Improving Body Image by Decentering Your Appearance

When it comes to healing from years of body shame and body loathing it can feel counterintuitive work toward this one thing...

Decentering your appearance. 

And do what instead, you ask?

Centering your in the moment experience of living and feeling in your body.

Folks seek treatment everyday to improve their body image and their relationship to food. But if we pour our energy into the image of the body, trying with all our might to convince ourselves or bait ourselves into loving its appearance, heck even liking its appearance, unfortunately we're missing a mark. 

We're missing healing work.

Yes, it sucks when we have distressing thoughts about our bodies. When the thoughts hook us it can feel like being dragged under by a rip current of shame, blame and not-enoughness. Left unchecked the thoughts can be an easy entry point for relying on disordered eating behaviors.

But, I want to challenge you to start to glance behind those thoughts. 

Are they stemming from experiences or feelings that you've previously felt, or that you're currently feeling in your body?

Think about it...

Maybe when you wore shorts as a teen your Mom gave you the look... you know the look. That dreaded look that communicated, 'are you sure you want to show your legs... like that?'

Or maybe it was the kids you rode the school bus with pointing and laughing at the jiggle and dimples in your thighs as you searched for a seat to try to shrink behind.

Better yet, maybe you've never seen images from the media of people in bodies like yours wearing shorts. And when you do it's in some crappy before and after photo. And yes, your current body represents the before picture.

Now, fast forward to today, whenever you even THINK about putting on shorts you experience this red hot steamy wash of shame and your body image thoughts start popping off like fireworks.

Sure, you could spend your time focusing on trying to stop thoughts, change the thoughts, question what's really real and try to talk yourself into believing that your legs are just as beautiful as the model on Shape magazine.

It might help you feel better for a bit.


You could lean into the wash of emotion that overtook your body as the thoughts started to flood in.

Lean into the experience in your body for even just a hot second.

And feel what's there to begin to really heal what's there.

What's physically there? Name the physical feeling(s) that come(s) up for you. 

Can that physical feeling be connected to an emotion? Can it be possible that what you're feeling isn't so much about the appearance of your body, but the experience of discomfort, related to the emotional response, in your body?

Because so often, negative body image is reflective of the body experiencing a feeling, memory or emotion that is distressing and causes physical discomfort.

And we all tend to hate discomfort. 

Like really, really hate discomfort (enter alllll of the behaviors we use to numb, distract and pull us away from the current moment).

There's no shame in it, we all do this for lots of reasons. Most of which have served to protect us, making us feel safe and contained over the years. 

So it makes sense that we continue to do what we've always done... buy into our thoughts. 

Sure, they suck, but at least they're familiar (hello darkness, my old friend!). We allow the thoughts to convince us that if we just 'fix' (ie shrink) the body, we'll no longer experience the psychic discomfort in and/or about our bodies.

But, I want to remind you that regardless of body size, you'll still experience feelings... yes, in your body. 

(Something I remind my clients all the time is that the body is like a filing cabinet for the mind. What shows up in the mind will show up in the body... and vice versa)

You've still lived your entire life in it, and have experienced T(t)raumas in your body.

Which is why it's important to begin to do the hard work of decentering your appearance if you want to find lasting peace and trust.

To experience your life, your feelings, your memories, your relationships, your today, in your current body regardless of how it appears, helps shift you away from fixing the body and toward living an embodied life.

Because you're doing the thing that so many of us have been dying to do.

Living your damn life. Powerfully on your terms. In your current body.

Embodying who you are and what's truly important to you. 

Experiencing the messy feelings, the holy-shit-this-is-uncomfortable-feelings, the feel-good-feels and everything in between... and surviving to see another day.

Which can allow the drive or the grip on needing to 'fix' (ie shrink) feel less important. Less valuable. Less imperative.

Which is freeing AF.

Next time you get hooked by body image thoughts, take some deep breaths, ground yourself in the present moment, and ask yourself, "what else is here?"

See what comes up. Open yourself to the possibility of body-image being about more than the image of your body.

If it's possible for you, find a trauma-informed disordered eating professional who can support you in your healing journey.

Be patient, kind and compassionate with yourself.

Healing takes time. Because it's messy. It takes consistency. 

It takes showing up for yourself and having your own back in a new way. A way that acknowledges the depth of the work that ultimately facilitates trusting and believing that your current body is in fact a good and worthy body.

In the here and now. Today, tomorrow, the next and the next day.

Thoughts? I'd love to hear them!