breaking down where to start if you’re struggling with body image work.
Continuing to share some of my favorite newsletters from this past year while I’m on maternity leave! If you want to subscribe for more content like this, sign up here!
In the past on the blog I’ve chatted about how difficult it can be to gain weight as you break free from diet culture (even when you can logically recognize that the weight is helpful and restorative after a long time spent restricting).
So today I wanted to chat briefly about how to start the important process of body image work.
Living in today’s world, feeling positive (or even neutral) about your body can be incredibly hard. It seems like everywhere you turn someone is fixing, toning or altering some part of their body (whether through diet, exercise or other means). This inevitably has the ability to make you feel “less than” if you’re not trying to do it too.
If you’re struggling with this, here’s how I recommend you begin your journey of body image work:
Know That It’s Not Just Another Thing You’re Failing At.
First and foremost, please know that negative body image is not just another thing you’re “getting wrong.” It is absolutely a result of the diet-obsessed culture that we live in and the weight stigma that exists.
One of my favorite people in this space is health coach Isabel Foxen Duke. She talks about the importance of re-framing the topic of body image from: “What am I doing wrong and why can’t I solve my poor body image?” to “How does the culture we live in contribute to this and what can I arm myself with in order to respond to and protect myself against it?”
Recognize That It’s A Journey.
It’s important to understand that for most people, body acceptance (or positivity or neutrality – whatever you’re aiming to achieve) is an on-going process.
It takes a daily effort of showing up and deciding that you simply refuse to live the rest of your life hating, berating and fighting your natural body shape. You were made for SO much more than obsessing over your body, and making the decision to stop, frees up so much time and energy for you to pursue those other things.
Additionally, think of how long you’ve spent thinking negatively about your body. For some, it might be months, years or even most of your life. This thinking takes time and effort to change and it is not always going to be smooth sailing. Be patient and kind toward yourself as you do this important work.
Understand the Role Diet Culture Plays.
We are not born hating our bodies. In fact, it’s probably not something that even crosses our minds until an external factor (media, family, peers, influencers, the fashion industry, the healthcare system, etc.) sends the message that “thinner is better.”
If we don’t fall into the impossibly unrealistic thin ideal, we’re made to feel we’re not good enough. As Isabel Foxen Duke says: “managing oppression in our external environment starts with developing consciousness around where society’s expectation of thinness legitimately affects your life, and starting to advocate for yourself and others in these areas.” Recognizing that these ideas didn’t just appear in your head one day, but came from somewhere outside yourself, is a critical first step. Then you need to determine ways to protect yourself from it. Brainstorm a list you feel comfortable with. Maybe it’s quitting the gym, no longer buying certain magazines, unfollowing individuals who promote these ideas on social, taking space from certain friendships, speaking up when you hear these wrong expectations or simply removing yourself from the situation as you feel comfortable.
The Way You Talk To Yourself & What You Expose Yourself To Matters.
Just like I mentioned in my post on weight gain, the messages that you send to yourself every day make a difference. Working to identify and reject the fatphobic, weight-biased messaging that you see and say to yourself is crucial. Try your best to catch negative or diet culture thinking as it happens and replace it with messages that are self-compassionate and kind. Remind yourself daily of all you have to offer that has nothing to do with your body. It may take some effort at first, but the more you practice this, the more commonplace positive thoughts become and the more negative thoughts fade into the background.
What we expose ourselves to is equally important. Like I said above, on social, feel free to unfollow the accounts that are constantly promoting diet culture messages (those that glorify thinness or weight loss, working out to the point of exhaustion or just to lose weight or sculpt your body, eschewing rest days, etc.). In fact, unfollow any account that makes you doubt how worthy you are because of how you look. I also recommend incorporating accounts that show images & ideas that support all shapes & sizes (I’ve put some recommended accounts in this post).
In real life, it might mean having to take a hard look at some relationships. When you decide to step away from diet culture, it might mean also having to take some space from certain relationships while you work through your own journey with body image.
To be honest, as with all relationships, yours with your body will likely never be perfect (I have yet to find any relationship that is). There will be highs and lows, days when you love or accept your body and others where you find you feel more dissatisfied for whatever reason. At the end of the day, what’s important is separating those ups and downs from the understanding that no matter where you are in your relationship with your body, it deserves to have its basic needs met. Namely: to be provided nourishment, self-care and respect.
If you feel like you need help in your journey toward food freedom and non-restriction, check out my FREE non-restrictive nutrition guide.
disclaimer: the content that I share in this space should be used for informational and educational purposes only. The content I provide should not be used as a substitute for medical or mental health advice and does not constitute a client/practitioner relationship.0