What can we say? We absolutely live in a culture that is obsessed with extremes – am I smart enough? Am I successful enough? Am I thin enough? Those are just some of thoughts that so many young girls and women struggle with as a result this high pressure culture that acts as a backdrop to everything we think and feel! In fact, an over-focus on body achievement happens from the moment we are born (actually before we are even born!) when the doctor asks – did she walk on time? Talk on time? Read and write on time? And, the list goes on and on. So, this creates a very strong relationship (often on an unconscious level) between body control and a sense of self-worth. When a young girl becomes a teenager that relationship only strengthens and often shifts to having body control through manipulating weight/shape.
We typically think that manipulating body weight/shape is going to help solve the challenging feelings we may carry toward our bodies and ourselves. Ironically, what many young women do not understand is that this type of highly perfectionistic, extremist thinking instead leads to the exact opposite, namely feeling even a greater sense of being “less than” on the outside, as well as the inside.
Unfortunately, in the process of blaming our bodies for letting us down and blaming ourselves for not having enough “will power” to change it, we often become stuck in a shame spiral. Frequently, as psychologists and coach trainers, we hear many women reporting ‘guilt’ related to their relationship with food and their body; however, though they think it is ‘guilt’ we hypothesize it is really ‘shame’ they are feeling. The difference initially appears small but it is hugely compelling! Guilt is an external response and is the way we feel when we do something wrong – essentially it is like our moral compass guiding us through life. Therefore, it can be a good thing when we feel guilt toward unhealthy behaviors, such as stealing, cheating, lying, etc. However, shame is very different and is an internal process, with the difference being that we feel we ARE bad because of the thing we have done. Shame is always damaging, never helpful and is the key ingredient in secret-keeping. Additionally, our culture also participates deeply in reinforcing body-shaming with headlines focused on intensely criticizing celebrities for their appearance without makeup, if they show signs of aging and if they fail to have the “perfect bikini body.” Heck, it is not uncommon to have continuing rumor mills of a possible celebrity ‘baby bump’ for what looks to most of us to be a person that probably just had a big lunch or was photographed at an odd angle!
Even if we understand intellectually that these messages are negative and that we do not want to participate in them, they still affect us on an emotional level sending a constant stream of unattainable “shoulds” that over 80% of women will internalize! That’s the bad news. Now, for the good news – you CAN do something to change this!
Here are our top 5 ways you can begin to ditch body-shaming and find begin to take steps to an empowered sense of self:
- Find things you like about appearance. We often hyper-focus on the things we DON’T like when we look in the mirror and therefore we practice hating ourselves. Instead, we challenge you to find 3 things you like or are neutral and you can begin to like. Practice focusing on only those things when you look in the mirror.
- Give yourself positive affirmations: When you look in the mirror and hate what you see, you are likely rehearsing a series of negative self-statements in your mind making those thoughts VERY strong. Instead, practice positive affirmations! These are positive thoughts you find about yourself (e.g., I’m a good friend, I am a really smart person, everyone tells me what a great sense of humor I have, etc). We recommend writing them on sticky notes and placing them on your mirror to remind you of these great things every day! Keep adding to the mirror every time you find a new positive affirmation.
- Appreciate what your body can do rather than how much it weighs. Take a moment to truly reflect on how amazing your body is and all of the incredible things it can do for you! Thank your body for the work it does for you every day. We encourage you to write down at least ten amazing things you can do because you have the body you CURRENTLY have – does your body help you in athletics? Running after your kids? Cooking a great dinner? Dancing with your partner? We all should take a moment to appreciate this body and realize we likely would not be able to do all of these things if we lost the 20lbs in a week that diets promise!
- Get involved and become empowered! There are many opportunities to get involved these days in the positive body image and body love movement. And, your involvement can truly make a difference! Whether its walking in your local NEDA walk or getting trained in media dissonance training – you can create change in the way future generations of young girls feel about themselves and you can have a fabulous time doing it!
- Practice self-care! So often, as young women especially, we fail to care for ourselves and instead take care of everyone else around us. Self-care is so important not only for our mental health but our physical health as well. In fact, some estimates show that up to 90% of doctor visits are related to STRESS! So, don’t be afraid to pamper yourself a bit – take a luxurious warm bath, get a mani/pedi, or hang out with supportive friends who aren’t afraid to compliment your internal/external beauty!
To learn more about the CCC’s emotional eating program visit FOOD SHIFT.
Article by HNS Advisory Board Members:
Ariane Machin, PhD, Co-founder, The Conscious Coaching Collective
Kelsey M. Latimer, PhD, Co-founder, The Conscious Coaching Collective