Hello, dear souls! Welcome (or welcome back) and I’m glad to have you here. Take a deep breath and let it out with a sigh. I’ve been doing an educational course by Bessel Van der Kolk and he’s talked some about how universal and helpful that out-breath with sound is to make our bodies feel safe and easing tension. I wanted to talk today about body image because it comes up in my office at least daily. And I’ve treated all kinds of folx (non-gender specific term) with eating disorders based in body image “stuff”. My point is that it’s long been considered a women’s issue and it’s not. It’s a human issue.
Body image concerns usually start pretty young, especially if a parent is struggling with body image issues. We live in a culture that tells us that if we’re just thinner, stronger, prettier/more handsome, taller, etc. we’ll be lovable and finally happy. We often live as if being attractive is what makes us worthy. It’s not. Can you do an experiment? If you were to spend some time (an hour, a day, whatever) thinking about your body just as your Earth suit (the clothing you wear on this planet, the vehicle that helps you get around) rather than a sign of status or worth, what might that feel like? Give it a try. You don’t have to commit to it, you’re just trying it on to see how it goes. You are not here in this life to be a decoration.
We so often base out worth on externals- things that can change at any given time. What a precarious place to place your self-worth! I see a lot of people who had their self-esteem wrapped up in being thin, being an extraordinary earner, being fit and active, etc. and have lost those abilities or traits. I’d offer a different way of looking at things. These are not things that make you unique. Nothing that can be stripped away in mere moments is what makes you, you.
We make ourselves vulnerable to hurt when we take pride in these things rather than being grateful for them. If I am grateful for my ability to hike rather than prideful of it, I don’t base my worth on it. I don’t feel totally worthless when/if something interferes with that ability. And in truth, many pieces of our personality are luck. If I am someone who has the willpower/interest in going to the gym every day, a big piece of that is genetics or luck. If I’m someone who takes joy in being on time, that is luck. I could just as easily be someone who was born into a brain that doesn’t prioritize being punctual. So can you be grateful for those things?
What makes you unique is not the shape or size or functionality of your body, but who you would be if all those things were stripped away. Would you still be funny? Caring? Sincere?
HAES and Body Positivity
There are two movements that speak to body image and body acceptance: Health at Every Size (HAES) and Body Positivity. True body positivity doesn’t celebrate conventional beauty and supports all bodies- those with big scars, those with skin issues, those in wheelchairs and with amputations. It recognizes that the body is not here to look beautiful, but to give you a vessel and those vessels come in all different varieties without one being worth more than another. There are a lot of body positive posts that just say things like “don’t worry, you’re beautiful”. In this blog we talked a little bit about why that kind of reassurance is totally unhelpful. In short, it supports the idea of “Oh my gosh, you are SO not fat. You’re goregous!” Which supports the idea that fat is the worst thing you can be. So far from the truth.
Fat is just something all bodies have and some bodies have more than others. One of my favorite sayings is that if someone can’t change it in five minutes, we don’t need to point it out. A lot of people say they’re worried about health and those fat bodies appearing in media promote obesity. They’re not worried about health and if they are- it’s not really any of their business. This is also where the HAES movement comes in. There’s this big assumption that fat people are not healthy which is certainly not always true. We’re finding out that weight is a much poorer predictor of health than we thought. There are plenty of fat athletes and fat healthy people.
So start working today to accept your body as it is and for what it does. Stop doing things like body checking (looking the mirror and pinching/pulling/grimacing at, etc. which is a disordered eating behavior that most people treat like a normal part of being a human) parts of your body that you don’t like. Body neutrality (“I’m okay with my body”) is how most people start becoming more body positive.
Here are some simple but difficult steps to challenging your fears about your body.
- Clean up your intake!!! I’m not talking about carbs or fats, I’m talking about social media! Purge things that make you doubt your worthiness.
- Make a list of things you like or are grateful for about your body. This can be a strong heart, the ability to walk, strong arms, ribs that protect your heart, or slim legs! It doesn’t matter- it just needs to be positive. Don’t forget that just because it’s not mainstream doesn’t mean you can’t love it. Love having big strong thighs even though they make finding jeans hard? You get to decide that!
- Challenge your inner voice. That narrator that has an opinion about everything can be such a nightmare. Many of our narrators are none too kind. Maybe you have some fatphobia (judging people based on their weight, e.g.: that person is a lazy slob because they’re bigger than I think is acceptable) that needs to be examined. Or maybe when you look in the mirror you hear a voice that points out all those “flaws”. Talk back to it. Tell it how unhelpful it is and that it can just be quiet. You don’t need it ;).
- Build a community. Find online or in-life friends who believe in appreciating all bodies. Rely on them when negative thoughts feel too big.
I hope this helps friends. Life is meant to be enjoyed, not spent wishing you looked or worked differently than you do. You purpose is so much bigger than controlling your body’s appearance. You can enjoy that, for sure! Expression through your body is awesome! But try to make it a positive experience, not something you have to do to be lovable. You are totally lovable no matter how your body looks or works. Sending you lots of love this week and strength to apply these ideas to your own life. Let’s connect if you want to discuss body image more.
Kayla Valley is a Licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW) who works at the Highland location of Perspectives Therapy Services. She became a therapist to help people struggle with the depression and anxiety that she understands intimately. She loves being a Michigander and is an avid sewist who loves spending time with her cats and sugar gliders.
Perspectives Therapy Services is a multi-site mental and relationship health practice with clinic locations in Brighton, Lansing, Highland and Fenton, Michigan. Our clinical teams include experienced, compassionate and creative therapists with backgrounds in psychology, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and social work. Additionally, we offer psychiatric care in the form of evaluations and medication management. Our practice prides itself on providing extraordinary care. We offer a customized matching process to prospective clients whereby an intake specialist carefully assesses which of our providers would be the very best fit for the incoming client. We treat a wide range of concerns that impact a person's mental health including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, low self-worth, life transitions, and childhood and adolescent difficulties.