Women and Body Image

August 22, 2007 at 10:27 am  •  Posted in Eating Disorders by  •  0 Comments

By Judith Matz, MSW, LCSW

Negative Body Thoughts
Lessons About Acceptance


Negative Body Thoughts

Many women are taught to translate feelings into the language of “negative body thoughts.” Here’s how it works (from The Diet Survivor’s Handbook).

Imagine you’ve been invited to a party. As you put on your outfit, all sorts of negative thoughts come to mind. You know that a colleague from work will also be there, and lately, you’ve had the feeling that he’s flirting with you. Even though your boyfriend or spouse will be with you and you have no intention of acting on the coworker’s interest, deep down you realize that you feel some attraction to him. This leaves you feeling extremely uncomfortable. As you look in the mirror you find yourself thinking that your thighs look disgusting and wonder how you can possibly attend.

Can you see how this discomfort was placed onto your body? You called your thighs disgusting when what really disgusts you is the fact that you feel attracted to someone other than your significant other. You translated this underlying feeling into the actual words you used to distance yourself from the original emotion. The negative body thoughts that you directed toward yourself allowed you to consider not going to the party, thereby helping you avoid the situation that led to the uncomfortable feeling in the first place.”

When this woman now decides that she will go on a diet to make her thighs thinner, the culture – including the media, family, friends, colleagues and medical professionals – responds positively, agreeing that she will feel better about herself if she just loses weight (which can never address what is truly bothering her.) She begins to diet, which inevitably leads to overeating and may get caught in the diet/binge cycle.  Ninety-five percent of dieters will regain their weight and one third to two thirds will end up higher than their pre-diet weight, perpetuating the negative body feelings. If women could feel better about their bodies, they would not be so susceptible to going on diets, which may be successful in the short-run, but inevitably fail and create shame for the majority.

Many women who have a negative body image can benefit from these lessons about acceptance:

Lessons About Acceptance
  • Cherish your body and its uniqueness. People naturally come in different shapes and sizes.
  • Challenge the notion that thinness equals health. You cannot tell much about anyone by the size of his or her body.
  • The models presented in the media don’t reflect the real size of women. Learn how the media can create an image that doesn’t really exist.
  • When you speak negatively about your body, you inflict harm upon yourself. Learn to talk to yourself the way you would talk to your best friend.
  • Build a wardrobe of clothes that are comfortable for you at your current size.
  • Live in the present. When you put off goals and activities until you lose weight, you miss out on the pleasures of life that you are entitled to at any size.
  • Accepting your body allows you to take good care of yourself no matter what your size.
  • Connect positively with your body as much as possible. Notice the pleasure you can experience.
  • As you feel stronger about your own body image, it will become easier to reject the negative messages of others.
  • Negative body thoughts are often a way of talking to yourself about other issues in your life that bother you. Learn to decode these messages.
  • Bodies change throughout the life cycle. Acceptance means finding comfort with yourself and appreciating the full capacities of your body at any age and size.
  • The words fat and thin are limiting. Learn to find other adjectives to describe your body.


Leave a Reply