Full Life Reflections

Striving for happiness, peace, and fulfillment in a chaotic world

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.

negative body image

Do you struggle with negative body image?

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.’

Positive Comparisons

  • “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.”

Alternate Perspectives

  • “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.”

Pursue Therapy

  • “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.

21 thoughts on “Body Image Rehab: My Past Blog, Continued Challenges, and Advice from Friends

  1. Leah says:

    We’re so hard on ourselves. It just makes me sad knowing the part I play in this energy as well. Today I want to look in the mirror and think ‘wow, you did a really great job at that today’ or ‘hey, that was a really nice thing you said there’. That’s going to my goal. I’ll let you know how it goes 🙂

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Yes, many of us ARE super hard on ourselves, Leah, and it makes me sad, too, to be both living and perpetuating it in the world. I like the goals you set for yourself. I think we all need to do better at acknowledging ourselves for what we do well (while also focusing LESS on our faults and mistakes).

  2. Rosa says:

    Thank you, Debbie. After reading your post, it dawned on me that I excessively shop for clothes because, at 64, I continue to be unhappy with my body image. Shopping, and the negative view I have about my body, keep me running in a vicious cycle which never ends!

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      This is very true for me, too, Rosa. In fact, I recently realized that body image dissatisfaction is my PRIMARY reason for overshopping and a large part of why I still struggle with shopping even though I have made a lot of progress on the wardrobe front. I plan to write more about this, but you are definitely not alone on this front…

  3. Sew Ruthie says:

    My view of my body is inspired by Psalm 139 where the psalmist says “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful,I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place,when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.”
    I love the imagery here of being knitted and woven by God and being wonderfully made. I may have unruly hair and non standard proportions but that’s how the knitting and weaving came out, so its wonderful. My job is to look after the body as best I can including dressing it in flattering and comfortable clothing. I may not be making the best food and exercise choices right now but I’m still wonderful.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Thank you for sharing this beautiful passage, Ruthie. I like the imagery of being woken and knit together. I think when we really think about it, our bodies ARE wondrous creations. I sometimes feel guilty for not appreciating mine more. Yes, I have a lot of health issues and many aspects of my body aren’t working in an ideal way, but lots of other parts are and I should be more grateful for those. You have such a healthy and positive attitude and I applaud you for it. I’m glad you think you’re still wonderful even if you’re not making the best choices with food and exercise. As one of the comments from one of my friends states, “We and are worth are more than the skins we are in.” (but it’s great that you are able to appreciate that skin as well)

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Wow, what a powerful post! Thank you so much for sharing it, Ruthie. I resonated deeply with what the author wrote, as well as with many of the comments (I’m still reading them, as there are quite a few). I’m so sad that so many women struggle with body image issues. I weep for the lost moments, hours, days, weeks, months, years of life either lost or muted by worries about the way we look. I fear that I will never get past this horrible affliction, but I have hope that perhaps one day I can be free of it and just live. That is what I wish for all of us…

  4. Claire says:

    I’m so sorry you’re struggling with this Debbie. I remember you writing a post about weight set point once. From what I understand, I think it’s pretty normal for the set point to evolve or “reset” after menopause. I hate that it’s causing so much distress, but I can see why it would be especially hard for you. I was also struck to read about “flaws” with such regularity in the heartfelt and well-meaning advice above. The notion of viewing normal variations in human bodies as some kind of defect is so destructive and rooted in our competitive capitalist culture and patriarchal norms. It hurts and infuriates me that our society burdens people with this nonsense.

    I was so interested to see someone mention IFS (Internal Family Systems) therapy. I have been using it the last year and it has been profoundly life-changing. Like the advice giver, you (and others i know) crossed my mind as I read Richard Schwartz’s original book (which is written for therapists) where he worked so extensively with clients with EDs. It has helped me bring a measure of harmony and balance to my inner world that I’ve never experienced before and I know I will continue to practice and expand upon the techniques. I would even say that maybe someone as sensitive and in-touch with their inner worlds as you are (and as I am) can do some of the work without a therapist if inclined to, especially if you read his book and learn how to do it safely (it’s very powerful work). I actually ended up having to “fire” my therapist (she was so unsafe for me, and I understood more about why as I was reading the book) and have pretty much done the work on my own. That said, I would love to find someone or a community to talk to about it (Fluent Self has actually kind of been like that for me, they do similar work over there). Admittedly I’m a little too burned out on poor-fitting therapists to try again at this point, but you may have much better luck in your area if you choose to pursue that path. I’m so rooting for you, whatever you decide to do! xo

