As a therapist who treats body image, binge eating and chronic dieting, question I get asked quite a bit is, “how do I improve my body image?”
I wish there was a clear cut answer, or a mindset hack that I (or anyone else) could provide to help people feel better in their bodies right here, right now. That lasts forever.
How about you?
Have you ever googled, or posted on Instagram or Facebook asking, “how in the world can I improve my body image?”
Something to remember is that body image runs so much deeper than an image. When we singularly focus on the image of our bodies, we paralyze ourselves from actually peeling back layers to do healing work.
So, I’m curious. If you’ve asked yourself, google, an Instagram or Facebook expert this question, what do you really mean?
What does improving your body image look like to you?
If you weren’t consumed with the image of your body, what would you be doing?
How would your world be different?
How would your relationships shift?
Would there be more space for you to prioritize your relationship with your whole self?
Could you move on with your damn life and stop worrying so much about food and exercise?
These questions are a starter.
Once we disconnect from the image and start bringing curiosity to underlying relationship, self-beliefs, patterns and traumas that have informed our belief systems about our bodies and our relationship with food, we create space for something new.
And we can welcome a slow and steady shift from focusing on how we appear to the world, to how we feel in connection to our world. And, more importantly, to ourselves.
I like to break body image work down into a handful of phases. Now, these phases aren’t in a particular order, because like our bodies and like our relationships in general, nothing is static. We have to expect good days and bad days, and detach from the expectation that progress, or healing, happens in a linear fashion.
Acknowledgement- Awareness around how you speak to and about your body is crucial. Acknowledge how blaming and shaming it actually makes you feel (real feeling words here!) Does it inspire hope? Does it contribute to healing? Does it pull you toward lasting behavior change? Consider if you would speak to someone else as harshly.
Respect- I firmly believe that you can not like something (or someone) and still show respect for it (or them). If you don’t like your body, instead of staring in the mirror trying to convince yourself that you think it’s beautiful (because has that really worked?!) try considering how you can show it respect. In the way you relate to it, feed it and move it.
Acceptance- We find a place of acceptance by dropping out and away from judgement. Because we’ve been conditioned to judge ourselves SO harshly, it’s a practice to notice when we’ve fallen into the trap. Acceptance means coming back to the here and now, even when we’re judging, to be with what is. A practice of acceptance can look like acknowledging when you’re speaking harshly to yourself, taking a deep breath and making space for the idea that this is your body today. Nothing you can do right here, right now, is going to change that.
Trust- Trust, like in any relationship, develops with intentional practice over time. It’s turning inward, to the experience of your body, and trusting that it will, or is, sending you information you need to care for it. This can mean trusting hunger and fullness, trusting energetic resources to support movement or to encourage rest, or even trusting your gut reaction to something.
Love- Many people talk about body-love being the end goal of body-image work. But the truth is that most people won’t love their bodies each and everyday of their lives. But, even when you can’t or don’t love your body, you can still intentionally practice fundamental parts of love: respect, acceptance and trust.
Moving in and out of these phases of body image work not only moves you away from hinging your feelings about your body on the image, but opens you up to getting to know your particular tendencies and patterns. They allow you to be in your current body, without expectation, while empowering you to work on your relationship to it.
Something that one of my clients recently shared with me was that body image work is like an endless marathon. As you move into healing, the end point seems to get further away. But, over time you build up endurance to keep going, to keep moving, to keep believing in yourself. So much so that your initial anticipated destination doesn’t seem all that important. It’s process and the journey that really heals and truly sets you free.