Let’s forget body positivity for the moment!
We hear a lot about body positivity and the goal of building more acceptance, appreciation, and compassion for your body. The truth is, though, addressing poor body image doesn’t mean that you have to love your body in order to feel a sense of well-being in your life. For a start, it’s most helpful to focus on reducing the power your body image has in your life. That way, your body doesn’t dictate how you feel on a given day. Even more importantly, it doesn’t dictate your self-worth more broadly. For now, it’s not about achieving a more positive view of your body; it’s about reducing the impact your body has on your life.
If that’s hard to imagine, think about a bad hair day. Hopefully, when you have a bad hair day, you can still get out of the house and go about your business. Maybe you throw on a hat or put your hair in a ponytail. Still, the bad hair doesn’t impact your value as a person or your sense of worth overall.
Many people who struggle with poor body image will share that a bad body day can obliterate the day and color it with feelings of failure and shame. So that is the problem. For some, body weight and shape have a profound impact on their sense of value as human beings. On good body days, they may feel invigorated, confident, and happy, and on bad body days, they feel completely miserable.
Now, you might say that body is different than hair. “My hair is just my hair, but my body is more impactful and says more about me as a person.” And that’s exactly the point! We have to reduce the ability of your body to define you.
And just to note: This idea doesn’t mean you just throw it all away and never care about your body or appearance again. I mean, you still brush your hair and get a haircut once in a while. It just doesn’t have such a powerful impact.
Building balance in your life reduces the impact of shape and weight.
Ideally, there are a range of different pursuits in our lives that fuel our self-esteem. For example, your sense of value and self-worth overall may be shaped by a combination of your performance at work, your artistic abilities, and your role in important relationships. It may also be shaped by your appearance and body shape or weight. But in this case, it is a nice, balanced pie chart with a wide range of slices or areas that influence your self-esteem. If things aren’t going so well in one domain, like work for example, as long as the other areas are intact and going alright, hopefully, you’ll still feel ok about yourself overall.
Let’s say performance at work took over your pie chart, and all of your identity was wrapped around work success. Imagine you were spending all your time in the office and little time on social life, recreation, family involvement, etc. If you lost your job, it could be a real blow to your self-esteem and identity – all the more because you don’t have much to fall back on to prop you up.
It’s natural to want to feel good about your body and for your body to be part of your identity. For some people, though, body weight and shape become totally central to how they see themselves. Other important domains are neglected and may fall by the wayside.
This scenario is a common one in eating disorders. It’s not unusual for body shape and weight to be the dominant influence on self-esteem and self-worth and for other important areas of life to become neglected by comparison. Food and weight control can be all-encompassing. The extreme effort means that there is not much time or energy for investment in other things. The more energy invested in controlling food and weight, the less energy there is for other things. We end up with too many eggs in one basket.
Join us next week for the third blog in our body image series. We’re going to introduce a method for reducing the impact poor body image is having on your life.
If you or a loved one is experiencing negative body image or eating concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact us here at Columbus Park. We can help!