BODY IMAGE THERAPY & HEALING
Body image is how we see or perceive our physical selves and is largely formed through feedback from others - family members, peers, coaches, etc. and depending on that feedback, as well as some other personality traits such as perfectionism, it can turn negative very quickly. It doesn't take much for us to develop a self-critical and negative image of our body and can happen at any point in our development. A negative body image often looks like:
constantly looking at yourself in the mirror
difficulty accepting compliments or receiving praise
saying no to events or activities because of your physical shape or size
negatively comparing your body shape/size to others and/or overly-critical self-talk
obsessively wanting to change or hide your body or certain body parts
being envious of 'ideal' body types - which are often glorified in the media or set by celebrities
dieting or restricting certain foods to achieve a slimmer or 'more acceptable' body size
never feeling 'good enough'
living for the future ('when I lose weight then I'll...') rather than in the present
Diet culture is a $50 billion dollar industry. Just think about that. Think about how vulnerable we are as a society, particularly young developing minds, to the kind of pressure that level of marketing can create to convince us we need to look a certain way. And what it might mean if we don't. These unhealthy body shaming messages are relentless and so ingrained in our society we don't even realize what impact they're having on us and our children.
How hard would it be for you to say, "No thank you diet culture/body shamers - I like myself just fine just the way I am?" It's hard, right? To think about loving and accepting your body right now today just as it is? Now that doesn't mean we stop exercising or eating nutritious foods - in fact, it actually means the opposite - that because we love our bodies we want to treat them the best we can - and that means NOT dieting NOT restricting NOT counting calories NOT shaming bodies - especially those that don't fit the 'ideal body type.' All bodies are ideal. All bodies are wonderful and beautiful. A healthy or unhealthy body is not determined by size, but rather by what you put in it and how (and why) you move it.
It's never too late to learn to love and accept your body - to feel good about yourself just as you are. It's difficult - it's hard work. But it is possible. Consider how you see yourself and how you think others see you (the people who love you unconditionally) - do those line up? How does this negative view of yourself impact your life? How can you become more of a friend to your body rather than your biggest critic? What are your fears or beliefs about fatness? Can you embrace the idea of larger bodies as normal and acceptable, even for yourself? Why or why not?
Here are some things you can do to start improving your body image:
1. 'Break up' with diet culture. Diets, at best, don't work, and at their worst - are toxic. They're toxic in every way because at their core they suggest there's something wrong/bad/unacceptable about our bodies. This creates shame. And this shame keeps us in a negative feedback loop about our bodies. We might feel better for a little while after losing weight, but eventually we will struggle to 'maintain' that weight loss and bully ourselves or start 'dieting or restricting' again as a result. Or we binge as a way to self-sabotage or as a form of rebellion. This can last a lifetime for many people. A lifetime of criticizing our bodies - a lifetime of hating the way we look in jeans or swimsuits - a lifetime of rejecting, rather than loving, the one and only body we will ever have. All for corporate profit.
2. Start noticing your negative self-talk and replace those thoughts with more positive more compassionate - more body-appreciative statements - even if you don't believe them! Just keep saying them. They will serve you better than the negative ones and little by little, day by day, eventually your brain will start shifting.
3. Place a higher value on holistic health - shift the idea that you work out in order to maintain or attain a certain body size - replace that with the belief that you work out or move your body for physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing instead. Make this something you value and commit to for yourself - not to achieve a weight goal or for anyone else's approval or standards.
4. Get rid of your scale. Learn to trust your body's innate ability to regulate your weight even if the end result is visible fat on your body. Normalize this for yourself and for others. When you see numbers on a scale you have beliefs about what those numbers mean. And often those thoughts are negative. This is just another way to be mean to yourself.
5. Right now TODAY stop following anyone on social media who doesn't portray body positivity. We have to, collectively, resist this kind of shaming and negative messaging. Put a boundary around that - for yourself and for your children. Fatness is not the problem. And weight loss is not the solution. Research tells us roughly 70% of women 13+ are on or have been on some form of diet in their lifetime and yet roughly over 50% of Americans are considered 'overweight.' 90% of people who lose weight through dieting regain that weight within 5 years, often with added pounds. The math doesn't add it. The thinner we try to be, the bigger we get. It's a faulty system. It's fueled only by profit. Don't give these messengers attention in any way and call it out whenever you see it. In our family we say "NO!" every time we see or hear diet culture messages or diet food labeling ads or commercials. This is how we take our power back. We may not be able to control the messages we hear but we can control what we do with it.
6. Last but most importantly: Be as kind and compassionate with yourself (and your body) as you would a dear friend or loved one! Make this your new 'golden rule.' Would you say mean things to your friend about their body? Then don't do it to yourself. Some mantras: My body deserves love. My body deserves to be nourished. I'm worthy. I'm a good person. My body doesn't determine my worth. My body is beautiful just as it is.
Talking about this with a professional can be very helpful. Don't be afraid to ask for help. This work is hard and takes time. Feel free to download this handout on 'Body Shaming' (also includes a list of 40 ways to be nicer to yourself).