BODY IMAGE: THE “LOVING YOUR PET” ANALOGY
I love helping people explore issues around their body/weight/shape/size (I talk more about my approach in my post “The 180-Degree Difference”). In my experience working within this specialty for over a decade now, it doesn’t matter what a person’s weight, BMI, or clothing size is: virtually no one is happy with their appearance. Many changes are possible when we work on these issues, but negative body image usually takes the longest and is the most challenging part to heal.
Body image is not your objective body/weight/shape/size. Rather, it is the mental (subjective) picture you have of your own body in your own head. Negative body image is when you are convinced that you are unattractive and that your body/weight/shape/size is a sign of personal failure. It’s when you feel so ashamed, self-conscious, and anxious about your body that it contributes to your feeling awkward and uncomfortable inside it. Body dysmorphia is negative body image on steroids: it is a disabling preoccupation with perceived defects or flaws in appearance that can rise to the level of actual delusions (i.e. beliefs that are firmly held despite ample evidence to the contrary). One of my favorite ways to help someone get a new perspective on their own body image is to use their beloved pet’s body as a stand-in for their own.
Just like all the different races of humans come from a common ancestor, all the different breeds of dogs come from a common ancestor. Over the centuries, some breeds have grown prominent and look markedly different from other breeds, but there is also a lot of interbreeding which results in a high level of variability of appearances within the species as a whole.
YOU are perfectly yourself too, right now, just the way you are, no matter what anyone else looks like. This is true regardless of your height, weight, jeans size, body fat percentage, or measurements.
- A clear, true perception of your shape — you see the various parts of your body as they really are.
- You celebrate and appreciate your natural body shape and you understand that a person’s physical appearance says very little about their character and value as a person.
- You feel proud and accepting of your unique body and refuse to spend an unreasonable amount of time worrying about food, weight, and calories.
- You feel comfortable and confident in your body.
- Body neutrality is falling asleep thinking about anything — anything — other than your body and what you’ll change tomorrow in the hopes of it alerting eventually.
- Body neutrality is freedom from the obsession with our bodies entirely.
- Body neutrality is a blank slate.
- Body neutrality is a starting point.
- Body neutrality is a foundation.
- Body neutrality is the place from which we can work toward building body positivity.
- Know yourself. Get to know your body, your emotions, your values, your personality, your dreams, your likes, and your dislikes.
- Appreciate who you (and your body) are. What are your strengths? What are your limitations? What are your desires? What do you like about your body/self? Talk to yourself with self compassion, as if you were your own best friend with these body image issues or your own beloved pet with these body imperfections.
- Demonstrate your appreciation of yourself to yourself the same way you would demonstrate your appreciate of your child to your child.
- Be real. You were born to be YOU, not plastic or perfect. Check out Beauty Redefined, Beautiful You, and The 10 Will-Powers for Improving Body Image.
- Value and nurture the body you have. What do your personal hunger and fullness cues feel like? What foods does your body want? What movement is joyful to your body and leaves it energized? How much rest and what kind of healing does your body need in order to work at ITS optimal level? What clothes feel good on your body? What assistance does your body need in order to handle the demands (i.e. responsibilities, stressors) it encounters in your daily life?
- Value others’ bodies as they are. Join the efforts of Operation Beautiful. Send others silent blessings for their well-being (rather than silent judgements on their appearance). Encourage your children to value their own bodies, including role-modeling it for them at home and out in public (they learn more from what we do than what we say).