- 1 Why do I hate my body?
- 2 How to stop hating your body
“People’s views of their bodies are not only cruel but inaccurate.” – Dr. Lisa Firestone, Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice
Let me share with you something that is somewhat obvious, but still necessitates our consideration.
Self-esteem is a huge issue in our society.
From the outside looking in, this isn’t really a surprise. In some ways, our culture has morphed into somewhat of a circus. In the age of the camera phone, there is often a blurred line between entertainment and real life.
But how should we feel about that? I guess that depends on what aspect of our lives are blurring the lines between fact and fiction, reality and fantasy.
Consider this for a second. When we turn on the t.v. and see Lebron James playing basketball, most of us don’t spend the rest of the day telling ourselves we are unworthy because we can’t dunk a basketball. Lebron is a ‘one in a hundred million’ talent who has great genetics, a 99th percentile work ethic and had a lot of luck along the way.
However, when we turn on Instagram and see snapshots of people who have both won the genetic lottery and spent years honing their beauty (and photoshop skills), we still manage to feel down, even angry, towards ourselves.
These distorted ideas around body image span much wider than most of us think. We see girls as young as 12 years old posting videos on YouTube to ask strangers “Am I Ugly?” Meanwhile, young men are spending thousands of dollars and hours on supplements and anabolic steroids in order to look like comic book superheroes, in an extreme practice that has been dubbed “bigorexia.”
While our own experience might not be that extreme, you may still find yourself in a position where negative attitudes towards the way you look are absolutely normal. You may try to eat well, exercise, and lose weight. You may dress your best and take care of your skin. You may do all that and more, yet still, there is a constant feeling that something is not right with your body.
And that begs a number of questions.
Did our ancestors have issues with their body image? Is this a product of capitalism? Is it a trickle-down effect from Victorian era morals? Or could it be social media is the culprit?
In this article, I will try to answer the most pressing questions you have about body-image, and determine how you can better structure your inner-world and outer-world in a way that facilitates confidence and love of your body.
Why do I hate my body?
Firstly, let us make a distinction. There is a big difference between those of us who feel they dislike their bodies and those of us who suffer from a serious condition such as an eating disorder or form of body dysmorphia.
Eating disorders are incredibly serious mental illnesses that cause severe disturbance to an individual’s eating behaviours. They commonly include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.
Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is an OCD spectrum disorder whereby consistent obsessive and controlling thoughts (typically hours a day) about something physical we want to change leads to disruptions in our life. This affects roughly 1-2% of the population and can cause depression, suicidal thoughts and intentional social isolation.
If either of these sounds like they may be you, I highly recommend you seek out a professional therapist or psychiatrist as soon as possible.
If those descriptions aren’t you, but you still have serious difficulties with your self-image, then there could be any number of reasons you hate your body.
It may be that cultural conditioning has caused you to have unrealistic expectations of what you should look like. It could also be that your family members constantly reminded you about part of your body that wasn’t normal, or that someone in school bullied you about it. You could be a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), and maybe you fear not fitting in or being judged by others.
At the end of the day, however, whatever the reason, the vast majority of body image issues can be traced back to one idea: an inability to accept a part of you – in this instance your body – as is. This difficult to accept yourself can cause havoc, at times even making you feel like you hate your life.
It may not necessarily feel like it, but you not liking your body is a self-acceptance issue at its core. Your brain will always tell you that the problem is body specific. It’s your cellulite or your weight or your rolls or your skin tone. But if you dig a little deeper; why is it so hard for you to accept those things?
Why is it so hard to accept that you as not living up to a perfect image that someone else has created? Why do you feel so insecure?
Following the symptoms and not the cause is a never-ending cycle.
Here’s a short BBC Documentary called buff enough. In it a young man, who has a body 99.9% of the population could only ever dream of, is shown to be profoundly discontent with his body. It’s worth a watch!
How to stop hating your body
If you are not at the point of needing to seek professional help, then there are still many practical things you can do to stop hating your body today. The following strategies take time and effort, and are best done in conjunction with a supportive community or a therapist.
Mindfulness of Body Image
Becoming aware of the thoughts and feelings you have towards your body is crucial. It may sound like a cliche, but you really need to pay attention to what is going on in your mind. Mindfulness isn’t just identifying beliefs; it’s taking a microscopic look at the positive and negative thoughts you have about your body, when they arise, what feelings accompany them, and what control you’ve had over managing them.
Tip: Practice mindfulness meditation for at least 20-minutes a day, and keep a thought journal whereby you write down the most common thoughts that pop into your head both during and in between meditation sessions.
