Body image is one of the most challenging areas of work I’ve experienced both personally and professionally. And it makes sense. This work is HARD. It’s okay if you wish you lived in a different body. We live in a culture that values thinness, so it’s only natural to desire and want to work towards being better, fitter, and a “toned up” version of yourself. Since our earliest days, we have been taught to believe that we should feel shame about our body and overall appearance, that’s our default. So even entertaining the idea of not trying to change your body can feel wrong, unnatural and therefore scary.
Of course, changing our body can help us “feel better” because our culture praises appearance and tells us our self worth is built on our appearance. So when we feel like we are “fitting in” with what society deems acceptable, we will naturally feel better. But the thing is, these pursuits aren’t sustainable and they almost always lead to disappointment, more frustration and more unhappiness. These pursuits also distract us from things that truly matter to us…meaning they pull us away from our values. But we keep going back, hoping this time will be different. That’s the empty promise of the diet and beauty industry. They make so much money because ultimately, the consumer will remain unsatisfied or think THEY are the problem and so they will come back to continue the search for what will “work.” When you realize that trying to manipulate your body size doesn’t work (diets fail and changing your body doesn’t lead to long term happiness + fulfillment), it becomes easier to accept reality. And once you can accept reality and be with what is, then you can move forward and explore other options. But acceptance is key.
There are a lot of variations of what healthy body image actually means. To me, positive/healthy body image doesn’t mean loving your body. For myself and in the work I do with clients, the goal is to come to a less painful and perhaps overall peaceful place with your body so you can care for and appreciate your body, but not waste energy on unhelpful thoughts towards your body that take away from your ability to invest energy into living a meaningful life.
Less energy put towards unhelpful thoughts and struggle = more energy you can put towards creating a fulfilling, purposeful life. I’ve written a lot about body image over the years on the blog, but I wanted to share some of my favorite body image resources so you can grow your figurative tool box of resources. Some of these resources will resonate with you and some won’t – so take what does and leave what doesn’t.
Remember that this is hard work, you can’t think yourself to better body image…it takes effort with behavior and mindset changes and drawing boundaries in your life. Body image will ebb and flow in life, it’s not about never having a negative body image thought. We live in a culture that praises thinness, no matter how someone gets there, so you will have crappy body image thoughts that pop up. I still have them from time to time too. It’s not about not having the thoughts or arguing against whether they are true or not…rather it’s about experiencing less emotional pain and negativity, not attaching to thoughts and therefore struggling less with thoughts/emotions so they don’t suck your energy.
The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris
This book is one I cannot recommend enough. Similar to what I was writing about above, this book gives you skills and tools to help manage thoughts and emotions more effectively so you can reduce stress, worry, self doubt and insecurity and instead cultivate a rich and meaningful life.
Beautiful You by Rosie Molinary
Another book about radical self acceptance that is not about meditations and affirmations. It’s set up to give you daily action steps that help you work towards living a life you truly want to live and being your most authentic self. This book is geared towards women.
The Body Image Workbook
If you’re someone who enjoys worksheets and putting pen to paper, I highly recommend this workbook. I use a lot of the exercises in my own 1:1 work with clients.
Body of Truth by Harriet Brown
If it’s harder for you to connect to your own body image struggles, sometimes it can be helpful to read about body image on a larger scale and how it affects our culture as a whole. That can sometimes be a place that feels easier to engage with for people. This is one of my favorite books on body image.
Compared to Who? by Heather Creekmore
In full disclosure, I have not read this book yet, but have heard many good things from others. If you’re looking for a Christian book on body image, this could be a good fit especially if you’re tired of hearing things like, “it’s about your inner beauty!” or “God says you’re beautiful!” If you do read this book, I’d love for you to email me and tell me what you think!
Have you hated your body enough today? by Michelle Elman
Rewiring how you look at yourself by Jenny Schatzle
Listening to shame by Brené Brown (not neccessarily about body image, but shame underlies much of our body image and food struggles)
The business of beauty is very ugly by Carrie Hammer
Is social media hurting your mental health? by Bailey Parnell
5 step daily practice for better body image by Kylie Mitchell
Articles and Blog Posts
The Grief That Leads to Body Acceptance by Rachael Hartley
You Don’t Have to Believe What You Think by Kylie Mitchell
What if Body Acceptance Doesn’t Work? What About Body Neutrality?
Understanding Body Image by Marci Evans
But I Don’t Want to Accept This Body by Anna Sweeney
Finding self worth and identity beyond food and body | Nutrition Matters podcast
How diet culture impacts our body image | The Body Love Project podcast
Body image, self compassion and “food addiction” | Don’t Salt My Game podcast
Set Point Theory and Body Image by Kylie Mitchell
Cultivate Healthy Body Image – a module that you can purchase that’s part of a bigger course I created
Body Image Resilience by Beauty Redefined
Check out these resources as it feels right for where you are in your journey. Maybe start with one and sit with it for a week or two or longer if it’s a book. Read a little and let it sink in, journal about it, process it with a safe person. This journey is long and hard and painful at times, but it’s worth it.
I’d love to hear about your body image journey in the comments!