We live in a culture of scarcity or “never enough” and women’s bodies rarely (arguably never) escape unscathed. According to research by Brené Brown, PhD, nearly all women feel ashamed of their bodies at one time or another. For many women, our relationship with our bodies becomes a battleground at a young age and we experience a lifetime of shame due to our inability to measure up to culturally-defined standards of perfection.
I spent years at war with my own body. It sometimes saddens me to think of all the time and energy I spent hating and trying to change it. These days though, I’m filled with deep gratitude and respect for my body – and I’m amazed it never gave up on me – even when I abused and neglected it. That doesn’t mean I never experience a bad body image day – afterall I’m human and live in the same world as everyone else where diet culture and fat phobia runs rampant.
Over the years, I’ve found helpful ways of disengaging from the “not good enough” narrative when it comes to my own body and I practice them when a bad body image day shows up. The goal here is not body love (more about why not in a future post). The goal is to work towards body respect so you can lean in and listen to its needs and move forward with your day (and what’s important – like meeting up with a friend or being present with your kiddos).
Next time you’re having a bad body image day, here are three things you can try:
What is your body trying to tell you? Are you feeling stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed? Maybe something in your life feels out of your control or you haven’t had enough “me time” lately? Maybe you need to set a boundary or say “no” to something. You’ll find that “bad body image days” can become your own personal red flag system. Your body is an incredible source of information if you’re able to lean in and listen. Practice taking a step back and getting curious about what you’re noticing and what your body is telling you. Then act on what it has to say.
Focus On What Matters
When you’re 80 years old and look back on your life, what will truly matter? Will you think back to that day you didn’t like how you looked? Or will you think about your relationships, your family, your impact on the world, the places you traveled, the things you did . . . etc. Really dig deep here and think about what’s truly important to you? Focus on whatever those things are rather than on how you look or feel in your body on that particular day. Connect to what’s important and don’t let a bad body image day get in the way of living your life.
Ask for Support
Identify at least one person in your life (your partner, a friend, a family member, your therapist) and let that person know you’re having a bad body image day. Speaking it out loud takes away some of its power and can help you focus on what’s really important to you. Just make sure the person you confide in is capable of offering empathy and support. If you don’t have someone to confide in, saying the word “shame” or “pain” out loud, over and over, can have a similar effect.
Catherine is the Founder and Director of Embrace Strength Counseling in Westminster, Colorado and is passionate about helping people heal their relationships with food, exercise, and their bodies. As a Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Eating Disorders Specialist, she loves working with eating disorders, body image, exercise addiction, anxiety, fertility and postpartum concerns, and self-worth. She also provides clinical supervision and consultation services to professionals. Catherine is availabe in-person or via telehealth. To schedule an appointment with Catherine, please contact us at 303.720.9424.