There has been a lot of buzz about body positivity over the past several years.
From the “Embrace” documentary to Jessamyn Stanley’s Curvy Yoga, there has been a strong movement in media toward creating images that make room for all types of bodies to develop positive body image.
For many people, these approaches can seem frustrating or insincere at times, because people often aim to replace negatives with positives.
My least favorite phrase used by therapists is, “Fake it ‘til you make it,” because it reinforces this notion that we consciously control our thoughts. It also encourages arguing with that internal voice, instead of trying to understand it better.
“Many people can’t even remember what it was like to not struggle with body image, whereas some people have no idea what it is like to struggle.”
We have a group within my practice that utilizes my favorite therapy- ACT therapy. ACT stands for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and it is a newer wave of cognitive-behavioral therapy.
The advancement that they made in this therapy is that we let go of the need to argue with thoughts or challenge their value, and instead focus on detaching from the thoughts in a compassionate way.
We recognize that thoughts are simply thoughts, and our actions are better driven by our value system even if it means putting up with a little distress. We have been currently working through Sandoz & DuFrene’s book, “Living with your Body and Other Things You Hate,” (affiliate link) which has some super valuable tools in working through negative body image.
What is most refreshing to me is the fact that they don’t try to replace negative with positive, but rather the work is to disengage from the struggle altogether.
When I Turned 40, I Made a Similar Decision for Myself…
I decided that being 40 meant that I was done questioning how my body was built, what it would take to be smaller, and time to just stay comfortable in my skin.
The idea was not that I would give up on my efforts at self-care, healthy diet, and exercise, but that I would shift the focus to the journey rather than some far-off destination of body perfection.
I also committed that I would never say “no” to an activity simply because I felt that I would be uncomfortable in my skin.
3 Essential Tools for Anyone Struggling with Body Image
1. Understand Your Lens
We all have a manner through which we filter information. For people who struggle with body image, that filter can be an attribution error in which unrelated circumstances are attributed to the body.
For example, we can perceive that we were left out of a social event and think that it happened because we were too fat to be included. Another way the lens can create challenges is being overly focused on the body in social situations.
To get to know your lens, you have to listen well to your thoughts. Write the thoughts you have about your body, and then consider whether or not you want to hold onto these thoughts. If you don’t want to hold onto them, it can be good to even imagine that they are a character in your head- someone who shows up to make you feel bad.
Allow yourself to focus on being in the moment when the inner bully gets too loud.
2. Create a List of Your Values
It can be important to imagine where you want to be in life, and what it would take to get there. A simple activity to highlight your values can be thinking about how you want your life to look and feel in five years.
For a long time, I would attribute a specific clothing size to that five-year goal and shifted instead to how I wanted to feel in my skin.
3. Un-Hook Yourself From the Lens
Do the things that are part of who you are or who you want to be! A few days ago, I decided to do something particularly daring- I took a hip hop dance class with a couple of girlfriends.
When we arrived, I was stunned by the number of mirrors in the studio, and immediately felt extremely self-conscious. To make matters worse, I found out that they would be recording us performing the choreography!
I settled into the awful- images in mirrors, not looking how I wanted to, and then settled into the joy of dancing with friends. I found my body could move in ways I never thought possible, and also appreciated the comedy of it all. Sometimes, we can dance while someone is watching.
Here is us at the end of class, with me incorporating some necessary “jazz hands.” No, that was not part of the choreography, just my special addition.
Many people can’t even remember what it was like to not struggle with body image, whereas some people have no idea what it is like to struggle.
To me, this picture of my daughter exemplifies body confidence, and my hope is to keep her safe as long as is humanly possible.