Shapes and Sizes
Have you ever had one of those days where you feel uncomfortable in your own skin? Or where no matter what you do you’re not satisfied with the body you live in? Because I have. And I bet that everyone reading this is nodding along too, or cringing and gritting their teeth.
Body love and body positivity are popular these days, so much so that there’s even a hashtag for that! #bopo. But having these conversations in real life can be uncomfortable. So maybe it’s time to shift our mindset from “love your body” to “accept and respect your body”. Maybe then real conversations can ensue.
What is body image?
Simple - it’s about liking the way that I look...right? Not so fast. What if a positive body image wasn’t just about looking in the mirror and loving what you see? But instead, spending very little time thinking about how your body looks, because you are too busy living your AMAZING life?
On the flips side, a negative body image could then be described as being so preoccupied with thoughts about your body that it is holding you back from living according to your values. Your self-worth is tied to appearance.
If we get down to the core of body image, it’s not about the body at all. It is in the mind, and oh-so subjective! All shapes and sizes are affected by body image, and these thoughts can change from day to day, or hour to hour, depending on what else is going on in our worlds.
To shift towards a more positive body image, or body acceptance, we have to start with the acknowledgement of reality. The reality that the body you have is yours, and me mine, and that bodies will usually rebel against our best efforts to change them.
What is your body telling you?
Often when thoughts turn to body bashing it is a signal that something else is going on in your life that you need to pay attention to, but don’t really want to. Maybe you’re gearing up for a family reunion and all you can think about is showing your mom just how healthy and happy you are by fitting into that dress. Or maybe you’re up for a promotion at work and instead of feeling excited and confident, you’re drowning in calorie counts and weekly weigh-ins to feel worthy.
Sometimes it is just easier to attack the way that we look and blame body image distress for all our hardships, instead of digging deep and actually feeling all those complicated emotions. But here’s the catch, if you take the easy way out and avoid those emotions, then how do you expect to understand and address them? And so the body bashing cycle continues...
How can I shift my mindset to body respect?
Taking the first steps towards body acceptance can be overwhelming, so first acknowledge that negative body thoughts are not your fault. We are all victims of diet culture, a culture where looking a certain way has unfortunately been equated with worthiness.
Next, broaden your definition of beauty so that you can stop comparing your body to some sort of wacky standard. (Hint, usually this involves reorganizing your social media accounts.) The value of diversity cannot be understated in education, arts, personal strengths, and community engagement, so why should it be any different when applied to bodies?
Get curious instead of judgmental each time a body bashing thought pops into your head. Try to brainstorm what else could be going on that is contributing to these negative thoughts.
TALK ABOUT BODY IMAGE with your community. The wise and articulate Brené Brown writes that shame needs three things to grow: secrecy, silence, and judgment. Empathy from your trusted loved ones is a very powerful antidote to body shame.
Start doing things now, you know the things that you’re waiting to do until you love your body? Go on that trip, call up that girl, apply for that promotion, show up to that yoga class.
But you're a nutritionist...what about food?
Food is a key player in body image. First, in order to respect your body, you need to meet it’s basic needs, and nourishment is one of them. Second, nutrition is often used as a tool to try and alter our bodies (even though these efforts are often in vain, and upwards of 95% of all diets fail in the long run). And last but definitely not least, food is frequently used as a coping mechanism or a way to self-sabotage when we are having a “bad body-image day”, which can quickly lead to an unhealthy relationship with food AND your body.
Imagine how your life would change if you had freedom from body image distress? What would you do with the space and energy you create in your mind?