Full Life Reflections

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

Last month, I wrote about my ongoing challenge with negative body image and shared some helpful tips on this subject from my online friends. Since I received so much helpful advice for improving a poor body concept and didn’t want the post to get too long, I decided to break it into two installments.

negative body image

Do you sometimes hate what you see when you look in the mirror?

Today’s post is part two and I hope you will find it beneficial. I also highly recommend that you read the comments section of the original post, as a number of readers offered their own words of wisdom on this important topic. I love how much I learn from all of the wonderful women I know through this blog and my other online communities. As I continue to work on healing my body image, I plan to refer back to these two posts from time to time, and I’m glad to have compiled this advice for others to use in their personal growth journey.

View Your Body and Yourself as a Team

  • “My body image isn’t bound up in its physical appearance. If I put my mind to it, I could list the areas that convention would have a problem with, but I genuinely don’t go there. I’ll grumble that it’s hard to find clothes that fit my body well, but my frustration is with the crappy fitting clothes, not the body I’m trying to fit into them. Like you, I have some health issues and so I’m kind to the body that does its best for me and tries its hardest. We are a team and several times a day, I say encouraging things to it and try to coax the best out of it. That really is my focus.”
  • “I’ve been at odds with my body due to health issues more than body image, but that’s there, too. I actually found it helpful to talk to my body. I’ve apologized for mistreating it, blaming it for the pain, and making it hold my negative emotions so I wouldn’t have to deal with them. Then I’ve thanked it for holding all the stuff I couldn’t deal with, getting me to where I needed to go, and whatever else came up.”

The Power of Old Photographs

  • “A few years ago when I was looking through old photographs, I found one taken of me while on a tropical vacation. I can remember distinctly just how self-conscious I was about my body on that vacation. I remember how I struggled to feel okay in a bathing suit and instead felt pale and chubby and unattractive. I was taken aback by what I saw in the photo. I saw a rosy-cheeked, healthy, and dare-I-say pretty young woman. Decades later, I was able to see myself the way others saw me, but I couldn’t see that in real time. I wish I could say that I see my current self with such objective and kind eyes. But when I find myself listening to that inner critic, I try to think of that photo.”
  • “Looking at old pictures of myself helped me to stop being so critical of my looks today. I’ve never felt pretty but have seen pictures of myself in younger years and thought, ‘Wow, I looked good.’”

Choose Not to Let the Imperfections Bother You

  • “At some point, I made the choice not to let those “imperfections” bother me. I avoided skinny jeans for years because I was self-conscious of my thighs. But when I realized skinny jeans were the style that was going to work best for my lifestyle, I decided I wasn’t going to let my thighs bother me anymore. Some days are better than others in that respect, but telling myself that the size or shape of a certain body part is not going to affect others’ opinion of me is very helpful.”

Use Yoga as a Healing Tool

  • “I honestly think the most helpful thing for me has been yoga. They teach you to listen to and be in control of your own body and person, and to slowly appreciate and love it. I do think it depends on finding the right teacher, too, as some studios focus more on fitness than on the other 7 limbs of yoga as well.”
  • “The last two years, I’ve been practicing restorative yoga, and I have conversations with my body while practicing. If I find tension somewhere, I ask what it is about. Recently, for example, it was about grief. It seemed that I had a whole lot of loss I hadn’t fully dealt with. The list of losses just came pouring out and the grief along with them. I was able to process it and release it from my body, thanking it, asking forgiveness, etc. I am a big Internal Family Systems fan and this is a variation I adapted to suit my own issues. It’s a weird concept at first, but very therapeutic. Working through things in yoga is new, but I find journaling these conversations to be helpful and I do it when I can.”

Recognize and Transform Negative Self-Talk

  • “I think half the battle is recognizing where the negative talk originates. Then when you start any negative self-talk, you can acknowledge that it’s a voice from the past and not true, kind, or helpful.” 
  • “What helps me when I’m negative about myself is consciously transforming negative thoughts about myself into positive self-talk and also being kind to myself.”
  • “I had years of experience with people trying to tell me how ‘wrong’ my body and face were (fat, ugly, etc.). I indulged in years of believing it. I got to the stage of not believing the BS from others and myself. It started with feeling defiant and having a ‘f*#$ you’ defensive attitude from all the attacks. It was tiring being so defensive and trying to justify my right to exist and be okay. Then I actually looked at myself and I changed the record. I appreciate that I’m able-bodied and have lived this far.”
  • “Quit bullying yourself. Those messages you repeat reinforce the negativity from your head. That’s how you see you, but other people see a more dimensional view. Trust them. Trust what those who love and care about you say when they tell you all the good things. Don’t argue with them. Accept what they say even if you don’t believe it as much. You have been practicing negativity a long time. What would happen if you switched it to replacing every negative thought with a positive one?” 

