Picture this: You are standing in the check-out line at the grocery story and notice the magazines staring back. Model faces with model bodies are smiling at you, and you begin to feel self-conscious. The next thing you know, you are looking down, feeling shame about your body and hoping that no one else is noticing and comparing it with the magazine images.
Your body image has entered the picture, and it’s not a reflection you like. How you see your body and how you think others see your body greatly affects how you feel about yourself. And how you feel about your body cannot be separated from how you treat that very same body…the fuel you give it and the activity you ask it to do.
A positive body image does not necessarily mean that you love everything about your body and have no need or desire to make any changes. It DOES mean that you have a healthy self-identity, can appreciate the positive things that your body can do, and can enjoy life for the moment, instead of waiting until you are a certain weight.
So what can you do? Where do you start to make a change from a negative to a positive body image? When you look in the mirror, does it reflect the REAL YOU or is the image distorted? It may be time to clean your mirror to improve your reflection.
The Rearview Mirror Analogy
When you drive your car, you depend on the rearview mirror to see behind you, in order to drive safely and with purpose. You also need that mirror to be clean, not cloudy or broken. Only a mirror free of dirt or broken glass can give the driver a true reflection of the situation.
And regardless of the condition of the mirror, you cannot look in your mirror constantly and continue to move forward. You must look away from the mirror to concentrate on the road ahead. In fact, most of your driving requires a steady look ahead with just an occasional glimpse in the mirror’s reflection.
Likewise, body image is the reflection you see in the mirror. The mirror often reflects what is in your past, behind you, and includes images that have been developed throughout your life. These images are influenced by things you have heard, read, and seen. Over time, dirt may have accumulated and that affects how clearly you can see reality. Or your body image might even be broken from years of abuse or neglect. Do you spend more time looking back in the mirror’s reflection, unaware that it’s broken or dirty?
To move forward, work on cleaning and repairing your mirror, or body image. Try to stay focused on the road before you instead of the path behind. This can take a lot of time and patience, but the rewards of a clear reflection help guarantee more security and confidence as you keep your eyes on the road ahead.
Where Do You Start?
First, believe that your body is capable of change. Remind yourself about all the things you have already accomplished on your road towards recovery. Next, believe that change occurs one small step at a time. No need to feel that change must happen overnight to be successful. It’s a process that takes time. Finally, believe that your body image does not have to be limited to body weight changes only. Body image changes include how we relate to other people, how much we allow our thoughts about our body to affect our moods, and how we interact socially.
Clean That “Mirror”
Make a list of positive statements about your body that emphasize the way you want to think about yourself. For example, “My body deserves and needs to be nurtured by food” or “I can enjoy a warm summer day wearing shorts regardless of my size.” Try to repeat this list to yourself at least once in the morning and once in the evening. You do not have to feel or believe any of these positive statements as you say them, but repeat them often. Just like hearing a song on the radio repetitively until you notice that one day you know every word without even trying…new words and positive statements that you repeat frequently can begin covering up the old reflections of your body and replacing it with a more nurturing one.
True change cannot be rooted in external changes that function only as a temporary band-aid to cover up the problem, but must be rooted from the inside out. To be successful in body image change, it is important to stay focused on the positive benefits that a healthy body offers you and believe in your ability to change. Implementing and maintaining these changes is an on-going lifestyle, not without set backs, but hopefully always without judgment.
By Tammy Beasley, RD, LD, CEDSN
Reprinted with permission from Eating Disorders Recovery Today
Spring 2006 Volume 4, Number 2
©2006 Gürze Books
About the Author
Tammy Beasley, RD, LD, CEDSN, is a certified eating disorder specialist currently practicing in Huntsville, AL.
Dr. Gnap website editor eatingdisordersrecoverytoday.com. Dr. Gnap is a family practice physician and behavioral medicine specialist in suburban Chicago. Dr. Gnap developed the Inner Control™ Program in 1970 and has worked with thousands of people to improve and correct medical, emotional, behavioral and learning problems including performance.