We live in a world that is hyper-critical of women’s bodies. When I started realizing how much women are criticized and critiqued for their bodies, it seemed to open up a flood gate of awareness about just how widespread and deep this practice is.
I regularly work with women who come to therapy for eating concerns and I can’t help but wonder how much society is playing a role in the development of body image issues and eating disorders. Eating disorders are multifaceted and there are several factors that lead to someone developing an eating disorder. Body image is one of these factors, and as a community it’s important we address the issues of how we talk about and treat women’s bodies.
A couple of weeks ago I was driving in Northern Utah and I noticed a Billboard that said something to the effect of “Love your body” with a bullet point list of surgical procedures that you can have done, so that you can love your body. It made me laugh at how ironic the message was. And then it gave me chills to think that we as women might actually buy into the message that in order to love ourselves we first have to change ourselves.
My changing body
I am 8 months pregnant with with my first child, a little girl. At the beginning of my pregnancy I spent a lot of time reading several articles a day about how the baby is growing and how my body is changing. Around month 5, I started catching myself using words like “fat” and “overweight” to talk about my new body shape. I made jokes about my body that weren’t funny and made me feel worse about myself. I noticed that many of the articles about pregnancy that I was reading had a common thread of being hyper focused on the weight gain aspect of pregnancy. How much weight you should be gaining. How to slow down weight gain. What to eat so that you don’t gain extra weight. Often the recommended food lists seemed to consist mostly of nuts and berries, or at least it seemed that way!
I felt stuck punishing myself for the weight I was gaining, which made me feel bad about myself. I was robbing myself of the joys of this new and exciting adventure. When I could make sense of this cycle I was stuck in, I decided to stop reading the articles. Instead, I am working on trusting my body that it knows what it’s doing. I am re-writing the narrative of my changing body, to what I see as a more realistic and honest view. My body is strong and capable. It is creating life, and Its changing shape is beautiful and right.
Re-shape the conversation
I feel a personal drive to help re-shape the conversations that we have about our bodies. It’s important that the change starts with each one of us as we look in the mirror and evaluate our appearance. I worry that if the messages we have for our bodies are critical, the little ones we raise will hear those messages. And when their bodies grow to resemble our bodies they may feel stuck in a narrative of criticizing themselves.
So what do we do about it? How can we help our children love themselves more fully? We have to change the way we see ourselves. We have to push back against the message that our bodies are inherently bad. It’s important to realize that when people criticize women’s bodies, that criticism says something about them, not us. We need to push back, together as a community to say, my body is great as it is, my body doesn’t need approval from anyone, I will not apologize for the space I take up.