Here’s a fun guest post I wrote for nutritionist and counselor Stephanie Small‘s blog. She’s an awesome inspiration in helping women “boost your mood and transform your relationship with food’! Come back next week to read a guest post from Stephanie on my blog! Check it out:
If you have found this post, you probably are someone who has struggled with body image issues in your life. You may have had negative thoughts towards parts or all of your body, like: “Ugh, why do my thighs jiggle and touch each other like that?”, or, “My stomach is so flabby I feel like I’m going to burst out of my pants. How disgusting.” Sit for a moment and really let the effect of hearing those statements ooze into you. Do you feel even more yucky after reading them?
I could feel the tinglings of gloom as I wrote them and they are lingering even as of now.
You may have also experienced behaviors that are violent towards your body as a result of some of the feelings and thoughts that have been directed its way. Perhaps you binge eat to a point of extreme discomfort; perhaps you binge and then purge to get the feelings and the food out of your system; maybe you restrict what you eat to try to sculpt the body you think you’d really love.
I’m here to give you some bad news: you’re never going to feel confident in your body.
What? How could those words come from a therapist who spends every day (in and out of the office) offering support to those struggling with eating disorders, body image struggles or who for various reasons feel disconnected from and not at-home in their bodies?
Bear with me. I’m going to suggest that we can never be confident in our bodies until we detach from our bodies. Just for a little while. And then we can come home to them.
As a society, we are afraid of fat. We value thin. We put thin and people who are thin up on a pedestal. You are bombarded with messages that tell you this directly and indirectly hundreds of time each day. It takes conscious, concerted effort each day to notice these messages before you internalize them. And even if you do, you still will internalize them. They will cause you and others lots of suffering because you can never be “enough” of what society tells you that you should be (thin, rich, popular, funny, smart, etc). The point is not to try to stop them, because we never can, but to change the way that you react to them.
I have had many, many clients come to me and tell me about their struggles with food – perhaps they binge eat, or feel out of control in some way. They just want to stop the behavior and they will feel so much better about themselves. This part I totally empathize with – I know how destructive and painful these eating disordered behaviors can be.
Then usually they slip in – ‘I just want to lose some weight and then I know I will feel more confident to [date] [go out for a new job] [stop isolating] [love my body].
They are fused with the thin-ideal as a surefire way to love themselves more. And they don’t realize it or are in denial. I get it – I have been swayed by that campaign as well.
Sometimes we are able to notice that this is happening and step away from being body-centric for a bit and examine what is truly going on for us – fear of not being accepted unless us look a certain way, deep-seated shame, fear of not knowing who we are without being body-obsessed, discomfort with confrontation, etc. – so that we can sort through it, find healing, and then move back to applying that acceptance to our entire being.
But sometimes we can get so stuck on the thin-ideal that we cannot see out of the ‘I must be thin [or lose some weight] to be self-confident’ blinders. We can get on a rollercoaster ride where self-worth is in the same car as ‘physical appearance’, and we are zooming at a frantic pace with seemingly no way to get off the ride.
That’s where I try to stop us (or slow down at least!) and divorce the body for a moment. What is truly going on inside? What are you truly hungry for that has nothing to do with your body? Without looking at that, you cannot be truly confident in yourself or your body (and you won’t be able to actually stop the eating disordered behaviors).
After some time focused away from the external parts of the body and delving deeper into the inner parts of the self, we may discover what that deeper hunger truly is. And we can feed it – without food being the answer.
Then we can re-enter the body work in a holistic, integrated, authentic way where the focus is not on weight but on being embodied – or “at home in your body and yourself”. As you stand on your own two feet, you will radiate confidence from within your body, a confidence that has nothing to do with what your body physically looks like.
When these pieces are integrated back together, you may have thoughts like “I love the way my knees curve that way as I bend down”, or even “My hips are strong and womanly”. Your body may not actually be at the top of your mind as often because it is now a fully connected part of you and the hunger that your body feels is purely physical, or, if you have emotional hunger, you will have the awareness to decipher the “food” that you’re really craving.
What do you think? Have you noticed yourself getting hijacked by the thin-ideal and getting taken away from what really matters to you? How can you find self-confidence without focusing on your body?