Inquiry into your Body Image
Self-inquiry is a type of contemplative practices whereby you question your assumptions about certain things. This question is part verbal, part sensory. You should feel your way through the questions. It can be a little tricky for beginners, so it’s best that you take a few breaths and get in a meditative state, you might want to ask the question in your head with your eyes closed, or you may want to write them down in a journal.
- Am I really my body?
- Who (or what) would I be without this body?
- Who (or what) is dissatisfied with this body image?
- What does not loving my body feel like?
- What would it feel like I loved my body?
These are some examples, but any question that comes to mind that questions your assumptions about who are what you are can be helpful.
Tip: Identify strong feelings in your body and the thoughts that come up when you have these sensations. Any recurring thoughts or bodily tensions are a good sign of something you need to spend more time focusing on.
Identify and avoid triggers
Once you’ve cultivated a degree of mindful awareness around the things that make you feel bad about your body, you need to identify exactly what these triggers are and learn to avoid them. It may be hanging out with certain people, following particular social media accounts, eating specific foods or being in particular places. Whatever it is for you, it’s up to you to learn how to create a life in which you minimise contact with those things.
Tip: Identifying and avoid triggers is all about organisation. The best way to do this is therefore to keep a journal. If you’re practising mindfulness and already journaling, just highlight any triggers as they begin to show up in your meditative reflections.
Focus on function over physique
What your body looks like is infinitely less important than what it can do for you. Learn to push your body, and constantly look for self-improvement relative to your own past achievements, whether that be in terms of strength, flexibility, endurance, relaxation or even just immunity from illness. When we make generic (and unrealistic) standards of beauty the measure of our self-worth, we are constantly fighting a losing battle. The internet will ensure we never feel satisfied, and father time will ensure that any ideal we reach is always short lived. Set goals for your body based on function and not physique.
Tip: Join a gym and find a community of like-minded people who want to develop a positive body image. Set realistic and function-focused goals such as running a half-marathon or achieving certain feats in yoga.
Dismantle the inner critic
The biggest obstacle you have to face in the fight to love and accept your body is your inner critic. This is the little voice in your head that tells you what you don’t like about yourself. Using mindful awareness we can recognise this toxic part of our psyche, and learn to dismiss it, disagree with it, and one day even laugh at it.
Tip: If you can begin to identify a consistent narrative that this inner critic tries to feed you, give it a silly voice like Mickey Mouse or Kermit the Frog. The more ridiculous the better. Over time you will condition your mind to take the thoughts less and less seriously and they will gradually lose their pull.
Stop looking for weight-loss inspiration!
There’s a very fine line between using images to inspire you to action and using images that cause you to act out of inspiration. Some people feel like they absolutely need to dislike their bodies or they won’t have enough motivation to eat healthily or exercise and they will let themselves go.
Tip: Use social media the right way by following people with bodies similar to yours, avoiding the explore tab on Instagram and unsubscribe from all channels that make you feel bad about yourself.
Sometimes, when nothing else works, the best thing you can do is stop trying to push back again your inner critic and simply distract yourself. Find something that becomes your go-to activity whenever you start getting anxious about your body image. Preferably something that isn’t going to make you feel worse down the track; so ice cream and retail therapy are probably best to avoid!
Tip: Finding a friend or partner who understands the issues you have with your body and who can help you find distractions when you’re going through a tough moment can be absolutely invaluable. If you don’t have anyone like that in your life right now, you can look online for support groups.
Push shame to the side
As we grow up, we start to believe that shame serves a positive function. But just because we’ve been around it all of our lives doesn’t mean it’s normal, or acceptable. Our culture has a serious issue with a disproportionate amount of internalised shame that we all share. Instead of focusing on why you should feel bad, try to subtly shift your attention towards how you can be better organised in the future. It’s a difficult change, and more easily said than done, but you’ll be surprised how quickly your energy can be redirected towards affecting positive change when you are charged with emotion.
Tip: Try to practice cognitive reframing. This is where you write down certain sticky and maladaptive thoughts and you rephrase them in a more positive and useful way. It may sound basic, but it’s been used as a common practice in psychotherapy for over 50 years, so obviously it works!
If you feel that you’ve tried everything and you still hate your body, you’re not alone. Reprogramming your mind can be a lifelong journey and it’s really tough. It’s vital that you surround yourself with a supportive community, and if your thoughts about your body are consistently having a negative impact on your life, please consider seeking professional help.