Our relationship with our bodies is complicated. With or without an eating disorder, research has determined that humans experience a normative amount of body image distress. Having a body is an uncomfortable experience. From infancy to adulthood, our bodies change in ways that are completely out of our control. Yet, the relationship we have with our bodies is the longest relationship we will have in our life. Like any relationship, maintaining a healthy relationship with our bodies will take work.
So, this Valentine’s Day, let’s imagine offering our bodies an invention to connect kindly. “Dear Body, Will You Be My Valentine?” Now you are probably thinking, there is no way I can love my body… or you are rolling your eyes, thinking the last thing you need is another hokey self-love affirmation.
I will be the first to admit, my inner dialogue is not “Dear body, I love you” and more of “Dear body, let’s change/ fix/ and do more…you aren’t good enough.”
So, in a season of love, I want to remind you that body love can come in many forms. Consider what you need to improve your relationship with your body. Figure out what seems right for you, and maybe practice some of the suggested exercises below.
If you cannot practice body positivity, try body neutrality. Body neutrality is “acceptance of your body as it is, encouraging you to recognize its abilities and nonphysical characteristics over your appearance” (Raypole, 2021). I like using the body-neutral affirmation, “This is my Body.” When I feel the overwhelm of comparison or increasing discomfort from fixating on my flaws, I try to take a step back and recognize, “This is my body.” No amount of wishing or willpower can change that. I choose acceptance for that moment and then turn my energy toward the things I actually care about.
Try this practice: Write down a list of things you are grateful for that your body allows you to do. Keep this list nearby to replace unhelpful body-image thoughts. Ex: Thank your body for allowing me to walk my dog.
Maybe you feel up and down in your body image experience. One day you feel confident, and the next, you can barely sit with yourself. In this space, try building body image resilience. Recognize that feelings change. On a difficult body image day, you may currently find yourself coping with the discomfort using eating disorder behaviors, self-harm, and isolation, or you may seek external validation to ease your distress. These coping skills can work in the short term, but often in the long term, make us feel worse. And the next time you experience poor body image, you will most likely return to these harmful behaviors for relief.
Body image resilience is the practice of not acting on your poor body image feelings. Instead, practice the skill Opposite Action. What would you do if you did feel good in your body? As you continue to hang out with friends, eat the foods you enjoy, wear the clothes you want, and live a life aligned with your authentic self, you will learn that you can sit with discomfort. Discomfort is not dangerous. Despite how activating it feels, it only sometimes needs our attention. As you give negative body image less attention, it will over time feel less intense and noticeable.
Try this Practice: Identify something you want to do, but body image discomfort has prevented you from doing it. For example, buy a box of chocolates to enjoy, OR wear a piece of clothing you don’t feel like your body is “ready” for yet. Complete the activity without engaging in harmful coping patterns. Maybe work with your support system to complete this challenge if needed.
At the heart of all these practices, is an attempt to be kinder to yourself. You are so much more than a body. Your body is not the problem. Your body has never been a problem. Life is hard, and your body has been on that journey with you from day one. We put so much love, trust, and effort into our most treasured relationships – so why wouldn’t our longest running relationship deserve the same? This Valentine’s, consider honoring your relationship with your body too.
Raypole, Crystal. Healthline. How to Shift from ‘Body Positivity’ to ‘Body Neutrality’ – and Why You Should, Healthline Media, 20 Jan. 2021, www.healthline.com/health/body-neutrality.