Let's try to think about our own body shape and size. This will take some focus because we often are not aware of most of our own deeply held thoughts about our bodies. Your task in addressing a negative body image is to become familiar with unhelpful thoughts about your body that you are thinking deep down, so you can confront them. When they are left unattended, brewing below the surface of your mind, your thoughts can develop unmanaged as the years roll on.
In the Positive Body Image Workshops I lead, I ask attendees to write down any thoughts they may have about their body in a Body Image Journal. You can get good at locating these thoughts if you go looking for them by asking yourself the right questions. Ask yourself what you are thinking about your body when you look in the mirror or see a picture of yourself. These thoughts might come up in when you are getting dressed, going to shower, or maybe working out. You'll get good at noticing when these thoughts about your body are coming up for you. Most women find they hone in on one or two aspects of their body that really bother them.
You are simply wrong . . . a lot
In order to find a “true perception of yourself” your task is to address your recurring negative body image thoughts. You can find where your own negative body lens is distorting your experience living in your body. The first step to do this is to realize your lens is based on your thoughts; it is not the truth. You may simply be wrong in your assessment. Everyone is.
Realizing that your thoughts might be wrong takes a certain ability to locate what you are thinking and keep an objective perspective on your thoughts. This is an exercise in abstract thinking, with lots of moving pieces! Getting familiar with the nuances of your inner thought world is a skill that can be cultivated with meditation. If you are interested in learning more about cultivating a meditation practice, see the Joseph Goldstein links in the Sources, below.
Challenge thoughts with logic
The second step in gaining a true perception of your shape is actually challenging your negative thoughts with logic. When you are only mildly aware of your thoughts, they actually live unchallenged in your mind. Because some of your thoughts are happening out of awareness, your logical side won’t have shown up to confront some unreasonable, long held ideals, such as:
- “I need to be a size 2 (subsitute your own ideal here) like Twiggy”
- “I should weight 115 (subsitute your own ideal here) like I used to in high school”
- “My breasts (substitute your own reviled body part here) are huge.”
Once you become aware that you are thinking these things, you could say logically:
- “Maybe a size 2 is an unreasonable standard for me, especially as I get older.”
- “Maybe it is okay to be this size or this weight – no one guaranteed me that I wouldn’t gain some weight as time goes on.”
- “My breasts may have grown in menopause, but they are not the largest ones out there. They are still within a normal range.”
You will start to realize that some of the thoughts you have about your body have never seen the light of day 30 or 40 years later!
External vs Internal Judgment
I ask people to notice in their Body Journal the type of thoughts they are having. Are you constantly mentioning the scale or a clothing size? Most women are really swayed what external factors indicate to them about their own body, such as the number on the scale, BMI, or their clothing size. Many people focus on these numbers much more than serves them well, often creating an obsession with the scale or their clothing size. To counter these external measures with logic, it would be helpful to look at yourself kindly and report what you see. Often women who hate the number on the scale don’t hate the reflection in the mirror. One of the main ideas in MyBodyMySelf is to put you in touch with your own perception, rather than to use external factors to judge yourself by. So, use your own eyes as a measure of how you look to find a true perception of yourself.
Hilde Bruch, Golden Cage: The Enigma of Anorexia Nervosa, 2001 (2nd edition).
Hilde Bruch, Eating Disorders: Obesity, Anorexia Nervosa, and the Person Within, 1973.
Joseph Goldstein, Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening, 2016. Click here for some of Joseph's talks and guided meditations.
Jonathan Lear, Freud, Chapter One: Interpreting the Unconscious, 2015 (2nd edition).
"Girls are taught to view their bodies as unending projects to work on, whereas boys from a young age, are taught to view their bodies as tools to master their environment." --Gloria Steinem