Two weeks ago, I accidentally re-published an old post I was editing as part of back-end enhancements I’ve been doing on Full Life Reflections. Some of you may have received this post – titled “How is Your Body Image?” – and wondered about it, especially if you noticed that it dated way back to August 18, 2010. A couple of comments were submitted following the erroneous re-post, which got me thinking that I should write a new post on the topic of body image. Today I’m going to tell you about one of my early blogs (this is actually my fifth blog!), comment on where I am with my body image now, and share insightful tips from friends for me and others who struggle with feeling bad about our bodies.
The Body Image Rehab Blog
Back in 2010, I wrote a blog titled Body Image Rehab, which focused on my journey to heal a very negative body image. As those who have been reading my writing for a long time might know, I suffered from eating disorders for a large portion of my life. I was dangerously underweight for many years as a result of anorexia nervosa, and I was also bulimic for a long time. Even though the bulk of my disordered behavior around food subsided during my thirties (I’m now 51), I continued to struggle with a very poor body image. I remained highly self-conscious about the way I looked and always believed that I was heavier than I actually was. This impinged upon my happiness in many ways, so I decided to start a blog about body image with the hope of healing myself and others through my insights.
I published around 30 essays on Body Image Rehab over the course of the year that it was active, but then the blog was dormant for many years. I recently decided to transfer that blog’s content over to Full Life Reflections, as it relates to my current focus of striving for happiness, peace, and fulfillment in today’s chaotic world. If you’re interested in reading that legacy content, you can find it under the “body image” category (a few more recent articles on that topic from my last blog, Recovering Shopaholic, also appear there). Additional legacy content on other topics is listed on the Full Life Reflections archive page, and you may view all posts by category (I’m still refining the categories) via the links in the right sidebar of the site.
My Body Image Today
The “How is Your Body Image?” post I sent out in error on March 6th includes links to several online body image assessments that I took back in 2010. While some of those tests are no longer available, I decided to re-take two of them recently to see how my scores compared with those of over seven years ago. The two tests I took were the following:
I wasn’t surprised to see that my 2018 scores on these quizzes still pointed to a very negative body image. Back in 2010, my score on the Bodywise quiz was 49 (a score greater than 30 points represents poor body image), whereas my recent score was 61, which is quite a bit worse. Although I fared better on the Queendom test, with a current score of 25 versus a 20 in 2010, neither result even comes close to the average score of 50 (on this test, a higher score is better). Here’s what the Queendom test had to say about the meaning of my score:
“You’re not overjoyed with your physical appearance – to put it lightly. You feel quite uncomfortable in situations where you have to reveal a little skin, and likely go out of your way to avoid them altogether. You feel inadequate when you compare yourself to others, and may even go to extreme lengths (plastic surgery, severe dieting) to change the way you look. What it boils down to is this: the negative view you have of your looks is putting a serious damper on the way you live. You don’t always wear the clothes you’d like because of insecurities, you may lack the confidence to pursue the people you’re attracted to, and likely spend more time than you should worrying about physical flaws.”
“The fact is, you’re downright hard on yourself – but it doesn’t have to be this way. Everyone struggles with insecurity during different periods of their lives; think of the number of movie stars and supermodels that spent an adolescence miserable, convinced they were hideously ugly. While we can’t all be supermodels, we all have our unique style and look that makes us attractive. The world would be boring if we were all a bunch of Barbie and Ken dolls. No matter how we fit in to society’s constantly changing beauty standards, we always judge ourselves much more harshly than other people do. We think we’ve got a huge schnoz; others think it’s regal. We hate our freckles; other people think they’re charming. Overall, there’s one kind of beauty that never dies – inner confidence. Make it your mission!”
An Ongoing Challenge
The first paragraph above describes me pretty well, as does the initial statement in the second paragraph. I have always been extremely hard on myself in general, but even more so when it comes to the way I look. The aging process, menopause, and a seemingly interminable gray hair transition process (which I will write more about soon) have only made things that much harder for me. I’m no longer as youthful, slim, and firm as I used to be and although I know that what’s inside us is what matters most, I still have a hard time letting go of the image I hold for how I want to look. I’m having trouble shedding the ten to fifteen pounds that I gained with menopause and I hate that I don’t fit into a lot of my clothes and feel frumpy in the ones that I can squeeze into. I’m not trying to look like a supermodel, but I’d like to look the way I did even two years ago before menopause turned things upside down.
Poor body image impacts me as much or more today than it did back when I started Body Image Rehab in 2010. In fact, it’s one of the primary factors standing in the way of my experiencing the happiness and peace I long to feel. While I would still like to shed my excess weight and have better hair than I do today, I know that the aging process will continue to rage on relentlessly. Thus, I would be well-served by learning to better accept the way I look. While I’m going to do my best to look as good as I can – within reason, I know I’ll never look 20, 30, or even 40 again. I need to learn to love my body, as it’s the only one I have, plus it’s exhausting to go through life hating it. Easier said than done, that’s for sure!
Advice from Friends
The second paragraph above from Queendom offers some words of wisdom for those of us who possess a negative body image, but I needed more concrete advice. For that, I turned to some wise friends in an online community I’ve been a member of for several years. I asked them the following questions:
- What advice do you have for improving one’s body image?
- If you struggled with this problem in the past and have been able to overcome it, what did you do?
Below are some select passages from the honest, compassionate, and detailed replies that I received.
Focus on What Our Bodies Can Do
- “I think being appreciative of what my body does helps me to not overanalyze its shortcomings.”
- “What helps me is deciding that I’m not going to let my imperfections hold me back. Yes, I have flaws; I am working on some (losing weight) and others can’t really be changed (broad shoulders). But I want to focus on what my body can do (walk all over the city, hug my family, run a half marathon). It’s kind of like my celiac disease. Sure, I wish I didn’t have it, but I’m not going to let it stop me from all the good things out there that don’t involve gluten!”
