‘Body image’ is one of the most overused term today – sometimes it feels like were never a true teenager if you didn’t have body image issues! Because body image issues are so common, they’re dismissed as something you’re sure to grow out of, not to be taken too seriously.
What no one talks about is that body image issues continue well into adulthood and can be one of the most debilitating experiences of all. Many are not even aware that they could be dealing with something much deeper than ‘feeling shy to wear a swimsuit’. This was the case with 22-year-old Benaifer, a dancer who has been performing on stage since she was 7! She works hard at her craft and is often complimented by her choreographers. But she never felt satisfied with her performance. She’d feel angry when people referred to dance as her passion and felt as if she didn’t deserve their praise. In four sessions of therapy, Benaifer identified the real challenge. She saw very few dancers with a physique similar to hers, and that made her think that she couldn’t identify herself as one. To add to an already poor body image, she had been told to lose weight all her life, sometimes even by complete strangers. Her body was her ally as well as her enemy. Her next breakthrough was seeing that the voices that spoke in criticism of her body belonged on the outside. Left to herself, she actually found her body graceful and poised. She had just learned to consider others’ opinions over her own truth. Today, Benaifer continues to dance and celebrate her body!
How do you know if you have Body Image issues?
- You find yourself avoiding mirrors. When you really look in one, you’re surprised because you look different from what you imagined.
- You harm your body by eating too much, too little, by cutting yourself, or not attending to basic needs like hygiene.
- You sometimes dress inappropriately for an occasion (jackets at a beach party, too much makeup and so on)
- You criticise your body constantly when you speak to others and even when you speak to yourself.
- You dislike posing for photographs. Even when you do, you place yourself behind a friend or an object!
- You have trouble undressing in front of an intimate partner even if you’ve been with them a long time.
Doesn’t everyone have Body Image issues?
Yes and no. Some amount of diffidence about the way you look without a shirt on or in short shorts and so on is normal. But when it begins to interfere with you living a fulfilled life, it’s time to take a look at what is going on with you internally. As in the case of Xerxes who had been an obese teenager, with weight fluctuating through his life. Too self-conscious to look in the mirror or pose for pictures, he didn’t have a realistic idea of what he really looked like. He hated trying on clothes, so he’d buy things without checking if they fit, and would often end up owning piles of clothes he couldn’t wear! With therapy he was able to find self-compassion, and he began to look in the mirror. He still struggles with his weight. But he has a wardrobe that fits and flatters him!
I have Body Image issues… Now What?
Accepting that you have trouble reconciling with your own body is the first step. You’re unhappy or even angry with your body for not looking the way you want it to. Even so, there are at least a couple of features you like/pride about it – your hands or shoulders or lips… You may begin to see that your body helped you win a race, or nurtured a baby, or accompanied you when you performed on stage. You may begin to find compassion for your body and regret being unkind to it. You may see in your body likenesses to your parent or grandparent you love deeply.
After that, you may find that you want to care for your body; nourish it, exercise it, and celebrate it. When that happens, all the pain and heartache that made you reject your body in the first place begins to heal. And you begin to free yourself up to live the successful, confident life you were born to. Reconnecting with your body is a long and deep process. But the rewards are many!