How is your relationship with your body right now? Here we examine some terms that will help you get your feelings across and what you personally strive for
Our relationships with our bodies are usually … complicated, and for many of us the pandemic has just more complicated matters. As our lifestyles changed, some of our bodies changed and others resorted to unhealthy coping mechanisms. As we slowly start seeing people again and unhelpful marketing campaigns screaming that lockdown will lose weight gain, body image issues can surface.
I thought I was fed up with body image issues after having an eating disorder when I was young. During my recovery, I made peace with my body, and after a whole lot of unlearning, I came (dare I say) to love it.
But then there was lockdown and the lifestyle change changed my body too. I felt totally good about it at the time, but when social invitations started popping up, I began to worry that others would notice this change. It showed me that, yes, even after all the work I put into it, I still have a lot to do.
Something that has helped me during my winding journey is using the right language for my body image goals. A lot of phrases and terms get thrown around these days, including some that have been twisted over time, so it’s not surprising that we can get confused.
Here we would like to explain some terms and their meanings so that you can identify which is the right target for you.
It’s all about feeling neutral about your body. It’s about not spending time and energy hating yourself, but also not forcing yourself to feel “good” about your body. This approach can be the first step towards a positive body image, but it can also be an ultimate goal. For anyone with chronic health conditions, disabilities, body dysmorphism, and / or a history of eating disorders, the idea of loving their body can feel unreachable.
Becky Wright, Happiful’s brand and social strategist, explains why body neutrality is her goal and how counseling helped her during the pandemic.
“I have a history of body image, nutrition, and exercise problems; I’ve experienced exercise addiction and orthorexia, but I’ve never had a formal diagnosis of an eating disorder. In the past, I had never felt “worthy enough” to seek professional support – maybe because I’d never been diagnosed, or maybe because I didn’t want to admit that my behavior in the food culture was really a problem.
“I have learned and healed a lot myself in recent years, but I found the pandemic particularly difficult. As with many people, lockdowns took their toll on my mental health and I began to resort to old destructive habits to regain a sense of control. It was then that I decided to contact a counselor for assistance. I was a little hesitant about starting online therapy for the first time, but I thought I owed it to myself to try.
“My counselor is an integrative psychotherapist who combines various therapeutic approaches and that really appealed to me. I wanted to look back to see what caused my body image issues, and I look forward to working through some actionable strategies that could help me question my thoughts and behavior. “
Becky says therapy helped her cope with the fact that she may always have body image issues, and that’s fine.
“I think I have always lived in the hope that one day I will love the way I look, but body awareness is not necessarily available to everyone.
“More importantly, I’ve come to appreciate that there are steps I can take to limit the effects of eating culture on me and the time I spend thinking about my body. For me, a more accepting or neutral attitude is all I want to strive for. “
While admitting that she still has a lot to do after her sessions, Becky describes the counseling as “a welcome hand to hold during a particularly difficult time” and recommends anyone seeking therapy for body image issues Seek a HAES (Health at Every Size) -oriented professional or someone who helps with intuitive eating.
Moving a little closer to the other end of the spectrum, body acceptance is about respecting your body and accepting it for who it is. The goal here is to change the way you think about your body from a negative and critical to a grateful and accepting way.
Another term that you may want to research here is “radical acceptance”. Radical acceptance, described as the ability to tolerate stress, aims to prevent “pain” from turning into “suffering”. It does this by encouraging you to accept your reality without trying to change it. When we are able to radically accept what is beyond our control, we can save ourselves from getting stuck in suffering.
If your goal is body acceptance, here are some tips to get you started:
- Start a gratitude practice around your body, focusing on what it can do instead of what it looks like.
- Include body-oriented self-care into your routine. This can include anything from regular massages and long baths to body movement that feels good to the touch.
- Try affirmations, if that’s good for you, choose a phrase that focuses on body acceptance (e.g., “I accept my body for what it is”).
- Try self-compassion meditation. The more compassionate we can be towards ourselves, the more likely it is that it will affect our bodies.
When we are comfortable and happy with our bodies, we feel more confident in our bodies. So this takes things further and really feels pride and love for our bodies. It is very personal as it is about you and your body. For some this goes without saying, but for others it can be a struggle.
What can complicate the journey to body awareness is the social message we face that perpetuates unrealistic expectations of beauty. There are still ideas about what makes a person beautiful and usually it comes down to what a body should look like. This can make it difficult for anyone who doesn’t fit into their shape to be comfortable in their body, and this is where unlearning comes in.
In order to feel safe in our body, we need to understand that every body type is beautiful. It can be helpful to educate yourself about food culture and learn more about the damage it causes. You may also want to research our last term on the list … Body Positivity.
You might think this term is about feeling “positive” about your body, right? Well, technically not. Many people use the term to associate it with body confidence, but body positivity is actually a political movement that has its roots in the fat acceptance movement of the late 1960s.
So it’s not about feeling positive about your own body, but rather recognizing that every body deserves respect and inclusion. It is about rejecting food culture and social messages and liberating the rights of marginalized bodies and fighting for them.
Fat, queer, disabled, trans, and black bodies are often the most marginalized and yet, as the term body positivity has grown in popularity, these bodies continue to be removed from the discussion. Some choose to reject the body positivity community entirely because their message has been watered down.
To be body positive, it’s important to realize that it’s not just about you and your body. Of course, having body awareness is great, but body positivity is bigger than your personal journey. It is about questioning the social image of bodies and promoting the acceptance of marginalized bodies.
Wherever you are in your journey to body image, you know that you are not alone and that the route is not always linear. These conditions are not always fixed goals to camp on and stay forever. Life can throw us curve balls * cough * pandemic * cough * that can knock us back, and that’s fine. The most important thing is to be aware and to reach for support to guide you forward when you need it.
If you think counseling could be a helpful guide, you can search the counseling directory for a counselor.