Everyone struggles with body image issues, but you don’t have to let them prevent you from living well.
By Rachel Hershenberg, PhD
I dread going to the pool or beach, knowing how bad I’ll feel about myself in a bathing suit. Any advice?
Part of this may involve a fear that others will be judging your looks. It’s common to think that everyone else sees and fixates on all of our flaws, when in reality most people are occupied by their own feelings of self-consciousness.
I encourage you to write out a list of the most painful things your “imaginary audience” might think of you—“She’s really let herself go,” or whatever it might be. Then ask yourself if it actually matters: Is there a true consequence if they do have those thoughts? What is the worst that would happen? Consider that you could actually tolerate more than you give yourself credit for.
As for judging yourself: What do your harsh and critical voices sound like? Do you tell yourself you’re fat or lazy? Do you sneer at yourself for lack of self-control? Write those thoughts down. Then step back and reflect on the impact that reading (or hearing) such statements has on your mood.
Next, try writing out what you’d like to hear—the kind of supportive statements a parent, romantic partner, or best friend might offer. Maybe the positive comments would focus on a specific part of your body, such as your eyes or hair. Maybe they would praise your physical strength, or maybe the focus would shift away from your body entirely and address intangible strengths that light you up as a person.
Take a moment to reflect on how these new statements make you feel. Record the ones that help you feel better on a Post-it or in the memo app on your phone—something you can refer to as a reminder when you start to get anxious about an upcoming situation.
Finally, consider what value you find in going to the pool or beach in the first place. Is it getting out with your kids, catching up with old friends, having time to relax and soak in the sun? Close your eyes and imagine feeling at ease in your skin as you tap into those scenarios. Imagine yourself being at peace and enjoying the experience. Return to that sensation when you default to dread.
I’m not reaching my weight loss goals and it’s bringing down my mood. What can I do?
It sounds like you are giving the scale a lot of power. How you feel is being driven by a number, or trying to fit into certain clothes. Those are narrowly defined outcomes that set you up to believe you are failing.
First, try to switch your focus to what you can do to nourish your health. Each day, ask yourself: Did I make a healthy choice about what to put in my body? Did I take time to exercise, even if it was 5 minutes here and 5 minutes there? Pay attention to such day-to-day choices and learn which are serving you well and which are not. Invest your mental energy into that process, rather than berating yourself for not hitting your black-and-white goal.
Second, you have an opportunity to practice accepting yourself lovingly at whatever size you are. Acceptance does not mean giving up. It is feeling good about yourself for doing what you can to make healthier choices. It’s celebrating everything your body, as it is, does for you.
Acceptance is practicing toleration when what you see in the mirror doesn’t match what you want to see or doesn’t live up to the models of beauty portrayed in magazines or on TV. It’s knowing that it’s OK to feel sad and frustrated because of that discrepancy.
On a practical level, acceptance also might mean hopping over to the store and getting a pair of shorts that fit more comfortably!
Printed as “Ask The Therapist: Battle Over Body Image”, Summer 2018
via Esperanza – Hope To Cope
(This and our other articles are provided by some of our curated resources. We encourage readers to support them and continue to look to these sources in times of need and opportunity.)