Clients frequently come to me with negative thoughts and feelings around their body and want to work on their body image issues. They want to get to a place of loving their body and feeling good in their body. Or at the very least, they want less of the self-critical noise in their heads and more body acceptance.
Many of these folks have had eating disorders or disordered eating and have made huge progress away from restrictive eating and toward fully honoring their desires and needs to eat. They have also already tried the classic “body image builders” like trying to be grateful for what their body can do, finding one or more things about their body that they do like, focusing on self-care, and avoiding certain media images while seeking out body affirming online sources.
They have tried and tried with these things, and yet they still have chronic or cyclical disgust with their bodies and within their bodies. So naturally they feel frustrated and hopeless. They feel like failures. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just love or accept my body?
I know it is so easy to think that your body image issues are your fault. But actually your body image struggles are not on you. Not at all. You didn’t cause yourself to have body hate and loathing. You didn’t choose it, and it’s not your responsibility to fix it.
Maybe you’ve been told, directly or indirectly, that your body is not okay. Your body is not valuable. Your body is not your own. Your body is unsafe. Your body is disgusting. Your body is wrong. That you owe it to other people to try to make your body look a certain way and if you don’t achieve that, you deserve rejection and shame.
Maybe you have had pain in your body or your body is unreliable and limits you. Or your body doesn’t fit who you are. Or maybe you feel like your body fits who you are, but others make inaccurate assumptions about you based on how they see your body.
But instead of your fear and suffering getting supported and acknowledged, you are now told that you have body image “issues”, and you need to work on these issues to feel better. Instead of your family or your culture actually changing in ways that allow you to feel safe and unconditionally valued regardless of your particular body, you get the message that your painful experiences around your body are silly or entitled. And that your failure to accept your body is one more thing that’s wrong with you and reflects weakness, a bad attitude or a lack of gratitude.
Does this seem unfair and wrong to you? If so, I invite you to stop for a moment and take a breath. If you are feeling frustrated and stuck about your body image, ask yourself, what if none of this is my fault? What if it doesn’t mean anything about me as a person? What if I am allowed to let go of carrying all of this pressure around loving and accepting my body?
Letting go of your sense of responsibility around your body struggles might feel like giving up hope of a better experience of your body. But paradoxically, when you liberate yourself from believing that you and your inability to find body positivity are the problem, it can open up space for peace and acceptance. You can breathe. You can be, just as you are. If you feel like trying tools or strategies to feel more acceptance with your body, these endeavors are no longer layered with shame or shoulds or obligations for correcting yourself. Because you don’t need correcting. You just need to be you, a person who may have been held down and twisted up but who is, in heart and spirit, beautiful and unique and free.