivepfox Some thoughts on body grief and reconciling disability #crps #crpsawareness #complexregionalpainsyndrome #crpswarrior #chronicpain #disabled ♬ original sound - olive fox
And just what are we supposed to do about this body grief? For starters, Rose suggests writing down a list of all the things you appreciate about yourself that are completely unrelated to your body.
“I think that can be really special in just rebuilding your identity and proving to yourself that you’re more than just a body,” she says. “That your appearance is a part of you, but it’s not the most important part of you.”
But also, like with all forms of grief, sometimes sharing what you’re going through in a safe space with other people who have been through it, or are going through it too, really helps you process those difficult feelings. And that’s why this TikTok movement is so important. No one should have to go through it alone.