Identify and Boldly State the Positive

  • “Focus on what you physically love or like about yourself. Name your parts and talk about them. Start with that: eyebrows, hands, legs, etc. – anything you truly like and go from there. ‘Example: I love my hands. They are big and strong. They have shaken hands with some talented people. They allow me to express myself with words. They help me to dress and feed myself. They have held loved ones in my arms and caressed lovers. They have picked flowers and grew them. My fingers are long. I think I have perfect hands to play the piano.’”
  • “To truly overcome my body image issues, I had to tell myself I was fabulous every day. State it boldly, out loud, in crowded rooms. This doesn’t work for everyone, but I eventually reached a point where I actually believed it.”

Healing a Spiritual Crisis

  • “I had a serious problem with my body image that began when I was a teenager, resulting in an eating disorder, obsession over how my hair, clothes and makeup looked, and never feeling like I could achieve whatever it was I was seeking. This obsession did irreparable damage to my marriage, but it wasn’t until I lost patience with myself that a turning point took place. For me, it turned out to be a spiritual crisis. I placed myself on some very high pedestal, paid more attention to myself than to other people, and focused more on me than the world.  Once I began to place my focus on things greater than myself in a spiritual sense and developed daily spiritual practices, I began to slowly heal my mind. I had to learn to feel my feelings without blocking them out or distracting myself away from how I felt, or getting sick instead of feeling things. I’ve also found that it’s crucial that I pay attention to world current events, community, nature, and get out of my own head! Now that other things have become more important than how I look and feel, I am at peace.”

Don’t Put Your Life on Hold

  • “I have spent a lot of time putting my life on hold until I lost ten pounds. I spent years denying myself food and turning down invitations that included eating. The thing was, I was already in the healthy BMI range. Any weight I lost, I would regain when I finally flipped and started eating everything in sight. In the last five or so years, however, I have struggled to lose any weight whatsoever despite trying various diets. At the beginning of the year, I decided to give up dieting and appreciate my body for what it can do. I’m slowly working my way through various intuitive eating books. I do have days when I wobble because all my excess weight is around my middle, but dieting hasn’t worked so I figure I have nothing to lose.”

Acceptance and Shifting Focus

  • “Eventually, I came to realize there was nothing I could do to change my body type. Starving myself was no solution. I also accepted that it was more important to be healthy than to be too thin. The other thing I learned is that when I am busy and interacting with people, I don’t think about what I look like. I become one with the activity and the people, so that I am oblivious to my appearance. There comes a point where you just have to be realistic and accept yourself. I know I am not beautiful in any conventional sense, but it no longer bothers me because I now value myself for what I can DO and not for what I look like doing it. I put myself together as best I can, and feel more enthusiasm for what I plan to accomplish than whether my hair, body, or outfit is just right. I don’t know if this helps, but it’s my tough love view of appearance vs. accomplishment. I’ve never understood people who were overly obsessed with their appearance. If you are already beautiful, I can see where it could become a form of self-admiration to constantly think about how you can improve yourself. But if you are ordinary looking like me, you just put beauty to the back of your mind, realizing you will never look as svelte as those you admire, and focus instead on what you can contribute to your world.”
  • “I think we all have struggles and also moments of peace. Moods and emotions constantly change. The more I accept that, the more peaceful my life becomes. I am witnessing myself now and notice that I am feeling “toad-like,” but I know it will change eventually. Sometimes it’s tied to the scale, sometimes not. I like to look back at the moments when I felt good and do the things that made me feel good about myself. Basically, I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to do things. I like to look at life as a journey and try to enjoy as much of the journey as possible.”

 The Story that Made Me Cry…

I deeply appreciate all of the wonderful and helpful body image advice that I have included in this post and the previous one, but I’m saving this entry for last because it’s the one the made me cry. The woman who wrote this is someone who I admire greatly – for what she has accomplished, who she is, and what she embodies. She exudes deep confidence and self-acceptance, but those attributes have been hard won, as you will see from her story.

My tears are there for two reasons… First of all, reading this strong woman’s words brings a deep acknowledgement of her pain and the difficult path she has walked. But my tears also stem from a feeling of hope, that perhaps one day I can also experience the freedom of shedding my negative body image once and for all. If like me, you struggle with hatred and shame towards your one and only body, it is my wish that you will also experience hope from reading this powerful story.

“This is a struggle I have dealt with my entire adult life. It is about acceptance and self-love. After twenty years of extreme dieting and exercise, I know what I can and can’t do realistically. I’ve had three plastic surgeries. I ate a 1000 calorie a day diet for nine months and nearly went insane because I was literally starving. I exercised three hours a day, six days a week for a year. I was miserable and hated it so much. The injuries I sustained doing that will be with me forever.”

“I’ll never set foot in a gym again. In all of those extremes, I never got below a size 14. My body wants to be like this. One day, I made a decision to drive past the gym and go home. I’d let much of my life be held hostage by an ideal perpetuated by the beauty and diet industries. I decided that perfection wasn’t worth the cost to my life. That was in 2010. I’ve never been happier than I am right now, at likely what is near my highest weight ever. Yes, I’d love to be thin. I’d also love to be younger again, too. Heck, I’d love to be taller and not have T-Rex arms while I’m at it. None of these things are realistic. If they aren’t realistic, I should not let them have power over me.”

