A few summers ago, I did not get in a swimsuit even once. I was struggling with really bad body image (and really deep in orthorexia). A year passed and by the following summer I had done a lot of work on recovery from food and body issues. I wouldn’t say I was super excited about it, but I made a commitment to myself to not miss out on another summer of swimming with my kids. I remember coming out of my room dressed for the pool and seeing my kids’ faces. They were stunned and excited and totally overjoyed. My heart almost burst with so many different emotions. That was the day I learned a super important lesson that I hope to share with you.
It’s probably not a realistic goal to try to get to a place where you never think negative things about your body. It’s likely that you will struggle to a certain extent at some point with poor body image. It could be acute or chronic, subtle or severe and it will probably come and go, but you should expect it. The key is - and this is what I learned that summer day - is to keep it in perspective.
When negative body image feels overwhelming and suffocating, it’s probably because you believe appearance to be most important. The best way to decrease the intensity of negative body image is to find, cultivate and pursue more meaningful endeavors. In my example above, spending time with my kids and making memories with them is really important to me. The more I connected with what I valued, what I looked like became less important. In essence, I became more worried about living a meaningful life than what I looked like doing it.
This isn’t unique to me. This is how it works for everyone. I have no problem making that generalization because it’s true. The hardest part is taking that first step: moving past the fear of being seen as you are…authentic, human and perfectly imperfect.
So what you need to do is find someway to decrease the importance of body image and increase the importance of other and more meaningful things. There are lots of ways to do this and are always unique to the individual. You may not resonate with my experience shared above. But here’s what I want you to do:
- Write down the 3 most important things to you. For example, mine: family, faith and being true to myself.
- Build your day around these 3 things. That doesn’t mean you quit your job and spend all day with your family. But chances are that if negative body image is severe, you may not have time and energy to give to these things. Using my examples, instead of spending that energy on social media comparisons, body checking, weighing, obsessing or feeling preoccupied, I might practice refocusing my energy on playing with my kids, morning devotionals, and respecting myself by not saying mean things to myself about myself.
- Pretty soon body image gets put in perspective and the intensity of difficult emotions decreases. If you feel them increase, you know that you need to set some boundaries and reconnect with your values.
One last vital piece of the body image puzzle: it has NOTHING to do with your size, shape or weight. I had the worst body image of my life when I was at my thinnest and lowest weight. I see a wide variety of clients and weight has never made a difference in who does or doesn’t struggle with negative body image. It’s all about perception and where you choose to put your time, attention and energy.
Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD