I recently talked with a client about the dog that is a very special part of her life. She described how much she loves the dog’s body. With keen sensory awareness, she talked about the way the dog feels, her warmth, and the soft pressure as her pooch curls up next to her. It blew my client’s mind when I replied, “It’s mutual. The dog loves your body, too!”
At first, my client looked at me like I had three heads. Then she felt the revelation. This body, the one that she has hated for many decades as she battled anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating, is actually lovable! In fact, there is a sweet little pup who loves her warmth and softness and cuddliness, who jumps up and down when she sees her. And this little dog doesn’t just love the idea of her or who she represents, this little dog loves her feel, her smell, her actual physical body just as it is.
It was so helpful for my client to see just how relative our feelings about our bodies can be. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines body image is as “the subjective picture or mental image of one’s own body.” The way that we “see” our bodies can be very different from what others see, especially other beings that love us.
Let’s take a look at ways in which you might be promoting either a negative, critical or a more accepting, nurturing body image -- and how you might move closer to the latter.
- Do you measure your self with a one-dimensional surface? Notice how often you check your body -- or parts of your body -- in the mirror. How often do you step on a scale? How does this make you feel about yourself?
One way to decrease negative feelings about your body is to vow to only observe your body in the mirror with a trusted friend or therapist present, so that you always get a more objective person’s view. The rest of the time, make a conscious effort to not check out your stomach (or whatever part of your body is a target for negative feelings) in the mirror. Decreasing scale-checking and mirror-checking will positively effect your self-esteem. It will also help you shift away from focusing on the body as the most important part of your self.
- Do you wear clothes that are comfortable and fit well -- or do you squeeze your body into too-tight clothes so that you feel forced to eat less -- or reminded all day about how much you don’t feel good in your body?
If you want to feel better in your body all day, then find the clothes in your wardrobe (or treat yourself to some new ones) that fit well, make you feel good, and allow for flexibility with your own body fluctuations.
- Do you displace negative feelings onto your body by focusing on particular body parts?
Some things to explore: Do you focus on your tummy when there are “core” issues that you really want to work on? Do you focus on your hair when issues of control are on the front burner? Think about your particular body angst and what it could be telling you are the real concerns underneath. Journal about this or talk to a trusted friend or therapist about these feelings. We can begin to let go of negative feelings that we contain in our bodies if we acknowledge first that they are there.
- Do you wake up in the morning scrutinizing your body and focusing on every ache and pain and defect -- or do you wake up with self-care and acknowledgement of the miracle that having this body really is?
If you want to start the day feeling more positive about your body, then remember that those negative thoughts and feelings are just what they are (thoughts and feelings) and they can be changed. We say “fake it until you make it.” Even if you don’t quite believe them, vow to give yourself positive messages every morning, until it becomes a habit to wake up this way. For example, try “I feel vital and strong and I am going to be effective today” or “I am unique and lovable just the way that I am.” Or write your own valentine.
One of my wise clients recently shared with me something that she read: “What if everyone woke up in the morning and asked, ‘How can I bring more love into the world today?’ How would our days be different?” Let’s start making our days different by first loving ourselves: body, mind, and spirit. If you don’t really believe you have a lovable body, then spend some time with a dog, like my client did. You’ll soon know how irresistible that sweet body of yours can be!