Body image: notoriously the last thing to change in the course of recovery from an eating disorder. But it’s not just individuals with eating disorders who struggle with negative body image. It’s a recurring theme that comes up in sessions with clients, including clients who aren’t struggling with eating concerns. It’s an epidemic in our country. It is acceptable, reinforced, and even valued to critique, criticize, and hate our bodies.
Margo Maine, in her book Body Wars, explains it in these words:
American women feel worse about their bodies than any other group of their contemporaries. Margaret Mead did not find this shame, self-doubt, and self-consciousness in any of the cultures she studied. Rather, these appearance altering preoccupations are most widely found in ‘the land of opportunity,’ as our advanced technology allows a constant proliferation of body-changing practices: pills, surgeries, body-shaping clothes, diets, etc. Seductive marketing conveys that these are normal activities, a part of daily life…The association between freedom and a thin, attractive female body always sells…Although they hope for the image of liberation with these purchases, women are actually buying enslavement to an unhealthy body image. (pgs. 2-5).
This is where I see clients continuously get stuck. The “solution” to negative body image seems obvious: just CHANGE your body!
I recently read, and fell in love with, a poem by Ruki Kaur who speaks to this concept perfectly:
I made change after change
On the road to perfection
But when I finally felt beautiful enough
Their definition of beauty
What if there is no finish line
And in an attempt to keep up
I lose the gifts I was born with
For a beauty so insecure
It can’t commit to itself
-the lies they sell
The body image obsession never leads to peace or acceptance. It is a hamster-wheel pursuit of expending a lot of energy that leads nowhere. I have spent so much energy and time in my life focused on how I needed to change my body in order to be valued, seen, accepted, and worthy of love. But it was never enough. I never “arrived.” And in the process, I’ve missed out on connections and memories. In my obsession, I lost opportunities and lost touch with my purpose and talents. My effort for liberation and freedom only enslaved me and kept me from my personal truths. When I witness my clients doing the same, I am filled with empathy and a deep wish that I could transfer all I now know, from my heart, into theirs.
I hear from several clients that changing their body image feels “hopeless.” It’s not hopeless. It’s hard. It’s brave. Indeed, it’s revolutionary. And most importantly, it’s possible. But an essential first step is to “stop drinking the Kool-Aid” of lies perpetuated in our society that change is the answer.
This can be difficult, as one client expressed, “it’s like choosing to no longer believe in your religion.” Yes, that’s a perfect analogy and captures the vulnerability and bravery required in this process.
Get off the Wheel
Body peace can be found. Body love can be achieved. Now. In the body you have, right now. But first, one must get off the hamster-wheel of lies and learn to ignore the siren calls for change. There are several strategies for how to move toward body acceptance, but none of them will work unless there is willingness to tolerate discomfort with entering this new psychological and physical territory.
It’s not an easy climb up the mountain but the view from up top is spectacular! I hope you’ll join me!