My guess is that no matter how much internal work we do on healing our body image and coming to a place of acceptance with our body’s appearance, there will be days when we’re triggered right back into dislike, loathing or shame.
Because it’s not just about ourselves as individuals: we’re living in a thin-obsessed, youth-obsessed culture that constantly tells us our bodies are wrong to sell us stuff to fix the non-existent problem. Unless and until we reach a tipping point of people accepting their own and others’ bodies (which includes race, gender, sexual orientation, ability/disability, socio-economic status, health status etc.) people are going to suffer.
Unless you’re the Dalai Lama you’ll probably get triggered at some point.
Here are some suggestions for dealing with those bad body image moments.
1. Bring compassion to your suffering
Compassion softens the heart. It softens our fear and our suffering. Kristin Nef suggests 3 parts to a ‘self-compassion break.’
- The first is to recognise that you’re suffering. When you feel that shame or loathing – say to yourself something like ‘this is a moment of suffering’ or ‘this hurts.’ This is the mindfulness component – the awareness of what’s here now: emotional pain.
- The second is to remember your common humanity – most people in our culture have bad body image moments at least sometimes – even people whose bodies conform to the beauty ideal. You’re not the only one suffering from this. And I can guarantee you that you’re not the only one suffering at this very moment too! Have you ever agreed with a friend or loved one in a different location from you, that you’ll look at the moon at the same time? It’s a bit like that: there are others feeling the same feelings as you, right now.
- Then, say to yourself ‘May I be kind to myself.’
2. Externalise the problem
Remember that you were not born hating your body or feeling ashamed of it. You were born with curiosity and amazement for it! You internalised outside ideas that your body is a problem. Here are some reminders:
- I wasn’t born feeling this way about my body
- I was taught this by (the culture, magazines, my grandmother, parents, friend, doctor… etc.)
- Who stands to gain or profit from my body dissatisfaction? I promise you, there’s is a multi-billion £/$ industry that stands to profit from any actions you might take to change your body.
- If you’re trying on clothes:
- Clothes are not designed for all shapes – they’re typically designed for smaller, less curvy shapes and then just sized up!
- Sizes aren’t consistent between designers and manufacturers either!
- The clothes don’t fit my body well. It’s not my body that’s the problem here.
- There’s a glaring failure in imagination with clothing designers who are missing out on a huge market of larger bodied people who want to spend money on gorgeous clothes!
3. Turn your attention to ‘what’s not wrong’
Our emotional suffering almost always comes from not wanting what is here now. You’re feeling this distress because you want your body to be a different shape and you’re not accepting how it is now.
How do we want what we have?
One way is to put our attention on what’s not wrong, as Thich Nhat Hanh so beautifully articulates. As an example, we tend to appreciate our teeth and jaws when we have a toothache. We appreciate our breathing when we’re congested with a cold. We don’t tend to appreciate our teeth, jaws, or easy breathing when there’s nothing ‘wrong!’ Yet there are thousands and thousands of moments when there’s nothing wrong with most of what’s happening NOW – all those moments we miss, in which we could be experiencing appreciation or joy.
Intentionally putting our attention on what’s not wrong now, we can move to appreciation for our bodies in the present moment.
Ask yourself ‘what’s not wrong?’
Is it that you saw a sunset, snow, a hail storm, or a smiling face with your eyes?
Is it that you received a hug or felt the sensations of walking on sand or grass?
Is it that you walked today? Or woke up?
Can you sing, dance, paint, write, create?
Put your attention on what your body does for you; the experiences it enables.
4. Uncouple your self-worth from your appearance
Remember that you are worthy no matter what your body looks like. Your worthiness has nothing at all to do with your body – oh no – wrong – you’re worthy because you have a body: because you’re alive. That. Is. All.
5. What really matters to you? Reconnect with your values
What do you deeply value?
Is it peace?
Is it kindness?
Is it justice? Equality? Freedom? Love? Generosity?
What, in your heart of hearts, matters to you?
6. What’s the next doable step?
With that in mind, what small shift in attitude or action can you take or adopt now, that aligns with your deepest held values?
It’s important that we keep taking steps that align with what matters to us most – because that is how we create our most satisfying life!
Our actions create our results. If you want to experience body acceptance or body neutrality more of the time, what are the small shifts in action and attitude that are likely to create that?
7. Remember: this too shall pass
Another reason we suffer is that we live in the illusion that nothing will change. Yet everything changes. Feelings come and go. Thoughts come and go. Circumstances change. We get older. We get sick. We recover. Or we get sicker. Life ebbs and flows.
Remember that this bad body image moment is also temporary.