When it comes to our bodies, shame is an all too common feeling that many people, especially women, hold on to. Consider this statistic: On any average day, 97% of women say that they dislike their bodies. And acclaimed Shame Researcher Brene Brown found through that the number one source of shame for women was body and weight.
So it isn’t any surprise that if most women are spending each day in internal discomfort around their bodies that over 67% of women say that they are on a diet in large part to change their bodies.
But how did we get in this state of persistent body shame?
And, more importantly, what can we do to move through it to create a more positive body image?
Let’s first consider what shame is.
Shame is an intense feeling that somehow we are wrong, flawed, and in need of fixing in order to be loved/accepted. Therefore, we make the connection that we must then change or alter that which we feel shame about so we can get the love, security, and happiness we so deeply desire.
The intense feelings of body shame, in large part, can be attributed to the narrow perceptions and expectations that media and culture broadcast to us of what an acceptable or even desirable body should look like. These unrealistic ideals lead us into suffering, pain, and disembodiment. We begin to see our bodies as something wrong and unlovable. And in doing so, we separate ourselves from it. Instead of being in our body, we disengage from it and spend our lives trying to control it.
Perhaps two of the biggest ways that we try to control the body is through intense, joyless exercise and deprivation-filled dieting. When we can no longer withstand these intense self-limitations and give into our appetites, we then label ourselves as a “willpower weakling”. This further increases our shame and the vicious cycle continues.
Body shame extends beyond body size and shape. We can also feel shame because of our sexuality, sensuality, and gender. Even so, the strategies of trying to control and disembody are the two most common ones we use to combat our shame.
If we are walking around feeling shame about our body for any of these reasons, our image of our body is distorted and negative.
But here’s the good news… body image is just that: it’s an image.
It’s the way we imagine our bodies to be. And just as we can create a negative body image, we can also re-create it into a more positive, enlivened one without actually having to change the body itself.
So, in the spirit of taking matters into our own hands and empowering ourselves to let go of a kind of suffering that’s completely optional, here are 4 ways to begin to shift your body image and let go of shame:
1 – Rejoice in and accept the body as it NOW
This is the foundational step to creating a healthy body image. So many people are walking around thinking “If I could just love my body, I would be happy.” And they’re right; they would be so much happier if they did love their bodies. But here’s the other part of the equation: we must drop the conditional belief of “in order to love my body, I have to change it.” Accepting and loving our bodies just as they are in the NOW allows us the greatest chance of experiencing our bodies and breaking free from the chains of shame and negative body image. Acceptance allows us to re-imagine our bodies as the whole, amazing, lovable and worthy beings they already are. Take time daily to rejoice the gift of being in a body. Dare to see that it’s loveable and acceptable as it is right now, without any changes. Realize what it means to be here.
2 – Joyfully get into your body NOW.
Remember that negative body image and body shame leads to a deep desire to control and disembody – especially through intense exercise and food restriction.
To shift out of this, we have to get back into the body.
One of the best ways to do this is to let go of punishing and intense exercise, and in its place adopt some joyful movement.
Make a list of all the ways you love moving your body without worrying about how many calories it burns or if it’s “hard enough”. Perhaps your list might include walking in nature, swimming, dancing, yoga, Pilates, hiking, bike riding, etc. See if you can give up punishing workouts and integrate the activities on your list. This will get you into the mindset of moving for the sake of joy, rather than moving for the sake of having to change your body because you’ve concluded that it’s unlovable as it is right now.
Happy movement leads to a happier body image, and lifts you out of the shame cycle.
3 – Go on a “media cleanse”.
Since body shame and negative body image are largely influenced by cultural expectations and media, taking a break from the constant bombardment of television, internet, magazines, movies, music videos, and more can yield some very positive results. For at least several weeks, see if you can experiment with letting go of as much media consumption as you can. In addition, see if you can also push the pause button on negative body talk with friends, complaining about dieting and weight loss, and any conversation or activities that are insulting to who you are and how you body looks right now. There’s a liberation that comes from letting go of the negative messages that constantly bombard us with what’s wrong about who we are. It’s empowering to transform old habits with our awareness. From here, we can begin to speak more kindly to ourselves. Just as nourishing food affects our body in a positive way, so does nourishing thoughts positively impact our inner world.
4 – Add more play and pleasure daily.
When body shame and negative body image take front and center, we often feel “unworthy” to have pleasure and play in the now. We think we have to put it off into a future time when we have the “right” body or the right looks. The truth is you are worthy right now, in this body. Putting pleasure and play on hold is, in essence, putting your life on hold. Why wait?
Make a list of what brings you pleasure. Include things that bring more play and lightness to your life. Then experiment with adding in at least one pleasurable, playful act a day. When we can lighten up our lives, we can lighten up in our bodies and shame loses its grip on us.
Healing a negative body image and moving out of body shame means moving from conditional love to unconditional love. When we can start to accept and embrace who were are in the present and as fully as possible, we gain access to living a full life, accessing our metabolic power, and being most fully in our personal power.
By loving the image we see and moving away from the need to “fix” ourselves, we actually create the optimal conditions to not just shape shift the body, but also to be the fullest expression of ourselves. When we can begin to re-imagine our bodies as whole and lovable, we start to see our bodies differently. We can start to walk down the road to greater happiness and break free from the chains of shame.
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
© Institute For The Psychology of Eating, All Rights Reserved, 2014
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