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I know it’s common to gain some weight with menopause, Claire, but it’s very hard for me with my eating disorders history, plus I place too high importance on my appearance in terms of my self-esteem and value. I know it’s wrong to do that, but I can’t seem to shake it even after trying for many years. Your comment about the word “flaws” in a lot of the advice I included in the post is interesting, as I didn’t even notice that until you pointed it out. I think it’s so ingrained in women to view ourselves that way that it is very commonplace. It infuriates me, too, that body variations aren’t more celebrated in our culture, but maybe that is coming soon since other types of diversity are viewed positively now.

      I think I really need to check out Internal Family Systems therapy based upon what you and others have said, especially if this type of work has been successful with eating disorders. Although I don’t really have eating disordered behavior anymore and haven’t for years, the thinking is very difficult to heal, which may be why it’s said that most people with eating disorders never fully get over it. I always hoped to be an exception to that rule, but if anything I have gotten worse in recent years. I do value therapy, but it can be hard to find a good one, and I’m sorry you had to “fire” yours. Good for you for being able to do the work on your own. I’m open to doing the same, as I fully understand how hard it is to keep trying with therapists after bad experiences. Thank you as always for all of your support. I’m always rooting for you, too, and I’m happy that you’ve seen improvement with your health and well-being in recent months.

      1. Claire says:

        Thanks for your support as well Debbie, and I’m sorry the struggle has gotten worse for you in recent years (I can relate). I have started reading The Mosaic Mind (co-authored by Schwartz) which is about using IFS therapy to help work with adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, also a notoriously difficult population to treat in that people never seem to fully recover. I do believe IFS is a breakthrough that has the potential to change the face of therapy for many of these seemingly intractable issues. It is a uniquely empowering, accepting and non-pathologizing approach that is hugely missing from the modern-day mental health care that I have been navigating my whole life. Somatic therapies have a place too I think, but IFS gives an incredibly thorough and powerful framework for understanding and healing complex issues and internal landscapes.

        While I’ve felt pretty comfortable diving in at the level of discourse and research on the subject freely available in my local libraries, I am planning to order a couple of other resources that look even more accessible and helpful for working directly with my issues, so I’ll mention those here in case anyone else is interested –
        Introduction to the Internal Family Systems Model (Schwartz)
        Internal Family Systems: Skills Training Manual (Anderson/Sweezy/Schwartz)

        And I would be remiss not to recommend The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk in the midst of important conversations like these. I believe anyone who has experienced trauma of any kind can benefit from his groundbreaking work (he covers some IFS concepts there too). That book was so important to me in dealing with my own PTSD and developmental trauma that I added it to my personal collection after reading my library’s copy.

        1. Debbie Roes says:

          Claire, I really appreciate the detailed comments and recommendations you leave here. I know that I hadn’t previously heard of the books you mentioned, and I’m sure that others hadn’t, either. Interestingly, I had never even heard about Internal Family Systems (IFS) until it was recommended to me when I asked for help with my disordered body image. Even though I majored in psychology in college and grad school and have had a lot of therapy myself, I have been out of the loop in recent years. I’m always happy to learn of new breakthroughs that can help people. “The Body Keeps the Score” sounds like something I should look into in light of all of my health issues. I know there is a very strong mind/body connection and I’m sure that comes into play quite a bit in terms of my illnesses, as well as for many other people. I’m glad these resources have been beneficial for you!

