Working Through Poor Body Image (July 2022)
Body image is a topic that is so relevant in today’s world. People who are chronically dieting struggle with body image, and so do those who are dealing with an eating disorder. In spite of that, many people don’t really think about body image until the topic is presented to them. In this article, I’ll discuss what body image is and how to begin working to improve it.
This topic is particularly timely, because summer is underway, and we’re starting to wear body-baring clothes such as shorts, sleeveless shirts and bathing suits at the same time we’re being bombarded with advertisements, media messages, and conversations around food and body. Just think of all the talk and messaging about getting “bathing suit ready.” These messages aim to persuade us that our happiness and well-being is centered around being a certain body shape or size. For many people, this may increase feelings of shame and/or self-doubt. People who are not thin, white, cisgender, heterosexual and able-bodied may also have feelings of exclusion if they don’t see themselves represented in advertising or media images.
To begin helping a client who struggles with poor body image, I like to approach the topic with curiosity by asking them about their lived experience. What is it that they are feeling? Since my lived experience is different from that of my clients, it’s helpful to create a safe space for them to share what painful or negative body-related experiences they’ve had, and how those experiences have contributed to their feelings about their body.
I also like to reiterate that many of our society’s body “standards” are based on a narrow range of body types, ages, genders and race, then suggest books, social medical accounts, and other media that the client might relate to.
Another important conversation to have is about the client’s values. What’s important in their life? Sometimes identifying their values can allow the client to look at their feelings about their body through a different lens. For example, if social connection is one of their values, then it may feel easier to meet up with friends—rather than hiding at home—during times they aren’t feeling good about their body.
Instead of trying to be the problem solver that dietitians are all trained to be, I tend to dig in deeper about how a person can be the best version of them. It’s also important to discuss that we all have days that we feel more comfortable in our body and days that we feel less comfortable in our body. This is a normal feeling when we have a body! The key difference is that when someone has healed their relationship with their body, those times of discomfort do not disrupt their day (or their week) or influence their food choices.