Every woman I know has struggled with body image. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably felt the pressure to balance being kind to yourself, physically and mentally, with high standards of beauty. How can we possibly navigate living in a society that values an ideal that would mean sacrificing health for most to achieve? We must be aware of the dynamics at play and have tools to combat them. Ultimately, we can make an impact on culture, but it starts with us. It starts with a healthy body image.
What is Body Image?
Body image is how we view our bodies in our own minds. When we think about our bodies, certain words and images come up. Where did they come from? Our body image forms and evolves over time, influenced by thousands of messages. Maybe the other kids made fun of you at school. “How’s the weather down there?” was one I heard often in middle school. “Okay,” I thought, “so I’m short, and that’s bad.” My body image was forming. Maybe your family made comments about your weight. Maybe no one said anything directly to you, but you heard your mother’s frequent comments about how she needed to lose weight. “I can’t ever be fat,” you thought, “that’s bad.” At the very least, you’ve noticed models, actresses, or advertisements portraying a certain body type. That body type must be ideal. That look is the standard. Your body image was forming.
How we view ourselves has a powerful influence over the choices we end up making to care for ourselves. If we hate the way we look, we may feel unworthy to enjoy our food and won’t nourish ourselves well. We can’t get to our best health without exploring and nurturing our mental, emotional and physical health. There are people who stand to make a lot of money when we feel inadequate. They are fighting for our mental space. Let’s fight back.
What can we do?
The first step is breaking down the walls of shame and self-hatred. Here are some truths to add to your arsenal: you are worthy of love and good care; skinny does not equal healthy; you are enough; we are made to be a variety of shapes and sizes and there’s beauty in that; you can be healthy in your body, regardless of your weight.
Be kind to yourself; check your self-talk and change it to focus on what you like about yourself, what your body can do versus how you look. Think abouteverything that you’ve achieved with your body, your ability to move and get strong and even bear children. Here’s another: watch what you say out loud about yourself to your friends or in front of your kids. Instead of saying, “I need to lose weight”, say,
“I really want to get active and feel better”. Unfollow social media accounts that make you feel bad about your body instead of encouraged and empowered.
When we right the way we view ourselves, we change the way we care for ourselves. We can be at the weight that’s right for us, appreciate our bodies, and enjoy our food. We can have our best energy, best health and live in freedom. Your body is powerful, capable and beautiful, but it’s also not the most valuable thing about you. Maybe your goal is to think about your body with more kindness, respect and compassion, or maybe it would be more helpful for you to simply think less of your body. It’s an awesome body, and also, it’s just a body. Everyone has one. None are perfect. This is a practice that takes time to master. Once you’ve been doing it for a while, you will experience incredible freedom. It doesn’t mean you won’t struggle with your thoughts. It means you’ll have truth ready to replace those thoughts you’re rejecting. It means you’ll fight back.
I’m with you, sister.
Ronika Kim, RD, LD
Intuitive Eating and Body Image Dietitian