body image

What is Body Image?

With Eating Disorder Awareness Week (EDAW) just around the corner (don’t pretend it’s not marked on your calendars), I thought it would be helpful to talk about something topical that affects us all*: Body Image!

*Unless you don’t have a body, in which case: 1) I’m sorry, and 2) please explain.

What is Body Image?

 

Body Image is composed of two things:

1) The mental representation of our own physical body (e.g., size, shape, appearance), and

2) Our attitude towards our physical selves (e.g., thoughts, feelings, beliefs).

Body image is fluid and changes over time, based on things like culture, mood, societal norms, and interactions with family and friends.

Sometimes the concepts of body image and self-esteem can get confused, which is fair because they are closely related, but distinct ideas.

For the record:

Body image focuses on our attitude about single aspect of ourselves (a.k.a our physical body), while self-esteem relates to our evaluation of our overall worth (a.k.a our whole damn self).

Why is body image important?

 

Well, the way we think about our physical selves affects how we exist in the world. Poor body image can contribute to a whole host of issues, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, relationship issues, and substance abuse.

Not surprisingly, poor body image often leads to lower self-esteem, which can cause problems in any area of life that requires confidence (e.g., work, school, relationships, performing ukulele songs in public, etc.), and usually equals not liking ourselves very much (which is the opposite of a good time).

So, should I start eating more kale then, or…?

 

Okay, brace yourselves:

You can have the body of a supermodel, and have terrible body image. You can look like Gollum, and have great body image. Body image is not dictated by physical measurements, it’s dictated by how we feel about our physical measurements.

 

Body image is composed of attitudes, not tangible measurements or sizes. So even if our attitude is momentarily improved because we altered our body in some physically recognizable way, it is probably not going to last because we still haven’t addressed the underlying attitudes and beliefs about why we feel the way we feel about ourselves.

Which is why going on a diet or working out to improve your body image is not effective.

 

Plus, doing so can lead to a really exhausting cycle of believing that if we just change our body x amount more, then we will feel happy with ourselves. The problem is we quickly discover that once we’ve achieved our initial goal, the aforementioned happiness doesn’t arrive, and so we begin the cycle over again of “just a little bit more.”

In other words, body image programs that focus solely on exercise and diet are missing 90% of the body image pie, and in some cases are downright dangerous.

Plus, who only wants 10% of a pie?

So, what can we do?

1)    Media Consumption!

Does the media effect our body image? Yes. Are we going to get into the intricacies of all of my feelings on this right now? No. It’s complicated, and reserved for a whole other blog post.

But! One thing we can do is to be mindful about consuming diverse media. Are you only following Gisele Bundchen look-a-likes on Instagram? Then, you are doing your body image a disservice (spoiler alert: even if you are a Gisele Bundchen look-a-like).

Why? Because we internalize the images around us (a.k.a internalization of the appearance ideal), whether we like to or not.

Which means, if we are only used to seeing emaciated airbrushed goddesses, giant muscular hulks (also airbrushed), or insert other unrealistic socially-perpetuated imagery here, in our media our reflections become a lot more difficult to feel good about (because airbrushing in life is not a thing).

In other words, the unrealistic images that we are constantly bombarded by become the new norm, creating impossible expectations that human beings will never be able to physically meet.

Even Kate Moss doesn’t look like Kate Moss in real life.

 

Which means: it has never been more important to consume diverse media. Consume media that is created by and representative of people of all colours, sizes, creeds, abilities, and genders.

2)    Accept Yo Self! (Can we make this a hashtag?)

There are all kinds of archaic beliefs floating around that suggest that fat-shaming ourselves or others will somehow motivate us to change our bodies in a way that brings us closer to the socially-determined appearance-ideal. This is a lie.

Research shows that commenting negatively about others’ (or our own) bodies actually increases the incidence of binge eating, depression, anxiety, and low-self-esteem. You can read more about that here.

A general rule of thumb here is: don’t be a jerk. To yourself or anyone else.

 

One way to start moving towards body acceptance is to start saying nice things to your body every day. This can be as serious or silly as you want, but every sincere effort makes a difference. Some of my favourites include:

“Hey feet! Thanks for giving me the ability to tap dance. It makes me laugh and is a great party trick.”

“Hey legs! Thanks for helping me run, walk, and cartwheel my way through life. You da real MVP!”

“Hey body! Thanks for waking up today. I am really glad that we get to be alive.”

Rather than beating your body up for all the things it’s not, start thanking it for all of the things it does for you every day (because it’s a lot).

For those in the Calgary area: I would be remiss if I did not mention at this point that I will be facilitating an awesome body image group called The Body Project starting Feb 3rd, 2018. If you want to change the relationship you have with your body alongside a bunch of other rad ladies, click here.

3)    Start talking!

Talking about how we feel about our bodies and ourselves can be an important starting place to improve things.

Talk to your friends. Talk to your Family. Talk to a mental health professional (ahem). Talk to your cat. Just talk to someone who is ready and willing to listen and support you on the road to accepting yourself.