In Closing

I will close this post with links to a few articles and videos that may be helpful to you, as well as a series of quotes related to body image and self-acceptance. Some of these resources were mentioned by my online friends or in comments to the first part of this series, while others I’ve had bookmarked for years (sometimes my information overload comes in handy…).  If you would like to read more of my thoughts on this important topic, please refer to the body image category of this blog. I also wrote a few posts related to body image, clothing, and shopping over on Recovering Shopaholic.

Articles and Videos:

30 Things You Can Do Every Day to Boost Your Body Image” – PsychCentral

We Are Good Enough: Musings on Body Acceptance” – A Sophisticated Pair

Embrace the Body You Have Today” – Inside Out Side

Make Peace with Your Body” – Geneen Roth

Before We Fit: How We See Ourselves and the Voices in Our Heads” – Sewing on the Edge

What Dawn French Can Teach You About Body Image” – HuffPost Australia

Love Your Tree” – from America the Beautiful documentary

Self Worth and Body Image” – Bridgette Raes (video)

Quotes:

  • “Start living life fully now, in your present body, because waiting until you lose weight is a big old waste of time.” – Linda Bacon
  • “I personally battled with my own body image for years. I used to tell myself, ‘You can’t wear anything sleeveless or strapless.’ And all of a sudden I was like, ‘What if I just didn’t send such negative messages to my brain and said, wear it and enjoy it?’ And now I’m more comfortable in clothes than ever.”                         – Drew Barrymore
  • “Your self-esteem won’t come from body parts. You need to step away from the mirror every once in a while, and look for another reflection, like the one in the eyes of the people who love you and admire you.”             –Stacy London
  • “That’s the key, you know, confidence. I know for a fact that if you genuinely like your body, so can others. It doesn’t really matter if it’s short, tall, fat, or thin; it just matters that you can find some things to like about it. Even if that means having a good laugh at the bits of it that wobble independently, occasionally, that’s all right. It might take you a while to believe me on this one, lots of people don’t because they seem to suffer from self-hatred that precludes them from imagining that a big woman could ever love herself because they don’t. But I do. I know what I’ve got is a bit strange and difficult to love, but those are the very aspects that I love the most! It’s a bit like people. I’ve never been particularly attracted to the uniform of conventional beauty. I’m always a bit suspicious of people who feel compelled to conform. I personally like the adventure of difference. And what’s beauty, anyway?”― Dawn French
  • “It’s never been true, not anywhere at any time, that the value of a soul, of a human spirit, is dependent on a number on a scale. We are unrepeatable beings of light and space and water who need these physical vehicles to get around. When we start defining ourselves by that which can be measured or weighed, something deep within us rebels. We don’t want to EAT hot fudge sundaes as much as we want our lives to BE hot fudge sundaes. We want to come home to ourselves.” – Geneen Roth
  • “Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” Brene Brown

4 thoughts on “Battling Negative Body Image: Tips from Friends, Part Two

  1. SharonW says:

    Hi Debbie. Very inspiring and well thought out article. I often find information sinks in whilst reading your articles whereas in real life I can brush off the same detail. An example of this is I have a poor self image due to my psoriasis which I feel very defined by. My husband is always telling me how beautiful he finds me and I often feel he is being disingenuous or simply trying to be kind to me. I don’t see beauty when I look in the mirror just ugly skin. However reading the articles above I can see how maybe my husband looks at the whole me with affection and love whereas I just zone in on the ugliness and disregard the rest. I was talking to a friend recently who commented on one of our mutual friends having a large nose and I was surprised as I hadnt noticed this. She said “you don’t view others with a critical eye, just yourself, if your nose was on the large side that would be all you’d see!”

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Your comments are always insightful, Sharon, and what your friend said to you was very insightful as well – and so true! I’m very much like you in this regard. I don’t have psoriasis, but when I look at myself, I often just see bad hair and big hips and thighs. I have said the same thing your friend said to one of my friends who often focuses on her “pot belly.” We can definitely be our own worst enemies, can’t we? I have a similar reaction to my husband’s compliments, but I think they really do see us as beautiful. Wouldn’t it be great if we could see ourselves through their eyes even for one day?

  2. Jane says:

    wow, great post, as always. I hate to say it, but I am drawing comfort from the fact that others experience negative body image. I am drawing even more comfort in those who have overcome it. Cheers to you all.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I don’t think it’s bad that you are drawing comfort from knowing you’re not alone in your struggle, Jane. I feel the same way. Of course, I don’t want others to suffer with poor body image, but logically I know that far too many of us do. Like you, I am comforted – and inspired – but those who have overcome these types of challenges. I hope that you and I will be able to join them…

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