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Lately, pop singer Meghan Trainor has been very vocal about the extreme amount of “Photoshopping” that goes on after photo shoots, and has made a stand that she won’t have her “imperfections” blended away with the magic of digital imagery.
And some of us might be thinking, “Well, so what if they touch up a picture or two? Who cares?”
But the debate around Photo shopping has deeper meaning. Smoothing away all of our “imperfections” means that we start to think of our blemishes, cellulite, sun spots, or love handles as “bad” or “wrong”.
And reducing women (and men) to a standard mold, one in which our bodies are always firm and our skin is always clear, means that we look at ourselves too critically, always trying to attain that perfect figure and perfect skin. But in reality, that ideal is not only unobtainable for “normal” people, but also not even actually real for stars and models, either.
In addition, we see the consequences in the consumption of beauty and hair products, in going to get harsh peels, facials, spray tanning, etc. – all of which are marketed towards our need to feel better about ourselves.
We can also hear the emotional consequences of this pursuit of perfection in the complaints of our friends and family members, the comments of, “I’m so fat, my thighs are huge, I keep breaking out, I’m just trying to get rid of these crow’s feet, I wish I could afford that cellulite reduction treatment, etc.“
We know it, too, by our own thoughts, in our constant self-criticisms when we look in the mirror, or try on bathing suits, or try to squeeze into that dress from high school.
What would it look like if you loved your body?
Just imagine, if you would, what our world would look like if we no longer needed to buy an expensive new face product, or to go on that next diet, or to try to find some magical pill that would make us lose weight? Also:
- What would it sound like if we loved our hair, respected our thighs, and genuinely felt thankful when someone gave us a compliment?
- How much more productive would we be without obsessing over our looks?
- How much more money could we give to charity if we didn’t spend it on beauty products?
- How much more time could we spend with our family?
- How awesome would it be if every girl in middle school was given the freedom to learn what she was excited about, instead of spending time obsessing over fashion magazines and wondering why she didn’t look like a model?
- More importantly, how great would it feel if you could walk outside every day and really love the body you’re in?
Is your mental chatter about your body negative, or positive?
If you want to feel better about yourself, the only way to do it is to change the thoughts in your mind. Because even if you:
- Lost those five pounds, or ...
- Had that cosmetic surgery, or ...
- Changed your hair color, ...
... without changing the thoughts in your mind, you will always find something more that you can “improve” or change about yourself.
This doesn’t mean that it is not okay to enjoy looking attractive. There is a huge difference between obsessing about our looks and compulsively doing things to change them and simply paying attention to them:
- Obsessing means spending a lot of time and energy focusing on our appearance and ways to change it.
- Healthy attention to our appearance may be something like getting a new haircut or a new outfit.
The difference between unhealthy and healthy is that:
- Unhealthy attention is connecting how we feel about ourselves.
- Healthy attention is just wanting to enhance how we look.
So what are the thoughts running around in your head about your body?
Raj Raghunathan, Ph.D., from his study at the University of Texas at Austin’s Business School.
Somewhere between 60 and 70 percent of the average students’ spontaneously occurring thoughts are negative.
Moreover, it’s highly likely that the thoughts around our bodies are even higher than discovered in Raj's study outlined above.
If you’d like to see what your thoughts are:
- Try writing down the mental chatter that you have (the actual thought itself, not the feeling or emotion) for a day or two and see what comes up. Then, ...
- Take the time to notice the thoughts about yourself that are occurring and what feelings those thoughts trigger. For example a negative thought like “I hate my body” might trigger emotions such as sadness, frustration or anger.
Once you’ve identified those negative thoughts, then you can work to either stop them with a sentence like “this thought is hurting me, not helping me”, then you can dispute the thought directly with a thought that is more pleasing to you and evidence based.
For instance, “My thighs are so fat” could be replaced with, “My thighs are beautiful and help me to walk, to run, to jump, and to enjoy time with my children.” Or, “I have love handles,” could be replaced with, “I have a beautiful figure that was given to me to enjoy.”
Each time you notice and hear the critical thought in your mind, then replace it with something that resonates.
Stopping the verbal criticism:
Another place that we can catch these thoughts is in our speech.
Start to notice when you speak to others about your body, and once you’ve noticed the words, then you can try to catch them and replace them with more positive words and phrases. (This, too, is easier said than done!)
Changing the belief patterns:
Noticing our thoughts and what we say is very helpful in starting to feel better about our bodies, but we will most likely need to dig a little deeper into our psyche and investigate the beliefs that we formed in our early years. (This is very challenging and requires deep work, and may necessitate the support of a therapist.)
Think back to the first time someone called you a name that had to do with your looks, or the first time you heard a criticism of your body, the first time that you felt “less than” because of the way you looked.
Now, it’s time to rewrite that story.
Imagine the same scenario, but imagine it as if you were in a movie, and your earlier self stands up for the beauty of your own body, giving voice to how amazing and wonderful you truly are. Doesn’t that feel better?
Changing our belief patterns about our bodies isn’t the work of a day, and is an area that may especially need the help and consideration of a psychotherapist.
At Nassau Guidance & Counseling on Long Island, we have worked with many women and men to improve their body images.
Our trusted psychotherapists are experts in helping you to love your body again, and we welcome the chance to talk with you.