For those in the Calgary area interested in engaging in a larger discussion about body image, I am so excited to announce that the documentary Straight/Curve will be screening as a part of Eating Disorders Awareness Week this year at Fort Calgary on February 2nd 2018.

The film is incredible and starts at 6:30 pm, followed by a panel discussion, moderated by yours truly. So, come hang out, watch a great film, and let’s talk about it! Click here to get your tickets

If you or anyone you know in the Calgary area is experiencing a mental health crisis call the 24-hour Distress Centre line at 403-266-4357 or 911.

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Real Talk: Friends don’t let friends Fat Talk.

What is Fat Talk? I'm so glad you asked. 

Definition
fat-talk [fat-tawk]
adjective & verb
1. describes any statement that reinforces the thin-ideal standard of beauty and contributes to men and women's dissatisfaction of their bodies. 

According to Mimi Nichter (the glorious professor who coined the term), Fat Talk refers to negative body-related comments that often occur during conversation with others.

You know the scenario: a friend/family member makes a self-deprecating comment about his/her/their body and then we respond by uttering an equally – if not more- self-deprecating statement about our body, and eventually we somehow find ourselves in a really messed up (but somehow socially acceptable?) body-shaming standoff in the Wild West of hating ourselves?

For those of you not well-versed in the ancient art of Fat Talk Fast Draw, infamous examples may include:

“Do I look fat in this?”

“You look great, have you lost weight?”

“I’ve really been doing well on this diet, you should try it”

“I can’t eat that - it will make me fat!”

“She/He/They are too fat to be wearing that!”

“You’re so thin! What is your secret?”

So why do we do this?

Well, there are a few reasons.

The short answer is we’ve been taught to.

In Westernized societies, Fat Talk has become a means for individuals to bond with one another, an opportunity to express personal concerns about one’s weight or shape, and gain reassurance from the people around us.

*We’ll save diving into the why we’ve been taught to for another post coughthepatriarchycough

In fact, Fat Talk has become so normalized that one could argue that it’s actually become an expectation.

You know that scene in Mean Girls, where Regina George (Rachel McAdams) tells Cady Heron (Lindsey Lohan) that she’s “like, really pretty”? Due to the fact that our glorious Cady has spent the majority of her childhood growing up in Africa with her zoologist parents (aka relatively unexposed to these Westernized ideals), she replies with a sans-self-hating “Thank You.”

Regina, intrigued by Cady’s shockingly simple response, presses further, asking “So you agree, you think you’re really pretty?” as if interacting with a moderately confident female is the most fascinating experience of all time (and priming her for a full on bully experience, but that’s another post).

The point is: Women (not only, but often) tend to have such a hard time talking nicely about themselves, that uttering a simple “thank you” in response to a compliment can feel actually impossible sometimes.

And Fat Talk is bad because?

Fat Talk has been linked to a whole host of negative outcomes, including increased negative body image, low mood, depression, anxiety and increased body dissatisfaction and internalization of the thin-ideal (you know, the two of the greatest risk factors for developing an eating disorder).

As if that’s not enough, Fat Talk not only reminds you how badly you feel about yourself, engaging in it actually contributes to feeling worse!

Okay, so what can you do about it?

I’m so glad you asked! Here are 3 tips to fighting fat talk:

1)    When someone gives you a compliment, say “Thank you.”

I know, some cutting edge psychological advice being offered up here, but seriously, uttering these two simple words is powerful and can stop negative self-talk before it starts (not to mention contributing to changing pervasive body-shaming culture).

2)    Don’t let your friends/family/random strangers off the hook when they engage in Fat Talk about themselves.

My personal favorite* is to respond in the third person to any kind of Fat Talk going on by saying, “Don’t talk about my best friend/mom/bus driver that way!” This is my favorite for two reasons:

a.     It confuses the person engaging in Fat Talk why you are suddenly referring to them in the third person.

b.     It lets them know that you care about them enough to not let them say messed up things about themselves.

*Shout out to my husband for teaching me this one.

3)    Don’t let your friends/family/random strangers off the hook when they engage in Fat Talk about others.

My go-to response to hearing someone comment negatively on another person’s appearance is to affirm their comment in the completely opposite (positive) way. Example:

Fat Talk: “OMG, look what he/she/they are wearing”

Anti-Fat Talk Response: “OMG he/she/they are killing it! YAS! SLAY!”

Look, the bottom line is: life is already hard enough. In a world of 24-hour news cycles and videos of screaming goats, there is a lot to worry about all of the time.

So maybe we take feeling obligated to negatively talk about ourselves and others off the table? Just for a minute? Maybe instead we experiment with taking a break from body-shaming ourselves and others, and instead use that energy to lift each other up/high-five/cure cancer/do anything else?

After all, loving yourself in a world that tells you not to is basically the most punk rock thing of all, and who doesn’t want to be punk rock?

TLDR: Friends don’t let friends Fat Talk.

 

 

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