Today I am grateful to share this interview with Jaren Soloff on the Body Image Series. Jaren and I met a few years ago while working with adolescents in an eating disorder treatment center. I have always been impressed by her patience, passion, and kindness. I have no doubt that you will find her story relatable and inspiring.
Jaren, thank you so much for taking the time to be a part of the Body Image Series! Let’s start out by getting your thoughts on body acceptance.
I’m so grateful to see how the “body acceptance” movement if you will, has progressed since I was an adolescent. There has been a notable increase in the number of organizations, non profits and advocacy groups bringing attention to the importance of body acceptance. While I applaud these efforts to make body acceptance “mainstream” and see an increase in the number of organizations, particularly those within the cosmetic and fashion industry working towards body acceptance, I think there is still so much room for growth. Advocating for realistic media images and accurate representations of bodies of all shapes and sizes in the media is an important, but not all inclusive solution to the body acceptance movement. I believe body acceptance is unique to the individual, we can shout from the mountain tops for individuals to love their body, but until one internalizes it and it becomes a norm in our culture we have to accept that everyone individual is on their own path to body acceptance. As a clinician, I believe it’s important to meet an individual where they are at. If that means moving them from “I hate my body” to “I hate my body a little less,” its still my job to help support them in that transition and to create a nurturing environment to do so.
I agree with you. There are more and more positive messages being put out there, which is so great, but internalization is where change truly happens. Have you faced challenges related to body image and if so, how have you overcome them?
I grew up in an environment where I was always the “big-boned” friend, I always saw myself as larger than my peers. I lost my left eye when I was younger and it caused me to really struggle with my body image and how I looked in the mirror from a very young age. Through adolescence, much of my energy and time was devoted to evaluating and comparing body image and size with others. As I matured and grew, I leaned into my spirituality, and worked in therapy on self acceptance. I learned to tell, share and honor my story as unique to Jaren and stopped the consumption with shape and size. As I’ve grown along the journey to acceptance and living authentically, I’ve come to know all the other facets of my personality that I possess and that others in my life love about me. The more I focus on what qualities I hold, unrelated to my body, I grow and learn to love myself just a little bit more. To me, that love gets to outpour to love and encourage others on their journey.
What an inspiration for self-reflection! It sounds like you were willing to take risks and have learned a lot about yourself. If you could write a note to your younger self, what would it say?
This is essentially what I write to my daughter in a journal I write for her….“Sweet girl, don’t worry about the size of your waist or thighs. I know you can’t see it now, but the world needs you, your talent, your voice, and your love. Invest your energy in expanding your mind and never lose your capacity for curiosity. Learn new things, build relationships, get outside and enjoy the pleasures that are ours to enjoy. Your body and you, were never made for consumption or to please anyone else.”
I love the idea of writing to your daughter! What a lucky girl she is to have you as her Mama. In what other ways do you encourage body acceptance or positivity?
For me, encouraging body acceptance in our culture starts at home, with my daughter. It means modeling self-care, speaking love about myself and others and nurturing the other facets of her personality that are irrelevant to her shape, size or physical attributes. I teach her to look for non-physical attributes in others, and to see the beauty in diversity. On a larger scale, I live out my values of body acceptance. I take care of myself, I redirect conversations in circles that aren’t nurturing towards body positivity and I use my voice where I can to advocate for a more body positive culture. Social media is a great vehicle for activism, as well as writing and blogging to get more body positive ideas into the mainstream media consumption.
Now what about friends, family, or colleagues that talk negatively about themselves or others? How do you approach that?
This is particulary difficult. As I’ve grown as an individual and my voice has become stronger, and thoughts louder, I’ve felt more confident addressing others in a curious, non-attacking manner on their thoughts related to negative body image. However, it’s important to analyze your own intentions. Sometimes it’s not productive, and you may not benefit from making a suggestion. I’ve recognized with certain individuals it became more about proving I was right, than actually teaching them about the great ideas and values I was learning and practicing. I always believe the practice of speaking compassionately to myself and others is the most effective way to model body positivity to others.
Can you share more with us about your professional philosophy and how you create a safe space for all body types?
I love the idea of holding space for others. As I mentioned earlier, It’s my goal to create a space where individuals can work on their own terms to work towards a more compassionate relationship with their body. To do this, I work to never impart judgment and always make the individual feel heard. I work to be a representative of diversity to welcome individuals of all backgrounds, shape and sizes. Most of all, I work to be a more compassionate listener who sees the individual and honors their unique life story. Getting rid of the traditional role of the clinician as the authority and working towards a partnership where individuals are an active part of the care for their body. After all, no matter what relationship we have as clinician and client, or how much knowledge I might know about physiology or medical nutrition therapy, an individual is always the expert of their own body. No amount of knowledge I have can help me tap into their intuition or experiences until they choose to share them with me or another practitioner.
Yes! Patient-centered care is oh-s0-important! One area we haven’t yet touched on is body movement. What type of body movement helps you feel most accepting and/or positive about your body and why?
I’ve found a variety is best for me. It’s my job to decode what it is I really need. Some days, I really want to connect with my feminine side and go to a barre dance class. Other days, I want to ponder an idea and crave the solitude of yoga. Still, there are days where I want to the presence of nature and simply need to go for a walk outside to connect with myself. Keeping a variety of activities helps me steer clear of rigidity and helps me find pleasure in movement.
We know that body movement is just one example of self-care. What are your favorite ways to practice self-care?
This grows and evolves as I learn to be more in tune with my needs and desires. My go-to ways include journaling, spending time playing with my daughter, accepting help from someone (this is a big one!) and cooking a nice meal for myself and others.
So true, many of us who are care-givers and nurturers struggle to ask for help. I’m so glad you recognize that one. Where do you suggest our readers go for resources on body image?
My thoughts on this are integrated from my own experience and may be a bit different. What really shaped my idea of body image and really how we see body shape in general was my feminist studies courses in college. I would recommend any women’s or feminist studies course or related material to see the different intersections at work in our culture and media that shape the way we see ourselves. Exploring ideas surrounding ableism, sexism, fatism and weightism are structures that help us see how the way we view our bodies is built into our socities groundwork. Everyday Feminism is a great start and has several resources on its website. Additionally, I’d recommend any books related to yoga, meditation or spirituality. These focus on the higher s elf and essentially finding connection outside of the realm of body size.
Jaren, thanks again for your time and contribution to this series!
Jaren Soloff is a San Diego based Dietetic Intern through Utah State University and received her Bachelors of Science degree in Dietetics from San Diego State University. Jaren’s professional interest include eating disorders, prenatal and lactation nutrition and child feeding practices. Jaren firmly believes in empowering women by providing them with evidence based practices that support all women’s innate ability to birth, breastfeed and nourish themselves and their children with confidence. Maintaining a non-judgmental and safe space for women to share their relationship with food and body is the center of her practice. As an aspiring eating disorder dietitian, Jaren is an active member of SCAN dietetic practice group and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. You can stay connected with Jaren through her website, Nourish & Nurture, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.
Coming up next week: Raspberry Ketones, Garcinia Cambogia and the “ice pill” are the popular diets promising to help achieve that sexy bod. With celebrity endorsements, it’s no wonder the public will throw thousands of dollars at these products to lose a few pounds. Whatever happened to the days when we embraced our bodies and were confident with the skin we were given?! -Elizabeth Shaw