It's That Time Of Year Again
It’s summer, time for swimsuit season, sleeveless tops and cool, comfortable clothing. At least it is where I live, in hot and humid Houston, Tx. How is your body image in summer months? We are all bombarded by media messages day after day, but it can certainly increase in the summer months when we’re likely to be more exposed and more self-conscious of our bodies.
My own body image caught up to me this summer, which is what inspired me to write this article. I’ve gone through medical issues this past year which have been stressful on my body and I’m at the age where I can now notice visibly the signs of aging. It hit me pretty hard in a dressing room when I realized my body was changing and was moving into a new stage of life. I felt all of those emotions you feel when upset and critical with your body. Then I realized the deeper emotions that were actually present, a sense of loss and change, which paralleled what I had been experiencing this past year. No surprise of course.
At first I got stuck in the typical body image traps. Having critical thoughts about one’s body, then feeling disappointment, frustration, shame and similar “heavy” feelings. Ugh! I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been there. When I stayed with what I was feeling longer I realized that I was caught up in messages from the outside vs. my own internal voice. I take care of my body, I treat my body well and I certainly don’t want to shame myself for aging or going through difficult medical experiences. That’s not ok with me. I wouldn’t want someone else to treat me that way either.
What was also helpful for me was when I realized that this was normal. It’s normal for our bodies to change over time. It’s normal for us to not be perfect. It’s even normal for us to feel unpleasant emotions some of the time. This helped me to move into acceptance of myself instead of “resistance”, which is what the negative body image thoughts are about anyway. Once I moved into acceptance, it suddenly became clear to me that behind the body image thoughts were the difficult emotions associated with aging, change, and what my body had been going through this past year.
1. Treat your body with respect and honor your body’s needs.
Body bashing and negative body image thoughts are a surefire way to disconnect you from your body. I like to think of the body as the child. Think about treating your body and talking to your body the way you would your own child. What do you notice? Would you send your child off to school without any breakfast? Would you say negative body comments to your child? Think about how you ideally would want to nurture and take care of your child and do that for yourself.
Wear comfortable clothing that you like and feels good on your body. Throw out clothes that are too small. This is a way of treating your body with respect and living in the present. It doesn’t mean you won’t care for yourself, it just means you’re no longer going to disrespect yourself and put your life on hold.
Eat when you are hungry, rest when you are tired, and let yourself cry when you experience difficulties. The more attuned you are to your body’s needs and signals, the greater likelihood of being an intuitive eater and managing stress related physical and emotional symptoms, which can ultimately minimize your chances for some major diseases.
Get new body assessment tools. Don’t use weight or clothes sizes to determine how you feel about yourself. Quit body-check games. Don’t compare your body to others. What you see on the outside says nothing about what’s going on in the inside.
Do nice things for your body. Do things that feel good – massage, bubble bath, soak in a hot tub. Remember, you are entitled to feel good in the body you have, rather than waiting for years and possibility the rest of your life to become “acceptable.”
2. Clarify your values and ask yourself whether what your body image thought benefits you and helps you move towards a fulfilling life or whether it harms.
Values define the type of person we want to be, the way we want to live, who we are, and what we want to stand for. When we’re clear about our values, we can then pay attention to thoughts and behaviors that move us in the direction of our values, which ultimately leads to a meaningful and fulfilling life. Alternatively, we can also pay attention to thoughts, sensations and behaviors that move us away from our values and instead in the direction of fear.
Exercise: Consider people who have played a direct role in your life: family members, friends, teachers, coaches, teammates and so on. Now think about people who have inspired you indirectly: authors, artists, celebrities, or even fictional characters. Who would you most like to be like? Pick one person you really admire. What are the personal qualities you really admire in this person? Once you’ve done this, think about how this translates into your own personal values.
Once you’ve identified your values, evaluate your body image thoughts and ask yourself whether they help you move towards your values or away. Spend some noticing thoughts that help you move closer to your values instead.
3. Ground yourself by knowing and trusting your inner strengths.
Being overly focused on looks undermines the whole of you as a person. Get clear on who you are, what you stand for, and your natural strengths and talents. You are worth more than being refined to an image on the outside. It’s important to take note of and like the aspects of yourself that you can’t see. Do you know what they are?
Exercise: Make a list of what you like about yourself. Keep this list near your mirror or someplace you can be reminded of it when needed.
It can also be a good idea to get feedback from others, but just focus on people who love and support you. You can ask them, “What do you see as my five best strengths?”
Extra Credit: Make a list of all the things your body lets you do.
4. Recognize the role of emotions in how you think and feel about yourself.
Remember that fat isn’t a feeling. If you find yourself saying, “I feel fat,” ask yourself what you’re really feeling. Negative body image thoughts can serve as a distraction from what might really be going on inside.
Exercise: In what way do you use your body to express feelings that are forbidden or overwhelming?
5. Decide how you want to define healthy for you.
On yahoo news today there was a image of a woman who was wearing her four-year old’s pajamas. That just doesn’t sound healthy at all. I’m a woman not a child! What do you want your definition of healthy to mean? What activities, thoughts, attitudes and behaviors help you to feel strong?
Perhaps you can find the joy in movement. Exercising for fun and health feels great and is a great way to connect to your body and what it really does for you. Exercise isn’t about punishing or have to’s, but rather about feel goods. Be realistic though, if you haven’t moved much, it may not feel great at first, so start small. Dance in your living room to your favorite music. Go for a five minute walk around the block.
Robyn Lawley, an average sized woman doing plus sized modeling states that
“Why would I want to starve and weaken my natural body size? I’m not saying women who have it naturally are unattractive. But I would have to change my entire frame just to achieve something that seems so trivial.”
Challenge the Magic of Thinness: are you putting off hopes and goals until some time in the future when you believe you’ll be thin? This can help you avoid painful issues, but also keeps you from living your life and gaining confidence through experience. (Confidence doesn’t come from being thin, it comes from experiences gained by living your life!) Stop postponing your needs.
Be Realistic About Your Body
A person’s natural weight range spanning ~ 30 pounds is 99% genetically determined. Studies show that a woman’s ideal body image is 13-19% below expected weight.
If you’re still struggling with body image, it can be important to remind yourself that there are all types of bodies, colors, imperfections, sizes and shapes in the world. And all are beautiful in their own unique ways.
Check out Colbie Caillat’s song and video showing the real side of beauty without photoshop and makeup: http://www.sunnyskyz.com/good-news/756/Colbie-Caillat-Is-Tired-Of-Being-Photoshopped-So-This-Is-What-She-Did-About-It
Therapy Can Help You Heal Your Relationship with Your Body & Yourself
If you struggle with negative body image, of course you’re not alone! As women we’re trained that it’s inappropriate to love our bodies. We may compliment each other, but we don’t compliment ourselves. POSITIVE BODY TALK DOESN”T NATURALLY HAPPEN! Men have gotten increasingly greater pressure to be “ripped”. It’s ok to have mixed feelings about our bodies, as long as there is a mix and it’s not shaming.
Sometimes however, negative body image thoughts persist along with feelings of shame, imperfection or not belonging. It doesn’t have to be this way. A therapist can help you heal and ultimately build a compassionate and loving relationship with yourself and your body. Please give the counselors at Eddins Counseling Group a call at 832-209-2222 or visit our website to find out more about us and schedule an appointment online.