We live in a society that glorifies weight loss and thinness. From a young age, we receive messages that equate our worthiness to how closely we fit to the conventional standard of beauty and the “thin ideal.” It’s no surprise that many of us are plagued with negative thoughts about our bodies that can wreck havoc on our self-esteem and ability to live a fulfilling life.
Recently, I got a “terrible’ haircut” (i.e. much shorter than I wanted) that reminded me of how painful and challenging it can be to accept your physical body, especially in recovery from disordered eating or an eating disorder.
After my haircut I called a friend, upset. They reminded me that it was “just hair” and that “I’ve dealt with harder things in my life.” Although I agreed, I couldn’t shake the feeling that a part of my identity was gone and I wasn’t happy about it.
The truth is I didn’t have to LIKE my hair. That being said, I had a choice to make. I could either stay miserable or I could ACCEPT what was in the present moment. To accept my new haircut, I found myself turning to many of the techniques that I use with my clients as they work towards body acceptance.
Feel your feelings.
Accepting your body means letting go of the desire to control what you look like. It also means challenging the idea that looking a certain way will bring you happiness and fulfillment. This can be a painful process, which I liken to grief. Initially, I noticed that I felt angry both at myself for not being clear about what I wanted and at the hairdresser for misunderstanding me. This was followed by disappointment and sadness. Eventually, these emotions dissipated and I began to feel content. I share this with you because these emotions are normal and nothing to be ashamed about. Rather, acknowledging how you are feeling is the first step towards acceptance.
Remember that your body is a vehicle.
Your body is just that, a body. It does not represent who you are as a person. Despite what the disordered voice tells you, having the “perfect body” will NOT lead to happiness or a sense of fulfillment. Our bodies are constantly changing, even over the course of the day. Therefore, happiness and self-esteem based on your body is temporary and fleeting. So what are some other areas you can focus on as sources of happiness and self-esteem? Ask yourself some questions:
What brings me joy?
What excites me?
What adds meaning and value to me life?
Utilize healthy coping skills.
Recognize when ruminating about your body isn’t serving you and turn to a healthy distraction. This might mean calling or texting your friend, planning a date night, taking a relaxing bath, or even working on a craft project. The purpose is not to ignore your feelings, but to remind yourself of what your body can do for you that isn’t related to your physical appearance.
Avoid the 2 C’s: Comparing & Checking
Body checking and comparisons are both behaviors that are intended to relieve anxiety about your body, but ultimately negatively impact your self-esteem. Comparisons can take many forms. Frequently my clients talk about comparing their bodies to others on social media and while they are out and about in NYC. So, pretty much all the time. Have you ever heard the saying, comparison is the thief of joy? After my haircut, I found myself comparing my hair to everyone I passed on the street. Suddenly everyone had long, gorgeous hair and I was flooded with a wave of envy and regret. Comparing did NOT help, it just made me feel miserable!
Body checking can be any behavior that is used to monitor your body size. Some common forms of body checking include: weighing, taking progress photos, measuring, and analyzing a certain part of your body in the mirror. One techniques to stop comparing and checking is to monitor how often you engage in a certain behaviors and then systematically cut down the frequently and/or duration. For example, if you take progress photos once a week, you could cut down to once a month.
Overcoming the two C’s can take time and determination. I will be providing more techniques in my next blog post.