Poor body image, and the constant desire to change our bodies, is a common problem among so many people in our culture. With that in mind, I thought I’d share some helpful body image-related mental exercises in this latest blog. Whether you’ve been battling with poor self-esteem and negative body image over a long period of time, or just having one of those “I feel gross” days, there are things we can all do to help adjust our mental state, put things in perspective, and, hopefully, give less power to the cycle of poor body image (and the various ways that often manifests – shame, eating disorders, chronic dieting, compulsive exercise, mood swings, avoiding social interactions).
First, some general background and words of encouragement. If you are reading this and can relate to poor/obsessive thoughts about your body, you are not alone. As a professional woman in her mid-30’s, and a mother of two, I understand the external pressures to look, to act, and to even feel a certain way. Oftentimes, in my opinion, the “best” or the “right” way to look, act, or feel is based on a completely arbitrary standard. When it comes to body image, girls/women are inundated from a young age with messages, images, and rules that tell us to lose weight (but not too much), be fit (but not too much), be curvy and voluptuous (but not too much and only in certain areas), etc… In other words, we are taught that there is some ideal to be reached, and if you don’t achieve that ideal balance of….slender, but not skinny; fit but not masculine; curvy but not plump or fat…then you need to keep working at it. And keep working at it. And keep working at it. And…you aren’t quite where you “need” to be, so keep working at it. And, then you realize years have flown by, and you’ve lost meaningful contact with friends or family, you’ve missed out on memories, and you’ve let life pass you by as you’ve wasted your time fixated on some perfect body that never is and was (or, for those who feel like they reached “it’ through dieting, they live in constant fear of losing “it” if they ever stop the diet cycle). Ultimately, for what? Was it worth it? Did your obsessive quest make you happier, more fulfilled, and give your life purpose?
Before I describe some helpful mental exercises that can help you combat poor body image, I think this is a great way to put body image into perspective: When you’re gone, do you want your obituary to read: “She was a really awesome and strict dieter. She was the most loving and dedicated dieter I’ve ever seen. She was so passionate about her dieting that she always thought about it, always talked about it, and always planned her life around her latest diet!”??? Of course you don’t!!! Because you are so much more than your body image. I’m all for exercising, eating diverse and nutritious foods, and even making changes to how you take care of your body, IF THAT IS WHAT YOU TRULY IN YOUR HEART WANT TO DO. However, if you are merely reacting to external pressures, life is just too short to live your life like that. With all of that said, below is a list of mental exercises that you can do at home to help you identify your self-worth and start to love and accept your body.
1. Ask yourself the question and answer: What does body acceptance and appreciation mean to you? How would you like your relationship with your body to be? If you don’t feel at a point where you can accept your body, try starting with body appreciation. For example, think of ways you appreciate what your body does for you, and start there. From appreciation, you can start working towards acceptance.
2. Think of someone you look up to, a role model and then ask yourself: What do appreciate about them? Why are they important to you? After journaling, reflect on what are the characteristics of that person, and what did you notice?
3. Start paying attention to the internal voice in your head (inner critic, worry voice, shame, etc.) and talk to that internal voice the same way you would talk to a beloved friend or family member. For example, if your internal voice says, “you were so lazy today,” how would you respond to a statement like that from a friend? Would you answer, “yeah, you’re lazy.” Or, would you be positive and compassionate. Maybe you would offer something like, “you worked all day and took care of your kids, resting might be what your body needs right now.”
4. Write your own obituary (only do if you feel comfortable). What would you want people to say about you? What do you feel gives you worth? What makes you happy?
5. Start treating your body with respect today. If acceptance of current body seems to challenging (focused on past or future body) you can still take care of it in the present, i.e. shower, eat when you are hungry, joyful movement, self-compassion. When treat our current bodies with love and kindness we can then start to appreciate and accept.
6. On those challenging body image days: Sometimes we just need to sit with our feelings and name them. In my experience, the days we are hardest on our bodies are the days we are often experiencing unpleasant feelings such as stress, fear, shame, anger, etc..., and those feelings originally stem from things that have nothing to do with our bodies. Instead, we are scared, frustrated, or insecure about something else (bad or awkward interaction with co-worker, kids are sick, etc…), and then we redirect those unpleasant emotions towards our bodies. With that in mind, naming our feelings can be very helpful. When we name our feelings, acknowledge and sit with them (ride the wave), we can find out what is really going on in our mind/body and identify what we really need.
In the end, remember our worth is not defined by our bodies. We are so much more than our body appearance or size!
If you or someone you know is struggling with chronic dieting and the pressure to change your body, click on the following link for more information about my services.