The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) says that body image is how you see yourself when you look in the mirror or when you picture yourself in your mind. It encompasses:
How do we become free?
First, we deeply own that our relationship with our bodies is one of our choosing. Yes, we were teased. Yes, we do not see our bodies in the pages of magazines (nor do the models in those very pages!). Yes, we were put on a diet by our parent/doctor/coach. Yes, commercials sell us diets that do not work. Yes, we may have experienced painful comments by family/friends/strangers/children. Yes, all of these things may have occurred to our defenseless younger self. And we were hurt. And we believed that what they said about our bodies (and therefore the value of our selves) was and is true.
Yet, what Eleanor Roosevelt said is also true: No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
This does not mean in any way that what we have experienced has not been deeply hurtful or even traumatic. It has, and we deserve deep acknowledgement and healing for these wounds. What it does mean is that somewhere back there and each day since, we have agreed that what our bodies are, what we are, is not good enough. We agreed and we agree that we must change in order to be worthy. We took in those experiences, others' words, and made them our own and made them the truth.
They are not.
Second, knowing that we own this relationship with our bodies (indeed, we are the only ones in it), we can begin to question deeply the beliefs we have held as truth, the ideas and ideals we have agree to uphold and pursue. We can start to notice our agreement with these messages. We can start to notice what we do next: determine how we must be different.
It is here that we can create a roadmap for healing damaged body image. Our deepest human need after basic physical survival is to have a deep sense of belonging and acceptance. We believe, therefore, that in order to belong, we must be good-enough, worthy of acceptance. When we see images of "perfect" bodies, we typically assume quite a lot about what it means to have such a body and the kind of "goodies" that life bestows upon it's owner: happiness, success, sought after by the most desirable mates, envy of others, friends, parties, etc. We then look at our own bodies and determine that we are not worthy of these "goodies." We should not go shopping, we can't go to that party, we should not go to the beach, we won't be liked, and we won't be loved. We have agreed with the message of what we should be, and decided what we can't have because we are not that.
The battle over body image is not about liking our bodies. It is about acceptance for the body we have right now and insistence that we and our bodies belong in life, today, as we are. We deserve to show up for life, with our present body, and to have relationships and experiences that fill us with joy and wonder. We are worthy of taking risks, seeking challenges, and working toward realizing our dreams. Our bodies are the vessel that carries us to and through all of these "goodies." It is imperfect. Just as our selves are "perfectly imperfect," so too are our bodies and we are worthy to show up and belong.
The trap that ensnares us with body image is that, even if our bodies are changing, they are what they are TODAY. No diet or exercise is going to change what we look like today. So we defer happiness to some future date when we will look perfect, be worthy, and THEN we will join life. Yet, for many, tomorrow never comes. For some others, it comes and "thin" doesn't make good on its promise of happiness. Freedom comes from the daily, hourly, moment-to-moment insistence that you and your body are worthy, as is, and then suiting up in courage and showing up for life today, as is and as it is.
So, when you stand in front of the mirror, list of flaws flowing relentlessly through your mind, ask yourself some questions:
Let me know what you come up with!
Karen J. Helfrich, LCSW-C
As a therapist, mother, daughter, partner, and seeker, I am always on the journey toward a more peaceful, authentic life. I hope to share knowledge, insights, and the ongoing unknowns I find along the path...