Love your body. I dare you.
Not everyone will like your body – get over it. (Please)
By Mia Forbes Pirie
60% of adults report feeling ashamed of the way they look and roughly 2 out of 3 adults have negative body image. Positive body image is an important factor in emotional wellbeing. It affects the way we feel as we go about our day, our work, and how we choose to spend our money. It affects the way we relate to ourselves and to others. It affects how we choose to spend our time. In fact, my guess, as well as my experience, it affects pretty much absolutely everything. So why do we hate ourselves so much? And why aren’t we doing more about it?
Statistics and surveys suggest that the media and advertising have a lot to do with our self-hatred. Other than the more obvious imagery of skinny - and then airbrushed beyond skinny - models, I guess it’s easier to sell things to people who don’t feel good about themselves – to people who feel that they are not enough as they are, that they have a hole to fill: ‘if only I had that dress, that body, that bag’, I would be ok. Is this why many real women feel hopeless? Could this be why many consider cultivating an ideal appearance to be more important than maintaining good health? When I read that fact in the UK All Party Parliamentary report on Body Image, I needed to pause for a moment to fully take in the insanity of it.
What I’ve noticed from discussions with women and the work I do with people on body image, is that how a person feels about their body often has very little to do with what they actually look like or how slim or not they may be. It does, however, have a huge impact on how they live their lives.
I too had an incredibly negative self image, and now, I can honestly say – I love my body. I realise how far away and odd that may sound to many people. I also realise that some may see it as egotistical or narcissistic. But it’s not that kind of love and I am willing to take that risk.
Along with a couple of friends who have also gone through body image issues, I am persuading other women to let go of self-hatred and move towards self-love.
We take women on a journey to the heart of their feelings and fears about their bodies. They discover that they are not alone – and as they share their experience as sense of solidarity and community grows. This is all done in a very safe space. By the end of the workshop each participant has a better understanding of her own journey and why she felt the way she felt about her body; she a new, healthier and more loving relationship with her body focused on acceptance and self-care. This does not mean that she will never have a negative thought about her body again – her self image is improved but more importantly, the way she looks at herself will have changed. She has a clear action plan to continue moving forward on the path to unconditional self-love (scary as that may sound); and a set of techniques and tools that simply work for her on those days when things are difficult (there will be days like that).
Towards the beginning of the first part of the day, I tell participants the truth: not everybody is going to like your body – no matter how thin and fit you are. This may initially sound harsh but for most women, it’s a relief to hear that they can stop trying to please everyone because it’s not going to work anyway. They need to make peace with that. Not everyone needs to like your body. There is no woman on earth whose body is liked by every other person on this earth – even the airbrushed supermodels, poor things.
At our first workshop women reported an average of a 28% improvement in how they felt about their bodies, moving from an average of 4.6/10 to 7.4/10. No one lost any weight that day. We have since spoken to participants and the improvement seems to have been sustained. It is as though the workshop planted a seed in attendees which continues to grow. A few weeks after the workshop, one participant said: ‘The effect of the retreat has been really profound and life changing. I feel more complete as a person’.
So, if you want to make a change, I invite you to take a moment to pause and notice how you feel about your body – from the outside. And then choose in future, to focus more on how you feel IN your body, how it feels to inhabit your very own unique body. Making changes based on how you feel inside can be far healthier and more effective than focusing purely on how you look from the outside. It is a paradigm shift that can support you in moving, not only towards a positive self-image, but also towards a healthier body. Not everybody will love your body – but wouldn’t it be a great start if you did? And if you love your body and your self, who knows, I suspect, that the right ‘other person’ may also too.
Mia is an international mediator, facilitator and executive health coach. She runs courses, in collaboration with Harriet Waley-Cohen and Paulina Sygulska Tenner, on body confidence and body love. The next course is on Saturday 9th January 2016. For more information click here
Centre for Appearance Research 2012.
All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image Report, 2012
Algars, M., Santtila, P., Varjonen, M., Witting, K., Johansson, A., Jern, P., et al. (2009). The adult body: How age, gender, and body mass index are related to body image. Journal of Aging and Health, 21, 1112–1132.
Pimenta, A. M., Sánchez-Villegas, A., Bes-Rastrollo, M., López, C. N., & Martínez-González, M. A. (2009). Relationship between body image disturbance and incidence of depression: The SUN prospective cohort. BMC Public Health, 9, 1.
Neighbors, L. A. & Sobal, J. (2007). Prevalence and magnitude of body weight and shape dissatisfaction among university students. Eating Behaviors, 8, 429–439. [This study reports that the prevalence is about 80% among college aged women]
Silberstein, L. R., Striegel-Moore, R. H., Timko, C. & Rodin, J. (1988). Behavioral and psychological implications of body dissatisfaction: Do men and women differ? Sex Roles, 19, 219–232.
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