Your Body & Your Worth
If you've ever struggled with your body image, you are not alone. Body image and worthiness are among the most common topics among millennials in my therapy practice. It's also a controversial topic. Check out the comment section of any photo with a body in focus and you'll see praise... and critique.
Toxic ideas about weight loss and weight gain were all over popular TV shows that we watched as kids like Saved by the Bell & Full House. The impact of diet culture brainwashing on self-worth has been taught since grade-school for many, and even since childhood for some individuals.
Diet Culture and Development
There are many ways that worthiness and body image creep into our lives. Caregivers can have internalized ideals about body that they teach their children. Some people can remember being bullied by a family member about how their body looked... And some people can remember hearing negative comments from a caregiver about their own body. Rules around food and ideas like earning a treat and food restriction are other common ways that diet culture creeps into our lives early childhoods. (And let's be real, this is so normalized in adulthood!)
It's a sad that parents can become a child’s first bully when the caregiver(s) internalize the thin ideal. I can confidently say that for my clients who struggle with body image the most, one or both primary caregivers made comments about their bodies from a young age.
In adulthood, romantic relationships can be a source of worthiness trauma when a partner makes comments about their partners' body. Friend groups can normalize dieting, fixation on body shape and size, and even encourage a cult-like accountability to restricting food, dieting and over-exercising.
Let's not forget about societal pressures from diet culture… (Have you been to a grocery store lately? The magazine stand at the check out always has several diet/food magazines staring you down as you place your snacks on the conveyor belt.) Every client in my practice can relate to the pressure to conform to an unrealistic standard.
Your Body & Your Mood
The impact of body image on mood is so clear. Normal effects hormone cycles and eating include becoming bloated, which can lead to individuals feeling poorly about themselves, and even depressed. This is the stuff I hear from clients who struggle with body acceptance, whether they are in a season on wanting to change their body composition or not. If your worth is tied to the number on a scale or your ability to please your inner bully (which has internalized negative ideals about body image), it can be such a rocky road.
Body Image & Relationships
Preoccupation about body image can also affect your closest relationships. In the therapy space, clients share about feeling uncomfortable being undressed in front of their partners and wearing a t-shirt over swimwear. I also hear stories about rejecting messages of acceptance, praise and love from others because the person doesn't feel it themself. If this sounds familiar to you, it's because this is more common than you might think. The internal struggle for body acceptance can spill over into poor mental health and compound stress on relationships. It's a painful experience to have such internalized negative beliefs, and thankfully, there are ways to overcome these hurdles.
Therapy for Body Image
There are several ways to work with body image and worthiness in therapy. Let me introduce you to some that I use…
1. Talk therapy. In talk therapy sessions, we can identify negative beliefs and generate insights based on your unique experience. We'll uncover what influenced your thoughts and explore new ideas to replace the old standard.
2. EMDR. EMDR can be used to process and emotionally resolve painful memories relating to body image and worthiness. In EMDR therapy, we find pinpoint experiences and process the painful memory to a healed, factual memory. The effect is generalized across any related ideas, and you can begin to heal your relationship with yourself.
3. Lifespan Integration. Lifespan integration therapy looks at the whole life narrative. We'll uncover painful memories and other events and turn them into "memory cues" on your time line. Repetitions of the time line allow us to process these points and create an integrated sense of self, and increase self-compassion.
That’s the tip of the iceberg, really. Treatment will vary for each person in my practice depending on the area of greatest need, like emotion regulation skills, current stressors and memory processing.
Dismantling Toxic Ideals
Tips for Cultivating a Healthy Body Image
I'm going to be honest, dismantling toxic body image ideals on your own is tough, and support is recommended. There are plenty of things you can do on your own without starting therapy first.
- Daily self affirmations
- Listen to a guided gratitude practice, such as a meditation
- Avoid the scale. Weight really is nothing but a number and gives you absolutely no information about your health. The number on the scale says nada about value or worth. The idea that your weight number is important is the brainwashing messaging we want to divorce ourselves from.
- Unfollow accounts on social media that you notice you're comparing yourself to in a negative light. Shame doesn’t encourage anyone to do anything. Comparison can move you away from your goal and reinforce toxic ideas.
- Wear clothing that you feel comfortable and confident in. If you’re wearing baggy clothing and you feel frumpy, change it up! Also, get rid of clothing that doesn't serve you anymore. You’re not happy to own clothing that doesn't fit, and the clothing isn’t happy to be unworn. (That’s some Marie Kondo for you.)
- High-five yourself! Mel Robbins spoke about her experience of high-fiving herself in the mirror and the positive impact on self-esteem. I encourage you to cultivate an inner cheerleader voice and give yourself a compliment when you stand in front of the mirror. (My cheerleader is JVN and we have a GREAT relationship.)
As for final thoughts on this topic... I have an ever-evolving approach and understanding of this complex topic. Having compassion for folks healing their relationship with themselves and learning how to facilitate this healing is one (big) part of my practice.