I recently had the opportunity to attend a special viewing of an excellent and empowering documentary film that explores women’s body image. The film by Taryn Brumfitt is “Embrace: One woman’s journey to inspire everyBODY.” I laughed, I cried, I got angry and I mourned as I watched. I saw myself, my mother, my daughters, my sisters, my friends and my clients, in the the stories shared, and in the alarming statistics cited. The questions were provocative and invited self-reflection. I appreciated the filmmaker looking at both the blatant and subtle influences that shape women’s body images. I admire her courage and passion in bringing this project to the world.
As women we continue to face challenges about body image both from a societal level, and from those we internally impose on ourselves. One thing is certain. As long as we are at war with our bodies, we will cause ourselves physical, emotional, and psychological damage. Our spirits will be wounded and a sense of peaceful contentment will elude us.
As an Integrative Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, specializing in women's health, I really resonated with what the documentarian presented.
It’s not that I was surprised, or that the information was new, but rather that the issues surrounding women’s body image cannot continue to go unchallenged and unchanged. One disturbing outcome of negative body image is the ever-rising rate of eating disorders. This documentary is a powerful step toward positive change, by bringing awareness and challenging the way we choose to view ourselves.
Women’s negative body image is devastating. There is so much suffering around how we perceive our looks, our weight, and and ultimately ourselves. Our self-esteem is eroded in subtle unconscious ways, like when we compare ourselves to faked, photoshopped images of women in print media. We glimpse our bodies in reflective surfaces and internally judge and criticize ourselves. We comment on other people’s bodies without invitation and inappropriately, “you look like you’ve lost/gained weight” is a common statement. Perhaps the most sinister way in which we message ourselves is through our our self-talk. How often do we entertain critical, negative and demeaning thoughts about ourselves? Compare that to the frequency we think about ourselves in positive terms.
I write this in January with compassion for the women that will once again embark on another weight loss diet often with accompanying promises of rapid weight loss with no effort! Women will starve and restrict the foods they eat, they will wake up at 5:00 am to attend “exercise boot camps”, spending hours in punishing their bodies. These health-damaging approaches only further erode body image when they inevitably fail, resulting in frustration, disappointment, and robbing us of an authentic and positive sense of self and wellbeing.
Crafting a positive body image is not quick or easy. There are powerful pressures and messages all around and within us that need to be addressed and challenged. We can choose the beliefs we accept and what lens we view ourselves through. We can choose to be at peace with our bodies or be at war.
Here are some actions you can take immediately:
- Be mindful of the messages you read and see that are designed to make us believe that we are inherently imperfect. Someone is usually profiting financially from this, like the diet industry, the fashion industry, etc. They are stealthy, but toxic. Decide if you believe and agree with what the underlying message.
- Watch your language. Stop calling yourself negative names like “fat”, “lazy”, “hopeless”, “failure” or thinking negative thoughts about your body, “I’m disgusting”, “my thighs are huge” etc. you know which ones you say to yourself. Would you use those words to describe a beloved friend?
- Check and challenge your negative self-beliefs. Who do you believe yourself to really be? You are you at your core? Remember, we are who we believe we are.
- Cultivate self-compassion. This is one of the most radical acts we can engage in and life-changing. It is through self-compassion that we can finally remove the inner judge and critic. It is the foundation for finding our inner-peace and allows us to become a beautiful conduit for extending compassion to others. Here is a resource from Dr. Kristen Neff.
- Stop comparing yourself to other women. Celebrate the perfect being you are in this moment. Start loving and accepting yourself starting now. We are not our bodies, our bodies are simply the magnificent vehicles in which we travel through this life.
- Practice exquisite self-care. This is not optional. It means getting good sleep, eating beautiful nourishing real food, moving your body joyfully and finding some “me-time” everyday to replenish yourself. You need and deserve these basics to live a healthy life. It’s a fact.
You don’t have to do this alone! Make requests, ask for help, find support. In the words of a popular TV theme song, “This is it. This is life, the one you get so go and have a ball!”
I'm Carmina McGee, MS, RDN, and my mission is to support women to live their happiest, healthiest lives and THRIVE!