5 Ways To Reclaim Your Body Image

By Rebecca Clegg

As I was at the checkout line at the supermarket yesterday, I found myself looking at the magazine rack that is placed, innocently, no doubt, right there amidst the candy and other temptations you don’t really need but find yourself considering every time you go to pay.  It’s the beginning of the year – Diet Season. And it oozed from the magazine rack with all its judgmental glory.

One magazine’s entire cover was devoted to headless shots of ‘celebrity’ bodies, dividing the best from the worst, with florescent circles and arrows pointing out cellulite, flab, and less than firm areas of flesh. 

Another one featured a splash of celebrities in gym clothing and swim attire, promising to provide the diet secret never before revealed that will make 2017 your best year ever!

Yet another cover offered up Gwyneth Paltrow’s Skinny diet secrets along side an article that promised to give you 15 tips for firming and toning.

I could go on and on, but I’ll cut to the chase. Every single magazine with the exception of Time Magazine made mention of weight loss, Fat, Dieting, or Body Image. And as it so happens, Time Magazine’s focus was on how to eat (in today’s world (organic vs. processed food, etc…).

And you wonder why we are obsessed with our weight, food, and how our bodies look?

My mood shifted as I read the headlines on each of the magazines. I felt anger and disgust, resignation and sympathy all at once.

The fact that we are a culture obsessed with weight and body image did not come as a surprise to me.  This unfortunate truth is something I have been aware of for a long time.  We are a nation that is brainwashed.  Socially conditioned to believe that our weight and the shape of our body is a critical component of our worth. 

What I found myself connecting to was how vital it is that we be proactive in our efforts to detach ourselves from this unhealthy obsession.  I often tell clients as we are working together that the moment they leave my office, they will be inundated with 100’s of messages, overt and covert, which will directly contradict everything we have talked about during the session. 

One hour a week of focusing on loving your body and feeling good about yourself as opposed to a constant barrage of messages telling you that being thin is a necessary component to being worthwhile, and that you are not good enough as you are, is hardly a fair ratio.  

I don’t point this out to be pessimistic, or to rain on their parade as the saying goes. 

I do this to create a seat for empathy, so as to help them understand that this obsession with body image and dieting is something they have been taught, and to highlight that the indoctrination of thought continues on a daily basis. 

Understanding this helps clients to understand that in order to change their body image and general focus, consistent, repetitive proactive measures must be taken. 

Look at this as though there are two bank accounts.  The Negative Body Image Account, and the Positive Body Image Account.  Each Day through media and other interaction with people, we (knowingly, and unknowingly) make deposits into the negative body image account.  You must take it upon yourself to start depositing into the positive body image account, as you are likely to “draw” from the account with the most “money” in it.

What can you do to offset the constant stream of body obsession and negativity?

Here are a few ways to begin to change your focus and rebuild your self worth and body image:

Go On A Media Detox:  Commit to putting aside any and all magazines, blogs, television shows, or various forms of media that emphasize body size, dieting, weight obsession or generally make you feel like you need to work harder in order to be worthy.  If this feels impossible or overwhelming, start small. Choose just one, or perhaps just do this for a week. 

Indulge in Positive Messages:  If exposure to body shaming media hurts your self esteem, then deductive reasoning would have it that body positive media could help build your self esteem.   There are a number or books, blogs, movies, and documentaries that serve to build and empower the body image and self worth of women in our culture.  Be proactive, and seek them out.  It is that which we place our attention on that becomes our focus. You choose.

Affirm the Positive:  Find 5 things about you or your body that you are grateful for and repeat your gratitude for these things daily.  I don’t get hung up around specifics (i.e. 10x’s a day vs. 50x’s a day).  The only thing I know is that learning is centered on repetition, and the more you repeat something, the more it becomes accepted.  Some people choose to do this in the form of a gratitude journal, and others prefer to make these affirmations their daily mantras, incorporating them into meditation or quiet time. 

Practice ACT: ACT stands for Acceptance and Commitment therapy.  ACT basically espouses the following:  We are culturally indoctrinated with certain thoughts.  To try and change those thoughts is nearly impossible.  It is much kinder, loving, and quite frankly, easier, to accept those thoughts as what they are - old cultural ideas that have just gotten in your head.  Then you move on to commitment to change.  Commitment to living from a kinder, gentler thought that is more aligned with what you want to believe.

Practice Non-Judgment: When you are out in the world, or watching television, practice-seeing beauty in all women, of all shapes and size.  If you notice a judgment arise regarding size, or shape, recognize this as cultural brainwashing, and choose to see the beauty that is there.  This practice is especially helpful to reclaim our subjective beliefs around beauty and shed our social conditioning. 

Rebecca Clegg, NCC, LPC, is the president and founder of Authentic Living, an Atlanta based psychotherapy private practice specializing in the treatment of women in recovery from eating disorders, compulsive overeating & emotional eating, and individuals seeking assistance in their weight management efforts.  She is also the founder of Life Beyond The Diet, an online community that offers health coaching and educational programs focused on helping women heal their relationship with food and create an overall healthier lifestyle. www.lifebeyondthediet.com