Make Small, Manageable Shifts
- “I think that making small, manageable shifts might help you. For example: ‘Today, I’m just not going to worry about my hair. I’m going to tie it back and forget about it.’ Or, ‘My jeans are too tight. I’m just going to the doctors, so screw it. I’m just wearing work out pants under a nice top and no one will be any the wiser.’ I’ve never been able to make a swooping change all at once, but by choosing to think a different way a little at a time, I’ve been able to let go of a lot of the negative patterns.”
Positive Self-Talk and Self-Love
- “We and our worth are more than the skins we are in. I know, it’s easier to say than feel, but think about how you view others. Then try and view yourself with the same eyes.”
- “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten more kind to myself. My body has the same flaws, but I’ve come to realize that nearly everyone has flaws. And those models you see are Photoshopped to look perfect. I’ve also come to realize that no one is as concerned with my appearance as I am! They are all worrying about how they I made a conscious decision to stop worrying about what other people think. As long as I’m dressed reasonably for the location and occasion, I’m fairly happy. I now wear appropriate shorts when it’s hot and I wear my bathing suit on the beach and at the pool. Look around. You will see people in much worse shape than you are, and they are apparently unconcerned and wearing swimsuits. When dealing with other people, it helps to project confidence and have a smile for everyone.”
- “I seem to perpetually want to lose a few pounds too, but I never find it all-consuming. The only reason I don’t is because I do love myself and I practice self-love daily by doing nice things for myself, treating myself with respect, etc. I think it also helps that I can always find styles that flatter me at different sizes. I don’t wear the exact same things at heavier weights, but there are still things I like wearing and feel good in.”
- “I see in myself that wanting patterns to change on their own or having the expectation of them suddenly changing isn’t realistic. I think it takes a steady, constant effort at self-love to change negative beliefs about oneself. I think if I were you, every time I caught myself having a negative thought about myself, I would say to myself, ‘I love and accept myself exactly as I am.’ You don’t even have to believe it or it may bring up negative feelings, but I would just keep saying that over and over. Another thing you could say is, ‘I forgive myself for not being perfect.’”
- “Something that has helped me personally is kind of funny. I have been looking at family pictures and realizing that my shape is very much the same as that of my grandma, who I thought was beautiful! I would never say my grandma was unattractive, so why would I say it to myself?”
- “One method to achieve a positive body image has been looking at classical art. I compare favorably to ‘Venus on the Half Shell.’ And, just how big were Marilyn Monroe’s hips? I’ll never have her bust line; I prefer mine. I appreciate what I have. Dancing helps, too. Over the last eight years, I’ve taken tango lessons. Moving my body and having good posture helps. Tango classes require me to look at a full-length mirror, so I’m accustomed to seeing myself compared to others. I know I’m in better shape than some, although I don’t get as much exercise as I should. It’s an odd inner strength that I’ve developed. I believe I’m beautiful and therefore I am.”
- “I wonder if weight and appearance falls into the same category as clothes? As in placing too much power on those things and having too high expectations on their ability to bring us happiness. I’ve been able to let go of a lot of that frantic unhappiness that I felt over my appearance. You know what I mean? When you’re fixating and obsessing over something and it feels SO IMPORTANT. I just decided that it really wasn’t that important after all. I know what I look like. I could tell you my flaws. I see certain pictures and I cringe. It’s not that I don’t notice or care. It’s not that I love my problem areas. I don’t. I just refuse to give them power. I know that I have a choice. I can focus on what’s wrong and miss out of some of the good parts of life or I can accept what is and move on and enjoy what I’m doing. More and more, I’m noticing that fighting something has the opposite effect that I desire. It makes it feel more important and gives it more value than it deserves. I really hope that you’re able to choose acceptance, too.”
- “Allison Armstrong talks about how men don’t tend to see our physical flaws; they just see the things they think are beautiful about us. It drives her crazy how women are always pointing out their flaws to men because they’re actually bringing attention to something the guy doesn’t even notice. I took that to heart and stopped pointing out my flaws to men I’m intimate with, and I choose to believe them when they tell me I’m beautiful. I think men have been telling me I’m beautiful my whole life, but it’s only in my current relationship that I’ve been able to believe it and really take it in. If my guy thinks I’m beautiful and he’s the one I want to look good for, then I’m pretty happy. I have a feeling your husband thinks you’re beautiful as you are.”
- “Have you considered mindfulness therapy? Our brains are so powerful and capable of playing a bad movie in a continuous loop – over and over and over. It takes all of our resources to channel it in a direction that nurtures and empowers us.”
- “I know that eating disorders are a really complex problem and I agree with others that therapy is a good idea. Have you ever heard of IFS (internal family systems) therapy? The guy who developed it discovered the technique while working with bulimic girls after nothing else he did with them seemed to be working.”
Turn it Over to a Higher Power
- “If it’s really consuming for you and you want to be done with it, you don’t have to carry the burden anymore. Just turn it over a higher power, God, the universe, or whatever, and pray to be free from it and to be able to love yourself.”
Stay Tuned for Part Two…
Since I received so much amazing feedback from my online friends and this post has gotten quite long, I’ve decided to reserve some of the body image advice for a part two, which I will publish later this month. In addition, some of you may also have words of wisdom to share that could be included in my follow-on post.
I welcome anything you have to share on the topic of body image – your advice, your challenges, and your questions. Since a survey by the National Organization for Women (NOW – I wrote about this in my 2010 post) found that 80% of U.S. women are dissatisfied with their appearance, I know that I’m not alone in my struggles. It’s my hope that the advice I’m sharing in this post and part two will be beneficial for those who want to improve the way they feel about their bodies.