What is a Healthy Body Image?

First of all what is body image? Body image is how I look- right? No!

Body image is a mental idea about your physical body and how you look. Body image is something that constantly changes as it is based more on feeling than fact. This also makes it very vulnerable to distortion.

Let me illustrate just how vulnerable your body image can be with this story…I had a client Marge, who was working hard on improving her body image. She was taking better care of herself. She was eating healthier foods. She was also creating other sources of nurturing for herself by fostering a more caring, supportive friendship circle. She had found an exercise she enjoyed and was doing that regularly. She was really starting to feel better about herself; her self esteem and body image were improving daily and it showed. She had a bounce in her step and an excitement about her that was contagious. She started to get more attention One day she announced to me that she had been asked on a date! She was very excited.

The following week she wasn’t doing so well. I asked her what had happened? She told me that the date didn’t go as she had hoped. Marge had what I refer to as, “A Fat Attack” She felt rejected and blamed her body. “I suddenly felt so fat and ugly!” she told me. “It was the way he looked at me, I knew I’d never see him again.” Marge went into the date and left it with the same body but somewhere in there she felt like she had put on 20lbs.

How the Media Cashes in on our Vulnerability…

The media really knows how to cash in on this vulnerability. We are constantly being bombarded with images that tell us that if we look a certain way we too can enjoy success, love, happiness etc. The problem with this excessive focus on externals or how we look is that it takes us away from our internal felt sense of what has true value and meaning for us. When people move away from their truth they become disempowered. It is also really disempowering to be in a constant battle with your own body. Your body then becomes your battleground or ‘shame container’ instead of home for your psyche and spirit. It is a modern tragedy.

Narrow versus Wide Base for Self Esteem:

What exactly do I mean by ‘a narrow basis for self esteem’?

It is when your self esteem is based solely on one thing, such as how you look or how much you weigh. With such a narrow base, your self esteem is much more vulnerable to collapse.

What does ‘a wide basis for self esteem’ mean?

It is when there are other qualities that form a foundation for your self esteem. These qualities might include your fabulous personality, your talents and gifts, your smile, your contribution to your community, your culture etc. When you have a number of different things that you value about yourself your view of yourself will also be more stable, steady and solid.

Healthy body image means that you are comfortable with the body that you have. It does not mean that you think your body is perfect, rather that you accept and commit to loving and caring for it. Healthy body image means having a relationship with your body that is based on more than what you weigh. It is built on a wide basis for your self esteem. The irony is that when we feel better about ourselves research shows we also take better care of ourselves, this means we are more inclined to feed and exercise our bodies too. Our bodies can be like kids; they respond better to positive reinforcement rather than constant criticism, nagging etc. Try focusing on talking more lovingly to and about your body for a day and see if you don’t notice a difference.

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