In a society enthralled with selfies, surrounded by images portraying what appears to be the “ideal” body size and shape, it’s easy to feel negative about the parts of our appearance that fall outside this cookie-cutter standard. Instead of celebrating differences, body-positivity, and focusing on health; the number on the scale can become the deciding factor for mood and self-worth. Negative self-talk and self-loathing don’t help. Food ends up being viewed as an adversary instead of a life-sustaining and nurturing gift to be enjoyed. Instead of being amazed at the way our body works and how nourishment helps it function, a complicated pattern develops that can include food restriction, mindless eating, cravings, shame, self-loathing, and overeating. No one wins in this trap and stress only makes it that much more tricky. Positive self-talk and self-love are possible!
It’s easy to see how this cycle of body rejection starts, but not as easy to stop the negative self-talk.
If you haven’t already, be sure to start by reading the first two posts in this series written by Dr. Lynn Stiff and Dr. Melissa Welby to learn the tools to break the pattern of disconnection with one’s body and shift the focus from weight to health using mindful and intuitive eating. The next posts will discuss how to shift away from self-loathing surrounding body image towards empowerment, contentment and overall improved health.
Self-talk: How to shift from self-loathing to body-positivity
Words matter. The way we talk to ourselves has a huge impact on how we view ourselves, interact with others, and present ourselves in the world. Self-talk makes a difference, reinforcing patterns of self-love or self-hate. The more a particular path of thinking is followed, the stronger that belief is
The following quotes are responses to a question posed on Reddit. These responses are refreshingly real and are a great way to frame the discussion of self-talk. Colorful language and all, they paint a picture of the struggles people (mainly, but not exclusively women) face to achieve body-positivity in a culture fixated on weight.
Question about self-love and acceptance: “How do you love and accept your body when we are all set against such high standards to look perfect?“
“My SIL is one of my favorite people for talking about body stuff with because she has such a practical, functional, realistic view on it. I am fat. I know I’m fat and I really don’t care. I was chatting with her about how my doctor was trying to push this weight loss appetite suppressant med thing on me and the first thing she asked was “do you even need to lose weight though?” and that was like one of the best things I’d ever heard because not once in my life has anyone ever asked me that.
Everyone always just assumes that of course I should lose weight. All women always want to lose weight and especially me since I’m fat! And like sure my health will be better in the long run if I eat healthy and exercise more but losing weight isn’t the end goal. My baseline body size is big. It’s always been big. I’m not on someone downward spiral of constantly getting fatter and fatter. I have T shirts I wore in middle school that still fit! This is my size! I will never be what society says the ideal body should be. So fuck it. I don’t need to lose weight.”
It starts with how we talk to ourselves. Positive self-talk vs. Negative self-talk
Some people have been putting themselves down for as long as they can remember. It may be so natural, they aren’t even aware they are doing it. Calling themselves stupid may roll off their tongue as easily as “hello” or “thank-you”. Once the path of self-contempt is established, no area is off-limits: everything from body to one’s personality and brain can fall prey to this criticism.
Most people wouldn’t say the things they say to themselves to an enemy, no less a friend. So how is it that it seems okay to treat yourself like this? Undoing this pattern can take a huge effort and often professional assistance is needed for help identifying the harmful messages. Without changing the soundtrack it is hard to move forward.
Evaluating your soundtrack:
Think about your self talk over the past few months. Do you find yourself seeing others “thrive” and find yourself wondering why you can’t seem to take a shower before noon? Do you see people post about reaching fitness or health goals and wonder why you can’t just get outside and exercise? During these times, do you encourage yourself? Shame yourself? It’s one thing to be able to manage self-talk when life is going smoothly. It’s a whole different experience to manage it when life is hard and filled with stressors. The statements we tell ourselves matter.
Write down 10 messages you frequently say to yourself. When you are done, circle the ones that are positive. Are you due for an upgrade?
Body-positivity and self-love win:
“I began to wonder, even though I found people of many different shapes, sizes, and physical characteristics, physically beautiful, why I couldn’t love the way I looked. I felt I needed to achieve the conventionally attractive society standards in order to find myself physically attractive, and therefore, accept and love my body. It didn’t make sense to me and I felt guilty/hypocritical for caring about achieving those attributes, especially since I believed that other achievements and internal characteristics were so much more valuable.”
Replacing the over-played critical tapes with positive messages will help reinforce a different way of thinking. The goal is to strengthen the other pathway that has been neglected over the years: the path of self-love and body positivity. As this is practiced, feelings begin to shift, and eventually, you will believe these new messages. It won’t happen overnight, but the efforts will pay off down the road.
5 Steps to shifting the focus:
“Because the standards aren’t what define us. Our physical attributes are as diverse as our minds and thoughts, people won’t love and care for you because of how you look. They won’t remember you for it either, but I can ensure you that your actions, words (good and bad), merits, values etc. That is things people may remember you by. I don’t say it’s unimportant to take care of yourself, but it must be because you want to, not feel pressured to”.
Many people find it awkward and uncomfortable to replace critical messages with positive ones. It’s amazing how hard it is to be kind to ourselves! It’s not easy to stay body-positive when faced with the pressures of society.
Follow these 5 steps to get started on body- positivity:
- What is something you want to believe about yourself but don’t yet? Write it down.
- Write it as “I am right just the way I am” not as “I want to believe I’m okay” or “I will be perfect if XYZ happens”
- Say it to yourself in the mirror. Write it on the mirror. Leave sticky notes with this message all over your house, office, or car.
- Get up the courage to tell someone close to you. “I’ve been working on improving my self-image and could use some support. If you hear me slip into negative self-talk please remind me that’s not the path I want to go down”
- What can you do for your body that supports these positive messages? Some people find regular physical activity and strength training to be great ways to celebrate their bodies. It also can be as simple as appreciating the role of your body in everyday life: walking, lifting, laughing, etc.
Practice, Practice, Practice Positive Self-Talk
While you are working to shift these messages from negative to positive, continue to practice mindful and intuitive eating. (Need assistance? Download Dr. Stiff’s free Mindful and Intuitive Eating Workbook). These tools provide the essential foundation to help hasten your escape from the body-shaming cycle. Remember, this is not something that is going to change in a day. When you find yourself off-track, remind yourself that these are long-time habits but that you deserve more and will continue to work to change them.
The next post in the series will focus on how and why the attention needs to shift away from weight and instead to one’s overall health.