The worst body image advice given to women

“Body Positivity” is getting more and more attention. Whether it’s on social media, in brand marketing, or in the news, there’s regular messages for us to ‘love our body’. It’s just not that easy, is it? Here’s a bunch of common advice that annoys the heck out of this body image counsellor. You can dump all of these myths…

Body image advice that’s unhelpful, misguided, or just untrue:

Myth: You need to change your body in order to have a good body image

Nope, nope, nope. When our respect for our body is dependent on how it looks, that’s not body acceptance.

Our bodies are not static, they are in a constant state of flux because we are living beings. It’s a given that our body will change with age, so if we invest our sense of worth in how we look, then we’re building it on shaky ground! Intentionally attempting to manipulate your body size or shape will reinforce the idea that your worth is conditional on how you look. A significant part of body image work is coming to realise that we are not our appearance.

You can heal your relationship with your body in the body you have right now.

Myth: Having a positive body image means loving your body

For most people, ‘body love’ just seems like an unfathomable concept as it’s just so far from where they’re currently at. The great news is that having a good body image does not require you to love how your body looks! Instead you can respect it, care for it, have compassion for it, accept it, and allow it to just be. You can offer all those things to your body without being overjoyed by what you see in the mirror.

Body neutrality feels much more achievable than body love for most people. We can find a place of care and respect, so when we do have a negative thought about the way we look, we can think “So what?” and move on without trying to fix our ‘flaw’.

Myth: A robust body image means you will flaunt your body

A positive body image involves supporting your own bodily autonomy. By this I mean that you will back yourself to determine what is right for your body. You are not required to prove your body acceptance by posting photos in your underwear. If that floats your boat, go you, but if you’d prefer not to flaunt your body it does not mean you have less body acceptance. You can do body neutrality in your own style.

Myth: You need to “Just get over it” or “Stop worrying about it”

If you could just stop worrying about it, or get over it, wouldn’t you have already done it by now? Nobody wants to feel awful in their body! If you had the choice to just make your body worries disappear I know you would grab it. When we feel anxious or depressed we can’t just immediately get over it by wilfully stopping. It takes time to become aware of our thoughts and feelings and to find strategies that work for us, whether it’s acceptance, self-compassion, or reframing, or some other tool, it is a process. You have not failed because you can’t just “get over it”.

Myth: “You look fine so you have nothing to worry about”

Body image is about your relationship with your body, not how your body looks. It’s important that we all keep in mind that a negative body image can affect people in all size bodies. People in large bodies can be comfortable in their own skin, and people in thin bodies can have a lot of body image distress - never assume! Telling someone they have nothing to worry about because they “look fine” is similar to the previous point, telling them to just get over it.

(A note about privilege: People in smaller bodies do experience more privileges in our society than people in larger bodies. All body image distress is incredibly painful, however people in larger bodies are also dealing with stigma and oppression. This can be met with protest and anger from thin people, arguing “Where’s the ease and privilege in having terrible body image or an eating disorder?!” Body image distress and oppression are completely different, and I urge you to read more before jumping to outrage. Understanding body privileges is an important part of healing our body image and supporting body acceptance for all.)

Myth: Body image distress is an individual failing or problem

Negative body image is epidemic. Think of the people in your life who accept their body, don’t speak critically about their body, refuse to diet, and don’t force themselves to do exercise they hate… Could you think of many? Now think of the people in your life who speak critically about their body, talk about weight loss, restrict foods, and force themselves to do unenjoyable exercise… A lot more right? Feeling distressed about your body is not an individual failing, it’s a cultural one. We are taught from the youngest age that our value as a woman is dependent on our appearance, weight and shape. There is one female ‘ideal’ body displayed in the media that’s usually the highly photoshopped image of a 16-18 year old white girl. We grow up with incessant messages promising us that if we could just achieve this socially ‘desirable’ body then all our problems would be solved, everyone would love and admire us, and happiness would be ours!

Your difficult relationship with your body is not your fault. You have not failed. You are simply a woman in Western culture.

(This is why many people who have healed their body image feel strongly about doing what they can to change our culture’s obsession with the thin ideal, and helping others by role modelling body acceptance.)

Myth : Body acceptance is quick and easy, and just a matter of following #Bopo Instagram accounts and watching a documentary

Healing our relationship with our body takes time and work. It involves a lot more than just looking at social media or listening to a TED talk. Think of how many years you’ve been critical of your body - changing your ingrained thoughts, feelings and behaviours will take time. It is definitely possible, and entails wonderful freedom, so I encourage you to do the work.

It is possible to experience the freedom of body neutrality in the body you have now. Healing your body image takes time, and may need the assistance of a professional. If you would like to explore and improve your relationship with your body, I’d love to work with you.

 

by Jodie Arnot

Jodie is a registered counsellor with a Masters in Counselling from Monash University. She provides counselling via telephone, Skype, and in person, and is passionate about helping women to improve their relationship with their body so they can enjoy the freedom to live a life they adore.

 

Body imageJodie Arnot