Last week I told the story of how I learned to hate my body. If you missed it, don’t worry about it. It’s no more interesting than the moment every adolescent girl has that triggers over 90% of us to feel deeply dissatisfied with our bodies as adults. The same old story that causes 80% of us to have patterns of disordered eating. The same narrative that is the reason Americans spend over $60 billion dollars a year on diet and weight loss products and almost $16 billion dollars a year on cosmetic procedures.
Aren’t your tired of hating on your body?
A body image is how you imagine you look. The interesting part is the term imagine, since what we imagine may or may not bear any relation to reality or how others see us. Imagination is subjective, open to interpretation. And the opinions of other people shouldn’t rule our lives anyway. Our body’s main job is not to be appealing to others but to act as a vehicle for our heart and mind.
We eat and exercise as a way to punish our bodies rather than celebrate them. We prioritize our body’s form over our body’s function and wonder why we are so unhappy.
I want my daughter to live in a world where her value is defined by her actions, not by her appearance. So I knew I had to heal the broken relationship I had with my own meat suit. I can truthfully say that I love my body and rarely say anything negative about it. When you aren’t constantly worrying about how you look, it frees up incredible mental real estate to think about things that truly matter.
Here’s what worked for me. Try it for yourself.
Many women have visual processing errors when it comes to their own image. Basically, we look in a mirror and see a collection of individual parts rather than a whole body. Then we criticize each part, creating a deep disconnect between body, mind and soul.
Spend a few minutes staring at your naked image in a mirror. This isn’t to encourage narcissistic vanity, but a way to face how you actually feel about your appearance. Thoughts and feelings will definitely surface. You might feel uncomfortable, sad, shameful or something else. These feelings are valid, but they are also just feelings, opinions rather than a reality. They are temporary and variable. For the first minute or two, simply notice any sensations or thoughts that arise. Try not to respond to them, simply pay attention to what comes up.
You’ll probably notice patterns of thought. Is there one area of your body that you either avoid looking at or look at more than others? Often we really dislike one thing (for me it was my thighs, for my best friend it’s her belly, my mom throws shade at her neck). Find that thing and wait for a negative thought to come up. It won’t take long; we have been conditioned since childhood to judge and compare our bodies.
Now reframe that thought from a negative statement to a positive one.
I hate my wrinkles and need Botox becomes I have clearly laughed a lot in my life.
My stretch marks are gross becomes My amazing belly carried my children.
My thighs are fat becomes I can hold a wall sit longer than anyone I know.
This negative to positive mindset switch works for our body goals as well. Goals are crucial to a healthy body, mind and soul. But goals are hard and we struggle to stay motivated. Think about any New Year’s resolutions you made. Science says the odds are you’ve given it up by now. Wonder why? It’s because we tend to make avoidance goals rather than approach goals.
Let me explain. An avoidance goal is one stated by something you won’t or can’t do, like I won’t eat sugar for 30 days or I can’t have wine until I lose 5 pounds. An approach goal starts with I will or I can. It is written in a way to approach success, as in I will work until I can do 10 push-ups without stopping or I will try new recipes to incorporate more greens into my diet. Science has found that people who set approach goals have more success than those who choose avoidance goals. People who set avoidance goals feel less connected to their goals, display lower self-esteem around those goals and thus have less motivation to hit that target. Avoidance goals write the universe as the villain in a Me Against Them story. They make us feel like life is taking something from us and we will ultimately respond in a combative way. Screw you Universe! You don’t own me. I’m going to have some cake AND a glass of wine!
The take-away here is that the universe hears everything we say. We create our reality through our perceptions and thoughts. Remember that body image arises from what we imagine our bodies to be. So start imagining a world where beauty comes in various shapes and sizes.