Are you well versed in describing the things you dislike about your body? Do you fixate on the parts you dislike, reject and want to change? You are not alone!
Toxins of societal pressures, traumas and internalized “isms” are everywhere and left unchecked, they can poison your relationship with your body. Typically, this displeasure is expressed by focusing on changing an aspect of physical appearance to become ‘more acceptable’ or by numbing out and dissociating from your body. But changing your body’s appearance or numbing it out to be more acceptable doesn’t work. It isn’t sustainable. It is also abandoning yourself, which I’ve found never brings the acceptance you long for.
Changing this abusive relationship with your body means experiencing your body differently. It means breaking down toxic internalized messages and accepting one’s self and body through unconditional compassion and empathy. Yep, Unconditional.
How many times have you thought to yourself, “I would love myself if I just had smaller/different/prettier [insert body part?” This is conditional. This is acceptance based on stipulations and conditions of worthiness. These belief patterns are learned and often pre-date the development of compensatory behaviors to change your body and are intricately tied with feelings of shame, trauma, and internalized “ism” messaging about your worthiness, (e.g. sizeism, racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc).
Unpacking these beliefs and feelings somatically allows for space to experience something different; it invites space for choice in the relationship with your body beyond the conditioned shame and disgust and it invites space for a trusting relationship with your body. Mind you, this won’t be a perfect process. We aren’t looking to travel to the opposite side of the spectrum where it’s all perfect and toxic positivity. That type of rigidity in thinking can be just as harmful. We are human; we are going to experience uncomfortable feelings about ourselves at times and pretending otherwise only invites shame about the shame! What we are looking for is space. The felt sense space between the conditioned response to shame and disgust. In that space where the possibility to experience and feel something different, perhaps even a moment of self-love, exists. And over time, these spaces may expand inviting more choices towards self compassion. When you begin to experience your body differently from the inside, the relationship you have with your appearance changes.
If you are looking for practices you can do on your own here are a few suggestions:
- Explore gratitude for what your body can do. For example, a pianist may express gratitude for their fingers for being quick, nimble and allowing beautiful musical expression with the piano. Once you’ve identified this place of gratitude, offer a moment of somatic curiosity towards that body part.
- Invite curiosity about the people and places you follow on social media. What sensations are present in your body as you scroll through your feed? Does this invite joy or discomfort? Consider using embodied discernment in choosing who to follow on social media.
If these exercises feel challenging, if you want more support in healing negative body image, or have a history of trauma or an eating disorder, consider seeking support from an embodied therapist who can support you in developing felt-sense curiosity in a safe space.
While many people are fearful of this step, the courage to unpack repressed beliefs, feelings and needs, can provide a sense of liberation, freedom and relief. Wherever you are on this journey, allow yourself time and compassion during this important step. Developing lasting change with body image may be slow yet meaningful.
By Katie Bohn, LPC, BC-DMT, SEP