By Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LGSW
Have you ever had the experience where you woke up feeling ok in your body, but then suddenly and almost without warning, you fell into a moment of bad body image? The reality is that for many of us, our body image i.e. our perception of our body, fluctuates on a weekly, daily, or even hourly basis. There are numerous things that could trigger someone to experience poor body image and also a myriad of ways that an individual can work to improve their body image. The following is an initial question that is important to ask yourself when struggling with bad body image:
“Is there anything else that is bothering me or causing me stress, which I might be expressing by shifting focus onto my body?”
Often it is easier to focus on what we dislike about our outward appearance, than to think about the other issues in our lives that the body-hatred may be masking. For instance, it may be easier to talk about hating your thighs than to reflect on how your recent breakup has left you feeling unworthy and unloved. Recognizing that sometimes your poor body image is triggered by other situations in your life may help you to see that attempting to change your body ultimately will not bring you the happiness and contentment that you are seeking. When you are suddenly flooded with a bad body image day or moment, I would urge you to really dig deep and try to uncover what else might be upsetting you. This way you can work to address what might actually be bothering you, which you are projecting onto your body. Think of your experience of poor body image as an important signal, which tells you that you might need to pay attention to something else in your life.
Another critical question to ask yourself when struggling with bad body image, is what do you feel that having your “ideal body” would bring you?
No one desires to have a certain body type simply for the sake of acquiring that body type. Rather, often we desire to look a certain way because of what we believe it will bring us. For instance, diet-culture teaches us that “thinness” will give us a sense of self-worth, love, health, and acceptance. While it is true that weight-discrimination exists and that people in fat bodies are often unfairly judged in our society, the reality is that we cannot control our world, other’s opinions of us, or our ability to be loved through our weight or body. Every day people of all shapes and sizes find love, achieve success, and feel joy and happiness. Happiness and health are not size-specific.
Further, if you are experiencing poor body-image, “beating yourself up” for feeling this way, it will only serve to make you feel worse. Rather, it is important to work to practice self-compassion and to be kind to yourself. It can be helpful to practice self-care activities, rather than resorting to negative coping strategies when you are experiencing bad body image. Obsessing about your body and hurting it through over-exercise, binging, or starving, are all coping strategies that you may be attempting to use to try to relieve pain.
The impulse to practice these negative coping strategies comes from a good place, as your goal is often to “feel better.” However, these strategies do not work in the long-term and only serve to mask your pain and numb you from experiencing it. Additionally, when we numb ourselves from pain we also numb ourselves from experiencing happiness and joy. Instead, think about activities that you can do, which help you to feel relaxed or that boost your mood. For instance, coloring, journaling, singing, spending time with friends, taking a bubble bath, meditation, or yoga, are all some self-care ideas that you might consider trying.
Additionally, it is important to note that many individuals have experienced poor body image in their lifetime. You are certainly not alone in feeling this way, but there are things that you can do to work to improve your body image. If your inner critic is particularly loud, it might be helpful to consider meeting with a therapist who can help you to uncover what might be contributing to your poor body image, as well as some strategies to begin to improve it. For some of my tips check out my article for Psychology Today, entitled “How to Stop Hating Your Body.”
There are so many people who are living proof that it is possible to go from a place of negative body image to body-acceptance and appreciation. Sara Altschule, exemplified this point best when she stated,
“So I decided to make amends with myself and my body. I put in the effort to learn to love myself again. It didn’t happen overnight. Hell, it didn’t happen in a couple of weeks. But after some time and a lot of self-care, I started a new kind of relationship with my body. I began to love parts of my body that I have never truly looked at before. I learned how to appreciate the things my body can do for me. And sure, like any relationship, I have times where I don’t feel my best or those obsessive thoughts try to make their way through. But at the end of the day, I am happier and healthier than I ever have been.”
Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LGSW is a therapist, body-image activist, and writer who specializes in working with adolescents, survivors of trauma, eating disorders, and mood disorders. Jennifer is a blogger for The Huffington Post and Psychology Today, as well as a contributing writer for Eating Disorder Hope. For body-positive, self-love, inspiration, “like” her on Facebook at Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LGSW
Coming up next week: 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. – Jaren Soloff