“How my nightly baths help me feel connected to my body”

Welcome to Beauty Feels, a series exploring the different ways in which beauty routines and rituals can provide emotional support and aid journeys of self-discovery.

Over the past year, viral Instagram posts have been quick to remind people that practicing self-care requires more than an indulgent beauty routine. Here, beauty journalist Shannon Lawlor reveals how seemingly shallow rituals helped her reconnect with her body after trauma. 

“Self-care isn’t about lighting a scented candle and running yourself a bath”. It wasn’t the first time I had stumbled across this Instagram post and it angered me more each time it popped up. As a beauty journalist, I feel sad that the power of such rituals are often reduced to shallow frivolity because for me, my nightly bath acts as a powerful reminder that my body a very key part of me.

The reason I need reminders of this seemingly obvious fact? Well, for a very long time, I didn’t acknowledge my body at all.

For as long as I can remember, I have suffered with hypochondria. I have spent my life in fear that my body will one day turn on me. What started off with exaggerating colds as a child soon turned into incessant Googling of minor health symptoms, escalating into almost nightly panic attacks by the time I was in my early twenties, convinced that my insides were covered in tumours.

Whenever my anxieties about the existing lump got overwhelming, I’d book a GP appointment so I didn’t have to check it. In my mind, my body was no longer part of me at all.

In 2017, I noticed a lump in my breast and all of my fears materialised. A scary three weeks later, an ultrasound diagnosed the lump as benign. The instructions were simple: “Keep an eye on it and come back in if it gets any bigger.” The diagnosis should have offered me reassurance but checking myself regularly meant a possibility of finding something I didn’t want to.

I became terrified to touch my own body in case something had changed – so I didn’t. In fact, I cut my body out of my life completely. I rid my flat of full-length mirrors, refused to touch my own skin and never looked down. Whenever my anxieties about the existing lump got overwhelming, I’d book a GP appointment so I didn’t have to check it. In my mind, my body was no longer part of me at all.

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After a year of living this way, a joke from a friend changed everything. I had made a comment about the state of my unpedicured feet. “For a beauty editor, you’ve let yourself go,” he joked. It was something I would usually shrug off in jest, but this time, the words carried weight.

He was right. I knew that I had been living a lie at work, and it made me feel deeply uncomfortable. Shallowly, I realised that if I didn’t start taking my own beauty advice, I’d never be taken seriously by colleagues. The truth was, removing my body from the equation hadn’t quelled my health anxieties. It was time to reassess.

That evening, I looked at myself properly. I took in all of the ways that my body had changed and felt a wave of sadness. I was overwhelmed at the hatred I had for it – the hatred I had for myself. I realised that if I didn’t do something drastic in that moment then nothing was going to change, so I ran a bath.

I hooked out dusty bath salts, body scrubs and body lotions and cleaned my body from head to toe. For the first time in nearly two years, I really felt my skin beneath my fingertips and became overwhelmed. As I sat in the bath with tears flooding, I realised that my body wasn’t something to fear, but something I needed to get to know.

I was still struggling to come to terms with my health anxieties, but my body started to feel more like mine every day.

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After that first bath, I felt emotionally drained. Plucking up the courage to touch my body again was terrifying and I knew I’d have to take baby steps if I wanted to keep it up. Since then, not a day has passed that I haven’t indulged in a soak. I swapped thick loofahs for thinner flannels and phased in scrubs to experiment with different textures. I soon realised that the sensation of prolonged touch was helping me reintroduce my body to my mind.

I did a little more with every bath, paying attention to a new part of my body whenever it felt right. When I was ready, I started applying body lotion to my feet, legs and arms. I was still struggling to come to terms with my health anxieties, but my body started to feel more like mine every day. My nightly bodycare routine had become something I actually looked forward to. However, there was still one big issue looming: I hadn’t checked my lump, and I knew that was the last hurdle.

I found using aromatherapy products helped make things more relaxing. So, I ran a bath with mind-soothing salts, lit some scented candles, misted a lavender room spray, Googled Coppafeel!’s Boob Check 101, and for the first time in two years, checked my boobs. Now, I still check them every couple of weeks, using exactly the same ritual, to make sure there have been no changes, and so far, so good.

When the pandemic hit, my health anxieties picked up again. Despite my nightly routine, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the fate of my body was, once again, out of my control. When I started having panic attacks again, I knew I had to make a conscious effort to show myself more love. I bought a full-length mirror, started body dry brushing once a week to reconnect with my limbs and came clean about my bodycare routine in my writing.

Now, I’m doing much better. There are days when I need some extra help, but I lean on my nightly bath as a crutch. A recent survey by Venus revealed that 76% of women place most importance on looking after their faces, opposed to their bodies, but my reality couldn’t be more different – my bodycare routine has become a necessity. And while I know that an Instagram post about selfcare being more than just running a bath is true, for me, it was a monumental place to start.

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Images: Shannon Lawlor

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