Health At Every Size

Let’s Talk Body Image

February 15, 2024

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I'm Michelle — health coach for women who want to escape diet culture and find the health they deserve.

Meet Michelle

In a world inundated with images of society’s “thin ideal” and constant social media messages dictating how we should look and eat, the pressure to conform to societal standards can feel overwhelming. 

Most women have days where they struggle with “I hate my body!” moments, and if those thoughts are repeated day after day, it makes for a lot of negative self-talk around our body image.

In many ways, it’s a miracle that our bodies come to exist in the first place. So why is it that we struggle so much with accepting the body that we have? Aren’t we all supposed to look different from one another anyway?

I recently spoke with Anne Poirier, author of “The Body Joyful”, to discuss the complex dynamics of body image in today’s society. Together, we talked about the importance of questioning the narratives we’ve internalized about our bodies, food, and eating habits. Today, I want us to explore those ideas so we can get curious about the way we think about our bodies and begin to question if there might be another way.

Society’s Thin Ideal

Despite the pressures to meet society’s narrow standards of beauty, women often keep struggles around body image to themselves. Speaking one-to-one with clients, it’s clear to both Anne and I how common it is for women to feel disgust or hatred toward their bodies. Yet these feelings rarely surface in conversations with others. Feelings of shame are just shoved under the rug because it brings up too much pain. Instead, we happily focus conversations around how to change our bodies. 

One of the reasons why we feel so much shame about our bodies is because of the pressure to look a certain way.  And so if you don’t look that way, but you’re trying to (through dieting or crazy fitness regimes), then people will judge that you’re at least making an effort. But deep down, you’re still full of shame and self-hate towards yourself.

Confronting Diet Culture Head On

Adopted into a family where she was labeled as the “chubby baby,” Anne’s sense of self-worth became entwined with her body image from a very young age. Hurtful nicknames and comments from doctors about her weight reinforced the belief that her body was “wrong”.

At just 12 years old, Anne was thrust into the world of diet culture, leading to a battle with anorexia nervosa that led to hospitalization. Though physically treated, the underlying issues surrounding her body image still persisted. Although she looked to be recovering from the outside, Anne continued to grapple with feelings of inadequacy and the pressure to conform to societal ideals.

Anne ended up going into the fitness field because she thought that way, she’d have to stay “In shape”. However, it wasn’t until her body broke down and she faced a moment of reckoning that Anne truly realized the detrimental impact of her lifelong struggle with body image.

My own journey parallels Anne’s in many ways, echoing the struggle with societal expectations and the lasting impact on self-perception. Growing up, I faced scrutiny for being too skinny, with people often commenting that I was underfed. As time passed, the narrative shifted, and suddenly I found myself labeled as the “fat girl” in school. 

Caught in a relentless cycle of criticism, I felt trapped between conflicting standards of beauty, and that my body was never “just right”. And that eventually led me into a battle with binge eating disorder, which was concealed in secrecy and shame.

Like Anne, it got to a point where I questioned why I was defining myself by my binge eating. Initially, I thought the obvious solution was weight loss (hence my work as a weight loss coach). It never occurred to me that I should look at why I was binging or to look at my relationship with food or my body image.

Now, especially in the era of 24/7 social media influence, I love asking the question, “Who gets to decide what the right looking body is?” Because we are all meant to be different.

Social Media’s Impact on Body Image

There’s no denying that social media has both positives and negatives when it comes to how we see ourselves. It bombards us with images of what we’re “supposed” to look like, often making us feel like we’re never good enough. But it also gives us a platform to talk about these issues. The problem is, the same old messages about body image keep getting passed down through the years, from parents to kids. And it’s hard to break free from these ideas when they’ve been around for so long.

So, how do we change the conversation? Can we start to look at our body as the unique one-of-a-kind body that it is? It starts with questioning what we believe about our bodies and food. Instead of hating our bodies, we need to listen to them and treat them with kindness. It’s about learning to trust ourselves and our bodies, even when it feels difficult. 

Another part of this is becoming aware of what’s driving the behaviors that aren’t serving us, and that are actually causing the inner voices that contribute to a downward spiral of negativity. It’s important to find a way to turn down the volume on all of those critical voices in our head and also learn how to turn up the volume on what our body is trying to say.

But we have to try to have patience with ourselves as we learn a new way to talk to and be in our own bodies. Body image is on a continuum. And if you have spent most of your life hating your body, loving your body is not even on the table really. But you can start to nudge your way away from hatred and towards an appreciation for some things about your body. 

Finding Support Beyond Food for Emotional Well-Being

If you have used food your whole life to help you cope or to protect you from these very difficult emotional situations, then that’s not going to change overnight.  And so if you find yourself in a situation where food truly is the only answer, then you’ve got to allow yourself to have that while you work on other ways to support yourself emotionally.

It’s important to recognize and talk about our feelings, even though society often tells us to hide them. Expressing emotions through writing or talking with others can help us feel more in control and less reliant on food to cope.

Dealing with emotions takes time and effort. It means looking at why we feel the way we do and finding healthier ways to manage our feelings. While it might be tempting to look for a quick fix, real change comes from being willing to learn and grow.

Our struggles with body image are complex. They’re shaped by our past experiences, what we see in the media, and how we’ve learned to take care of ourselves. Even if it’s challenging to fully love our bodies, engaging in activities that show respect and care can help quiet the negative voices. Having a toolkit of self-care practices (my lemon ginger body scrub works wonders!) and being willing to use them during tough times can make a significant difference. And even just granting ourselves permission to have “bad body days” and acknowledging them with compassion can be a crucial step towards self-acceptance. Change is possible if we’re willing to take the time to understand ourselves better and be kinder to ourselves along the way.

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