  5. Jane says:

    Great post, as usual. I just came back from a trip with my sister and noticed how we both kept saying negative comments about our looks. I never considered myself a looker, but my sister is beautiful and it really made me sad to see her put down her looks when I’ve always wanted to look like her. It made me think about how we denigrate ourselves in various ways, for any number of reasons both societal and internal.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Yes, isn’t it sad, Jane, how women are often so negative about our looks. It’s hard to find positive role models in the area of body image, which is why I wrote about that topic back in 2010 when I had my body image blog (https://fulllifereflections.com/2010/12/02/role-models/). I’m trying to be less critical of my appearance in my words, especially since my husband expressed that it hurt him to hear me talk that way. I really need to be less critical in my thoughts, too, but that’s harder. You’re right that there are many reasons why we denigrate ourselves, and it is hard to overcome. I hope to be part of the solution with these types of posts, and I’m sure I will write more about this topic even after part two of the body image advice from friends.

  6. SharonW says:

    Thank you so much for introducing me to Richard Schwartz. Ive spent the afternoon watching YouTube videos that feature this amazing man. It was extremely illuminating and I got answers to the many questions floating around my head. I always knew my difficult childhood was the root of my problems but I now feel I have a framework to go forward. I will download his book but with any luck Debbie will devour it first and produce one of her amazing articles explaining the process for me!

    1. Claire says:

      Cool, SharonW! I totally agree about the value of the framework, it just changed everything for me. I will definitely be checking out some of the videos and other resources as I continue to move forward.

    2. Debbie Roes says:

      I love so much when you all learn from each other as well as from me. I’m glad that you have been watching the Richard Schwartz videos, Sharon, and have learned from him. I need to check out those videos and the book, too. I find that when a topic keeps coming up over and over again, it means that I need to pursue it. It’s like the Universe is hitting me over the head with it! I’m glad you like the articles I post explaining different theories and philosophies. I enjoy synthesizing information and I just may add Internal Family Systems to the list for the future.

  7. Terry says:

    One of the benefits of being somewhat isolated is not thinking about my appearance very often. If anything, I have body image euphoria – I keep forgetting the physical changes wrought by time, age and health issues. In my mind, my body is still a perky 35 years old. I enjoy taking care of my skin and nails, and watching my hair make the (very slow) grey transition. I don’t enjoy the difficulty of finding cute shoes for my now fussy feet, or the alterations that are required to coax clothes into fitting my ever more idiosyncratic dimensions. Probably the biggest factor in my body image is my health – I have four chronic pain conditions, two of which are intermittent and two of which are constant. Although objectively and aesthetically weightloss would be beneficial, I am currently forced to be somewhat sedentary and am on a special diet that is not conducive to losing weight. I hope this is temporary, and I continue to think of myself as a work of art in progress. One thing I have learned is that pain is a huge distraction from appearance, and perspective is everything.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Terry, I’m glad there there has been a sort of “silver lining” to your health issues in that they distract you from being negative about your appearance. Sadly, my health challenges haven’t had that affect on me, even though I’m quite isolated like you are. I’m trying to be kinder toward my body because it has been through a lot and has held out despite the abuse I’ve given it in the past and the conditions that plague it today. In my mind, I’m still in my 30’s, too, so I feel you on that part. I’m so sorry you live with so many chronic pain conditions, two of which are constant. Your positive attitude is amazing in light of what you’re going through. Yes, perspective is everything, and you have given me some powerful food for thought. Thank you for sharing and I hope you will find some relief from your pain.

  8. These stupid body image issues are getting so much worse, specially for the media interference and people of the society. Nobody has the right to tell anyone how they should look or make them feel guilty for eating and living their life. I am so fed up of this social issue. It makes people very depressed that they become mentally ill and week. We need more people like to put a positive impact. I am very sorry that you had to go through such a mess. But also happy that you made it outside the tunnel. Congrats and keep up the good work.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I agree that the media plays a large role in the worsening of many women’s body image. I wish there would be a wider concept of what’s beautiful in society. If we look back over the years, what’s considered attractive has changed, but few are fortunate enough to naturally have the body type that’s currently in vogue. There was a time (and it may still be the case in some parts of the world) when women would desperately try to GAIN weight in order to be viewed as beautiful. Now it’s all about thinness except when it comes to large breasts and full lips. It’s exhausting trying to keep up! I’m trying to learn to accept myself and my shape more, but it sure can be difficult with all of the images and standards perpetuated by society.

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