Mental Health Blog

Food for Thought: Why Do You Dislike Your Body? Is it Really About the Weight?

Posted by Makenna Clements on

This is a journaling exercise I have developed as a resource for those on a journey towards body acceptance. Before jumping in, I want to be clear that my bias (both from personal and professional experience) is that true freedom from poor body image lies in obtaining body neutrality and/or acceptance. By this I mean getting to a place where your body and its appearance rarely if ever cross your mind, and if they do it has little to no impact on your mood or day. I would also like to suggest the possibility that an improved body image rooted in weight loss or gain may be less about the weight itself as compared to other factors. Feel free to disagree! I’m not here to force a perspective but to play advocate for other points of view. I encourage you to keep an open mind to see what comes up for you as you reflect. Let’s dive in:

1) Complete the following sentence: “I would like my body if…”

Now take that reason (or list of reasons) along for the ride as we consider what a dissatisfaction with your appearance and body shape may truly be about. 

2) Consider what has informed the above answer. For example, what cultural norms and standards does your answer reflect? What personal experiences- perhaps comments from family, loved ones, or even strangers, or emotional associations you have tied in with your body and its appearance- may play a role? Is there a way you feel you have noticeably been treated differently because of your body, including the elements of it you tell yourself/have been told are unattractive or unappealing? Does your mood at a given time, or even a set of circumstances, come into play in terms of informing the likelihood you like your body in a given moment? 

3a) If you have noticed an improvement in your body image correlated with weight loss or gain, is it possible that the weight change itself isn’t the cause? Perhaps you’ve noticed improvements in how you’ve been treated by people around you- do you feel more seen or acknowledged (this may be reflective of a strong weight stigma and bias we have in our culture)? Do you receive more compliments, and fear losing a sense of “enough-ness” if you gain or lose more weight? Do you feel more heard and understood by your doctor, who perhaps isn’t jumping to conclusions so quickly about your concerns being somehow caused by your weight (a causal relationship that is arguably unfounded)?

3b) Conversely, is it possible the improved sense of body image is at least partially explained by the fact that you have been taking more intentional care of your better- whether being more mindful of routine movement and nourishing foods- that are affecting you physically, mentally, and emotionally?

4) I invite you to notice what emotion(s) this next question brings up for you (openness, neutrality, defensiveness, frustration, etc.) and be curious about them: If cultural standards suddenly were to change, and the weight loss you experienced was suddenly counter to newly accepted beauty ideals, would this change the way you feel about your body- and by extension yourself? If so, this may be a sign your body image is rooted in more ingrained beliefs about yourself, others, and the world than it is about actual appearance. 

5) Similar to the above question, what thoughts, emotions, or themes came up for you in general in pondering the above questions? Did you notice yourself writing off from the start that this exercise could be helpful (I’ve been there!)? Did you feel receptive to new ideas, more affirmed into previous ones, or perhaps noticed little to no shift at all? 

The pursuit of a more satisfactory relationship with your body arguably will not happen overnight, or in explosive ways. I find it is more about the incremental, intentional baby steps towards valuing what your body can do for you, seeing it more as a teammate than an opponent, addressing the experiences that informed the deeper beliefs you have about yourself that manifest in how you view your body, and learning to listen to it in terms of what it’s asking for physically (movement, nourishment, rest, etc.). 

 

Christian Makenna Clements is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist #111159.

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