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Normalising body changes and building body image resilience.

Body changes can be uncomfortable, because we live in a culture that mistakenly teaches you that the worst possible thing that could ever happen to you is that your body changes in a way that moves away from the ‘body ideal’ at the time.
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Body changes can be uncomfortable, because we live in a culture that mistakenly teaches you that the worst possible thing that could ever happen to you is that your body changes in a way that moves away from the ‘body ideal’ at the time.  Many internalise this as a failure on their part or an inability to “stay on the bandwagon”. Many people I’ve worked with over the years have shared deep, real shame around entering previous spaces they were a part of, for fear of what people will think of them when their body has changed. These spaces can be therapeutic based, movement based, social based. Thus, this shame moves people further away from engaging in positive behaviours.

It’s normal if you have ever felt uncomfortable from experiencing a body change, specifically when that body change has been a move away from the ‘body ideal’ at the time. We all live in this culture, and it is difficult to not be completely un-influenced by diet culture and unrealistic body image ideals and messaging attached. But holding an understanding of where that discomfort stems from, what it means, & subsequently generating self-compassion, all really helps.

It’s really normal for bodies to change. Knowing your body is meant to change across your life might help. If your body has changed over the past year, or over your lifetime, this is just a friendly message that you’re not alone in any discomfort you may feel. In fact, from where I’m sitting, it’s universal. When we can zoom out & see the big picture (i.e. contextualise), see we are not the only ones (i.e. normalise), & share what we know with others (i.e. demystify), we move toward shame resilience in this universal shame trigger of body image. Shame works like making you feel as though you’re the only one struggling, that there is something wrong with you, & that you should be ashamed. *Credit for this paragraph goes to Brene Brown & her work on shame & resilience. I recommend reading her ground breaking book, “I thought it was just me (but it isn’t) – making the journey from ‘What will people think?’ to ‘I am enough’” by Brene Brown.

You are not alone in your struggle/s with body image. Our culture places such a significant emphasis on bodies needing to look a ‘certain way’. Unfortunately, an emphasis that’s misplaced & causing harm. Being able to approach this with critical awareness is important. The discomfort you feel is valid, but it doesn’t actually mean you have to change something/anything about yourself. You can be with the discomfort without having to change yourself. Learning to sit with discomfort is powerful. Sit with it long enough until you come Home to yourself, once again…

Bottom line…

Bodies are meant to come in all different shapes and sizes. Health does not have a ‘look’ and health exists across the size spectrum. This is very different to the message we get from diet culture, so sit with curiosity to any resistance that comes up.

A great activity in regard to building positive/neutral body image, is to make a list of things you like about yourself which have nothing to do with your body/appearance.

You can pull this list out when using the ‘AND therapy’ in a challenging body moment.

What is ‘AND therapy’?

Before we unpack, let’s just take a quick look at some complete examples.

Here are some of my favourites:

  • I’m feeling uncomfortable in my body AND I’m a great listener, a thoughtful partner & a caring friend. 
  • I’m having a challenging body moment AND I’m also on a lifelong journey of choosing to respect my ‘here & now’ body.

    PS – You don’t have to love your body (or even like it) in order to respect it

    What does respecting your body mean to you? For me, it means: to feed it enough food, to move it in ways that feel enjoyable, to speak with compassion and kindness to it + so much more.

Let’s unpack ‘AND therapy’ so you can try it out next time you’re having a challenging body moment.

Step 1:

The first step, is acknowledging how you feel within your body in the moment.

For example, maybe you are experiencing a feeling of discomfort, perhaps you are feeling uncomfortable. 

So, the first sentence of the statement may be “I feel uncomfortable”, or “I am having a difficult body day”, or “I feel physically uneasy in my body today”. 

This statement comes before the “AND”.

When it comes to this first step in ‘AND therapy’, it’s also important to attach feeling words to feelings. 

For example, fat is not a feeling.

So instead of “I’m feeling fat”, ask yourself, what lies beneath that? What’s the feeling you are feeling? Perhaps beneath the layers, it’s a feeling of discomfort, so again, the 1st part of the statement may be “I am feeling uncomfortable in my body right now”. This is important. It allows you to acknowledge the physical sensations without playing into the hand of societal expectations.

I feel it important to mention regarding the above, that folks are reclaiming the word fat as a neutral, non-medical, descriptor of body size. The word fat has been a word that for decades, has been used in a derogatory way, a snarl or hiss directed at someone’s body, or at ones own body. Folks reclaiming the word share it as a neutral descriptor, a way to talk about their body that feels honest & direct. A reclaiming & reframing of a word that previously elicited so much shame. Folks share that it feels incredibly empowering. So, use it as you feel comfortable to do so. I use the word fat a lot more than I use to, in a neutral way, particularly when discussing fat activist/positive movements. I see people get startled or confused when they hear the word for the first time in a context that isn’t negative. When it comes to language & bodies, it’s vital that all of us examine our privilege.

I can’t help but quote directly the wonderful Centre For Integrative Health below on their exceptional post regarding the above topic: “When we say “I feel ‘fat’” what we usually mean is “I feel insecure”, “I feel ashamed”, “I feel inadequate” or “I feel uncomfortable”. ⁠Not only is such a language indication of our internalised fatphobia (ie., fat is bad, shameful, less than, etc – which it’s not) but this shortcut in self-expression is horribly ineffectively in getting our needs met. Think about a time in which you might have bemoaned such a statement to someone (“ugh! I feel fat”), what did they say in response and how did it make you feel? It’s hardly any surprise if you felt dismissed, invalidated, misunderstood, or (worse yet) confirmed in your insecurities if the other person responded with something like “you’re not fat” or (worse yet) “why don’t you… [insert unhelpful weight suggestion]”. Next time you’re tempted to proclaim that you feel “fat”, we invite you to 1) resist the urge to perpetuate society’s fatphobia and 2) dig a little deeper and find a word that more accurately describes your emotional experience so that the people who love you have a better chance of understanding, validating, and connecting with you.”

Step 2:

After you have identified and acknowledged how you’re feeling within your body, it’s time to bring in 3 things you like about yourself that have nothing to do with your body or your appearance.

Perhaps it’s your kind heart, your witty humour, your ability to make people smile, your generosity, your intelligence, your ability to feel deeply, your artistic abilities, your musical talents. If you’re struggling to think of 3 things, you can ask a trusted friend for some help, or you can bring in 3 things you’re grateful that your body can do for you (relating to its function).

The idea is to bring this section in after the “AND”.
Some complete examples: 

“I’m having an uncomfortable time with my body right now AND I’m also generous, have the ability to make people smile, and have a great sense of humour”.

“I’m having an uncomfortable body moment AND I’m also grateful that my body has legs that allow me to walk, arms that allow me to wrap them around loved ones, and ears that get to hear my loved ones laughing”.

I encourage you to approach a challenging body moment in this way the next time it crops up. 

Get really curious around the way you’re speaking to yourself in these moments. If it’s harsh and critical, I encourage you to bring in some neutrality to begin with. Neutrality is often a smoother 1st step than positivity. The above can all really help on this path. It can take far longer than a day or two (& of course, it  often does), so keep going.

And to end this blog post off,

And to end this blog post off…

In the wise words of Mary Jelkovsky “Your body is not an image. Bodies are an experience, and are a beautiful experience. We cannot keep letting our body image ruin our life experience.”

Monique Jephcote
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