What does body image healing mean?
Thanks so much for taking the time to read my blog posts.
It always surprises and delights me to get your feedback and appreciation. I always write from the heart and hope that at least one sentence will feel meaningful for at least one person…well let’s be honest, my bar is a bit higher than that, but you get what I mean.
I have been thinking about body image work a lot. Part of that is due to the summer season, which kicks up all kinds of worries and stressors for clients, friends, and family alike. And part of it is because I’m speaking on the topic of body image for the Renfrew Conference this fall and have been eyeball deep in the research.
As I was reflecting, I was brought back to a split second decision I made in Staples about 7 or 8 years ago. I needed a new nameplate for my office door. Below my name was a line to indicate my title. It felt stuffy and not at all me to put “owner” or even dietitian so I intended to leave it blank. But out of nowhere the phrase “Food and Body Healer” popped into my head and without much additional thought, I put it on the nameplate and hit “order.”
With time, I came to realize that it wasn’t so much that I wanted to designate myself as a “healer” but more that I wanted to convey “healing” as the central theme of my work. Healing has always appealed to me because it reflects a process rather than a destination. It makes room for nuance and space for my clients to define it for themselves. To heal also means whole and there is something rather beautiful to me about creating wholeness within oneself.
For this reason, I often choose to speak about “body image healing” rather than “body image work.” I puzzle over what that means both with my own self and with my clients. And it is a question I ask of you – what does body image healing (or body image work, acceptance, positivity, liberation, etc.) actually mean to you? What is the goal of said work? Pause here for a moment and reflect on that.
The longer I work in this field, the more convinced I become that it is not about liking what you see in the mirror, although if I had a magic wand I would gladly grant that wish to anyone who asked for it. I would love for all of us to look in the mirror and grin the way my 2 1/2 year old does.
But if that is the point, I fear most of us will become incredibly disheartened. The mandate to love our reflections can feel every bit as unattainable as sustaining weight loss on a fad diet. Given the external pressures, inequities, systemic harms, cruelty, and the fact that bodies are generally falling apart – liking how one looks is often inaccessible.
So what is even the point of “body image healing” you might ask? First and most importantly, I’d encourage you to answer that for yourself. There is no correct answer and your response will vary depending on your lived experience, the identities you hold, your temperament, etc., etc.
One of the ways I have come to conceptualize thinking about body image healing is through a relational lens. More specifically, “How do I relate to myself and my experience of my body, especially when I am in pain? When I am hurting and consumed with self-loathing. How do I respond? When the world has been unfair and is an unsafe place for me, how do I engage with myself?”
While extremely negative thoughts and feelings about one’s body is the norm in my line of work, the actual experiences differ based on race, sexual and gender identity, body size, and disability/illness. It is essential to name that the experience of being in the world is vastly different depending on what privileges one holds.
It’s my belief that the way we turn to ourselves in our pain deeply matters. Many of us are in the habit of kicking ourselves when we are down.
- “Why are you letting that awful comment from your doctor bother you so much? You know better!”
- “I know I shouldn’t be so consumed with my (insert body part here) but I just can’t seem to change my brain no matter how hard I try.”
- “My body just isn’t right and I hate myself for not being able to feel differently.”
- “I shouldn’t let that person’s opinion bother me so much. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I honestly can’t get anything right.”
You’ll notice in these examples that I’m not highlighting the body image experience as much as how one might relate to their experience – through judgement, criticism, and impossible standards.
So my invitation to you is to consider reflecting on:
- How do you relate to the pain, grief, or anger that you experience because you are embodied (even embodied in a way that the world mistreats)?
- How do you walk alongside yourself when you are low?
This will not change the cruelty of the outside world, that’s another blog post altogether. But you live with you and learning to relate to your experiences through the lens of compassion will help to make your inner world a safer place to be.
Over time I have developed a practice that I try to turn to when I’m feeling badly about myself. I close my eyes, I take a deep breath, I put my hand on my heart, and I say, “It is very, very hard to feel this way.”
Rather than adding insult to injury with criticisms about your negative body image, what specific way might you relate to your experience differently? How might you walk with yourself through the dark moments?
More than anything, I hope you can find a way to relate to your experience of your body with less pain.
And in the spirit of healing, I’m thrilled to share with you a recent purchase I just made from Nalgona Positivity Pride’s Etsy shop! If the concept of healing resonates for you, you might want one too!
Are you thinking about the notion of body acceptance? Maybe you have heard the word body acceptance and thought to yourself, “Why in the world would I accept THIS body?”
Acceptance begins with the Acknowledgement of Reality. And I want to help you get started on a journey to discover the world of body acceptance.