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Why is it So Hard for me To Like My Body? & What Can I Do?

Body image is one of the most complicated issues that mental health therapists work with in regards to their client care. That means it is likely if you have tried to heal/ gain positive body image on your own, you have met a few barriers or possibly even worsened the way you feel about how you look. You may wonder why developing positive body image is such a difficult task, so first let’s explore some of the many factors that have been proven to impact body image.



Cultural Pressures on Beauty

The culture we live in often highlights the idea that if you look a certain way you will have a happy, successful, confident, carefree life. Often, individuals believe that if they are unhappy in their lives that changing the way their body looks will fix these issues. Common issues I see relate to individuals thinking they can fix how they “feel” by engaging in disordered fixing behaviors our society tells us is “healthy” or “good for us”. This is damaging for body image because it places your value and the way you see your body heavily on how you eat, the size of clothing you wear, the type of body you have, how you look when you get ready, etc. There are so many cultural pressures that impact someone being able to like their body because of unrealistic standards and demands that are set by our culture.


“Thin Ideal” Pressures


Often individuals do not believe they can be happy or enjoy the way their body looks until they are within a certain weight range. This effects individuals of all different weights and bodies, even individuals who have “thin privilege” can often feel as if they need to lose weight or change the way they eat/ exercise due to fears of not fitting in, or being viewed a certain negative way from others.


Mental Health/ Traits

Sometimes individuals are more prone to developing body image critical thoughts and behaviors. Often, we see that individuals who are more perfectionistic are more likely to develop life-long hypercritical responses with their actions and their body image. Why perfectionism? Perfectionistic traits are often largely associated with someone who is an excellent problem solver who has become hypervigilant and overly aware of any kind of perceived flaw, whether it’s behavioral or appearance related. Perfectionists often do not believe they are perfectionistic; however, they do find themselves in a vicious cycle of self-blame or self-criticism. Individuals who struggle with anxiety often are highly at risk for developing chronic and continuous body image issues. Individuals with body image issues often are over thinkers, and often feel perceived judgment for everyday tasks such as: eating in front of others, wearing the “right” thing when going out, worrying about looking a certain way or being overly critiqued from someone else. These are two of the many things that can intensify or impact body image.


Family Pressures

People often worry that family members will judge them or view them poorly if they do not look a certain way. Often individuals with family members who have high expectations of the individual it is difficult for the person to develop mental flexibility in relation to their body image because they worry about disappointing family members or failing family if they do not present in a certain way. Family pressures can largely impact body image issues by loved ones putting a large amount of value on the way individuals look which can intensify the rigid expectations the person has of themselves and the way they look.


 


How to Work Towards Gaining Body Image


Now that we have addressed some of the reasons (there are MANY more) that can influence your views of your body, let’s explore some basics of how you can work to heal your body image. These are some basic concepts which can help you navigate some of the difficult body image issues you may be facing.


Holding Judgement


Acknowledge no matter what kind of body you are in, that you may be judged at some point. Often people are so worried about being judged or criticized that they continue the diets, workout plans, shopping, plastic surgery’s or so forth. Know that no matter what you look like, someone may judge you. This is a difficult thing for people to accept, but accepting this fact will actually set you free and ensure you are making decisions off of WHAT MAKES YOU FEEL GOOD vs. what you think will make you look good for the approval of others. Learning to accept that you cannot control judgement is a freeing moment that can help you move towards mental flexibility with yourself.


Appreciating Yourself for Your “You-ness”


It is often easy to feel as if your body does not look good enough due to your unique attributes. Did you know that many of the beauty icons we have idealized over time were told because of their unique attributes they wouldn’t “make it”? For example, Marilyn Monroe and Cindy Crawford were told her beauty mark would be a large barrier for their careers, when in reality many started viewing this as a sign of beauty and replicating it. For yourself, if you have attributes, you often find yourself judging your appearance off of your unique attributes, remember that unique qualities are often in how you perceive them. If you view these characteristics in a positive or neutral manner, you may grow to appreciate them rather than judge.



Normalize Bad Body Image Days


Society likes to say that if you have a bad body image day you have to do something to “fix” the way your body looks. Often our culture says that you should: diet, get a new exercise routine start shopping, getting injectables or surgeries to fix these body image issues. Know that it is actually TOTALLY NORMAL for you to have a bad body image day. If you want to engage in these behaviors, wait until you are feeling either neutral or more positive about your body. Often individuals engage in these behaviors to make them “feel better” or more attractive. This can be dangerous for some individuals because it can often communicate to the person that they need to engage in these behaviors to “fix themselves”. It can start as an innocent way to help the person feel more comfortable, but over time it can start to establish a belief for the person that they need something material to heal their body image. Overtime, these behaviors do not work for the person and they feel as if they need something new to feel better and continue a cycle of looking for superficial things to heal their body image. Instead of looking for something external to fix your bad body image day, try looking inward. Asking yourself questions like “what else is going on today that could be affecting the way I view my body?”. Questions of exploring what other influences could be negatively impacting the way you see your body will help your brain to not immediately jump to body criticism.



Compassionate Response vs. Critical

Compassion is NOT someone saying positive affirmations to themselves to fix how they feel. It is more of recognizing and validating emotional responses, and learning how to support yourself in a compassionate way rather than critical response. Often individuals believe if they are mean enough to themselves it will “motivate” themselves to be “better/ more accomplished”. In reality, self-criticism actually hinders body image and overall development of self-esteem.

Vocabulary:


*Thin privilege is a term used in this blog. It is often described as the privilege someone has by not having discrimination or judgement from their institution or interpersonally due to the size of their bodies. Someone with thin privilege can still see themselves as not thin enough or in need of weight loss, they are just not faced with discrimination from our society or assumptions of their health from the way their body looks.


Deanna Smith, LCSW


This blog is not meant as therapeutic advice, rather to provide education. If you or a loved one is struggling with disordered eating, or body image issues know that there are many educated qualified mental health therapists and dieticians who are well-versed in these complicated issues. Please seek therapeutic & nutritional support if disordered eating or body image concerns are impacting your life.


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