develop skills to improve body image

How to Improve Body Image and Heal with a New Approach

Approaching Your Body Image by factoring in social and nervous systems when doing this work is often the path to healing.

In my last blog post, I talked with you about why body image is so complex, what your bad body image is trying to tell you, and why your attempts to fix it likely aren’t working.

You can read the entire article, Why Body Image is so Complicated and What it’s Telling You, if you want to, but below is a quick refresher.

  1. Body image is complex because we carry our family histories and personal lived experiences inside our bodies as we navigate the larger systems that are often hostile and harmful. Our bodies have to carry A LOT!
  2. Since our bodies serve as our social currency, they let us know when they perceive threat or disconnection through negative body image. Yes, negative body image is literally our nervous system’s way of saying, “Quick, fix your body so you are loved, accepted, connected, and SAFE!!
  3. Unfortunately, we can’t actually meet the unrealistic standards of a “just right body,” so fixing our bodies and trying to love how we look will almost always leave us feeling stuck and miserable.

But this doesn’t mean we are out of luck!! It means we have to approach the work differently. Two ways to do this are social system work and nervous system work.

Social System Work

This entails working individually and as a group to push back and change the harmful systems that I mentioned earlier. I have found that my clients feel incredibly empowered, purpose-driven, and values-aligned when they work to change the systems, policies, and practices that are actively causing harm. Here are examples from my clients, colleagues, and myself.

  • I had a direct conversation with the office manager and my dermatologist about the harmful marketing messages for anti-aging and weight loss treatments coming from their practice. I spoke about my work and the prevalence of folks with eating disorders and asked that they change their opt-in policy for email marketing.
  • My client wrote and sent an impassioned letter to a clothing company she loves regarding their sizing options both online and in-store. She actually heard back from them and they made some specific changes based on her feedback!
  • Ragen Chastain gives loads of advice about how to advocate for fat-positive and inclusive spaces at the doctor. This includes opting out of weigh-ins. As a thin person, I do that to normalize this as a practice for others who might get more pushback.
  • Another client has encouraged all of her friends and family to read Sabrina String’s seminal work, “Fearing the Black Body.” Aligning her body image healing with her commitment to anti-racism buoys her up on especially challenging days.
  • Other examples include donating to organizations fighting for important policy change for underrepresented and marginalized groups, as well as writing to your local representatives regarding anti-transgender legislation.

Meaningfully engaging in ways to shift toxic systems is important. But I also strongly believe that developing skills and tools that help YOU in the moment are just as crucial.

Remember, it is more than ok to focus your efforts on getting steady yourself before you have the fortitude to take on larger systems work.

develop skills to improve body image

Nervous System Work

One of the most amazing facts (that we know thus far) is that body image is processed in nine parts of the brain. Five of those parts have to do with emotion processing, in particular, threat assessment and anxiety management.

Yup. You read that right.

There is an intricate relationship between how you see and experience your body image and your fight/flight response. That is why it is vital to develop skills to support and bolster your nervous system as a primary strategy to your body image work.

Please remember that this is a practice, it takes time, is highly individualized, may require additional support from a mental health provider, and is not designed to get you to love how you look. The purpose is to give you greater skill and the ability to show up for yourself when your body image is rocked. Striving to heal your body image by finding strategies that help you like your appearance more is tempting but guaranteed to fail by continuing to center and uplift your appearance as the thing that matters.

To help you do this, I want to share ideas to experiment with to support your nervous system when your negative body image is LOUD. They are listed below in no particular order,

11 ideas to support your nervous system when your negative body image is LOUD:

  • Play with temperature: Squeeze a frozen orange, place your feet in an ice bath, wrap up in a heated blanket, put your face in front of a fan.
  • Use progressive muscle relaxation (you can google this): Start by laying down and squeezing your hands as tight as possible for 10 seconds then relax for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times.
  • Move the energy out of your body by punching your pillow or couch as hard as you can for 1 minute. Take a rest and repeat a couple of times. Pillows are also great for screaming into when everything feels super intense.
  • Use your sense of smell by lighting a favorite candle, smelling a favorite oil, or washing your hands with your favorite shower gel.
  • Use a hand massager to work out knots in your neck.
  • Channel someone you love and trust by writing a letter to them. You can even write back on their behalf. This person does not have to be alive, nor do you have to send the letter.
  • Hold a pet or stuffed animal.
  • Ask your therapist or nutrition counselor to record a personalized meditation for you. Or you can find one online that resonates with you.
  • Make art, paint, color, collage, sculpt, scribble.
  • Get outside and let your eyes see as far into the distance as you can.
  • Rock, sway, dance – feel free to add music if you’d like.

Before I close out, I’d love to offer you a thank you message you can send to your negative body image.

Feel free to print this out and save it for those times when you may need to remind yourself that “You’ve Got this!”

remember you've got this

But I Hate My Body: Cracking the Code on Body Acceptance

But I Hate My Body: Cracking the Code on Body AcceptanceHas this article got you thinking more about the notion of body acceptance?

You can  get started on your journey to discover the world of body acceptance with my guidebook, “But I Hate My Body: Crack the Code on Body Acceptance, One Teeny Tiny Step at a Time.”

It includes resources for you to explore and a list of what to watch, read and listen to on your Journey to Body Acceptance. Click here to download your copy today.