When I wrote the blog “Love is the new hate”, people got it. People are ready for a broader social change, for a more weight-inclusive society. But in addition to the heart-felt (and heartening) “thank-you”s, came through the reality that often we ourselves are the greatest perpetrators of our own body-stigma. The question came – “If I’m more critical of my body than others, how to I change my own thoughts around my body?”
Well, psychologist define your body-image as your relationship with your body, and like any relationship, it is complex, multi-factorial, and takes work to change.
These tips won’t completely resolve things (well, apart from maybe the last one), but they will HELP a great deal (you’ll never hear me promising quick and complete fixes, after all, I’m not the dieting industry 😉 ).Think of your body dissatisfaction as being a big pillar in the ground, dug deep and cemented in. Now, I know you’d like to just pull it out, and replace it with a pillar of body acceptance…but I also know you know that won’t work (you’ve probably tried it before). So what we want to do is to nudge it from side to side a bit (like some of us naughty kids used to do when trying to remove a street sign)… maybe dig around the dirt at the edges a little, and learn that it can move. Slowly, and surely, as you continue to shift, uncover, and destabilise the pillar, you will become ready to remove it and then begin to replace it with a pillar of body acceptance. But here are some SIMPLE things that will help you to destabilise body hatred.
1. Declutter your social media. Delete, unfollow, and unlike the pages, blogs, and accounts that make you preoccupied with your body, dissatisfied with your looks, or feeling you’re not enough until you buy the product that is being sold by the photoshopped avatar you see in the picture. Unless you free your sensitive brain from being bombarded daily with these deceptively harmful messages, body acceptance is a near-impossible goal. Recently, I have made this decluttering a starting point for my body-image work with young girls. I tell them (and their parents) that I cannot hope to be effective in an hour a week, when they are viewing these images for hours every day!
2. No fat talk. Remove discussion about fat, weight loss, dieting, and even appearance in general! Of course, being critical of bodies is likely to result in body dissatisfaction (as you get good at picking out flaws in appearance, including your own). But just as harmful as body-dissatisfaction is body-preoccupation (placing too much importance on appearance) so too much of a judgmental talk – positive or negative can eat away at your body-acceptance. Make a pact with your friends, colleagues, and family that you have more important things to talk about.
3. Dress up. Take care of the body you have with nice clothes*, some make up if that makes you feel better, or doing your hair. These little self-care rituals remind you that the body you have right now is worthy of your attention and care. I recently had a session with a client of mine, a school teacher, who came in wearing a jacket and collared shirt instead of his usual polo shirt. I knew he was in the middle of parent teacher interviews, and asked him if that was the reason, and he replied “no, we at the office all just decided to dress up for the week!” I took a leaf out of his book, and it was a step forward for my body image (yes, we truly are all in this together, and bigger people, unfortunately, don’t have the monopoly on body-image issues!)…I think you should too ☺
4. Go. Have. Fun! Differentiate between body weight issues and body image issues. If a body weight issue is a barrier to doing something (e.g., skydiving), don’t do it! But if it’s a body image issue holding you back (e.g., not going to that party)… Go. Have. Fun!
5. See a psychologist. Psychologists are not weirdos waiting to hear all the juicy details about your past for a couple of hundred bucks an hour without any real point to it. Did I miss any clichés? Oh yeah, the men don’t all have beards and pipes and the women don’t all wear glasses and shawls. As I said, body image issues are complex, and (believe it or not) more in the mind than the body (otherwise why would the thinnest people – people with anorexia – suffer from body image the most?), and a trained psychologist can help you defuse self-critical talk arising from your earlier experiences, thoroughly question the common assumptions society gives us about our bodies and what they mean, help develop a more balanced and positive sense of our bodies, reframe negative body thinking into positivity, do more positive body image behaviours and less negative ones, and help make sure body image improvements translate into healthier eating, drinking, moving, and other self-care habits…just to name a few things (I’ve actually just rabbited off my six-session one-on-one program!). Point being, psychologist can really help here.
Don’t worry that body acceptance development will turn you into a “happy fat person” – someone who just relaxes about it all, cancels their gym membership and then eats whatever they want. The reverse is true. Imagine if, right now, you magically felt ok in the skin you are in. Feeling body acceptance, would embarrassment about going to the gym raise or reduce? Free of body worries, would your emotional eating be worse or better? Without a magic number to constantly compare yourself to, would you feel like you have to do a fad diet to lose fat fast, or a more balanced, enjoyable, sustainable way of eating to get you lasting results. Think about it. If positive body feelings today would help you take better care of yourself (and you haven’t lost any weight reading this blog) then they actually promote your most natural weight, just motivated from a place of love, acceptance, and nurturing. After all, the Sun does not demand that the flower grow tall and lean, it shines brightness all day and allows the flower to grow naturally in its own way.
*I know nice clothes are harder to find when you are bigger, and more expensive too, but that does not change the reality that in my office I daily see beautifully dressed bigger people! Difficult ≠Impossible people!