Why body hate is a waste of your life
An article by Kerry Egan, a hospice chaplain and author talks about the regrets of her dying patients. One of the saddest regrets she hears is the time wasted on body hate. Unlike many other regrets, hating your body is not a mistake – it’s a learned behaviour. It’s something you’re taught to do. Faced with death, many of Kerry’s patients suddenly realise they will no longer have a physical body, and mourn its loss:
“…it’s my own body I’ll miss most of all. This body that danced and ate and swam and had sex and made babies. It’s amazing to think about it. This body actually made my children. It carried me through this world.”
How would you feel if that was you? Spending your life hating your body is such a waste. While you’re busy hating, life goes on, and you are missing out.
Body hate is kept alive by faulty thinking acquired from many sources including media, friends, family, peers, or life experience in general.
The underlying thinking behind poor body image is that your worth is defined by how you look, that you ARE your looks and you cannot be happy or successful if you don’t look a certain way.
Changing the relationship you have with your body requires a new way of thinking, a different mind-set. Why not make a pact to work on how you think about your body, so that you can get on and enjoy your body and your life?
In my work on body confidence, I come across the same faulty thinking again and again. I call this thinking the body image myths. Understanding these myths will help change faulty thinking about your body, and begin a different relationship with it. These are the top three myths that I find keep people stuck in body hate:
Myth #1: Body image is all about what your body looks like
Body image is NOT a physical concept. Your body image has nothing to do with what your physical body looks like. Body image is the way you perceive your body, which determines how you think and feel about it.
You choose how to think about your body, so you can decide to like it or hate it whatever your size or shape.
That’s right; you CHOOSE how to think about your body, you are in control. I know this may be a difficult concept to get your head around. Every thought you have, you are creating yourself. The good news is that you can change the way that you think about yourself and your body. I’m not saying this is easy to achieve, but it is possible when you are committed to positive and lasting change in your life.
As you get to choose how you think, what do you want to think about yourself? Your body?
Myth #2: The only way to accept your body is to change it (by losing weight)
Related to the first myth is the idea that changing your body in some way will lead to greater acceptance (and healthier body image). This myth is perpetuated by companies that are looking to sell you products or services that will enable this ‘change’.
Therefore, trying to change the shape or size of your body will not necessarily change how you think and feel about it – you could lose weight for example, and still fundamentally dislike your body.
A study by Dr Thomas F Cash that gave clinically obese people a course of body image therapy enabled them to greatly improve their body image without reductions in weight. The study also found that learning to have a positive relationship with your body is likely to improve the ability to lose any excess weight. Learning body acceptance promotes a healthier relationship with the body, meaning you are more likely to take better care of it: eating properly, exercising and resting when you need to.
Likewise, cosmetic surgery does not necessarily improve body image. In the short term it may leave you feeling better about a certain body part, but because surgery does not remove the basic insecurity that prompted it in the first place, overall body image is unlikely to be improved, and an individual may feel the need to go under the knife again to ‘correct’ another body part.
The good news is that you don’t have to go on a diet or have surgery to develop a better relationship with your body. You can begin a new relationship by changing the way you think about your body.
Myth #3: Thin or slim people have good body image (and larger don’t)
This is again related to the first myth. Because body image isn’t a physical concept, it doesn’t matter what size or shape you are. You can learn to love or hate your body at any size because your mind is in control of how you think and feel about your body.
Very slim people can suffer poor body image, while those who don’t fit the conventional ‘ideal’ can be very happy in their own skin.
It’s important not to make assumptions about people based on their size or shape. For example, what assumptions do you make about slim people versus larger people?
There are many stereotypical assumptions about size and shape that as a society we have adopted, but they aren’t the reality in most cases. A person’s size or shape does not determine their personality, skills or abilities.
There is no ideal size for happiness or success. You can live a happy and successful life at any size.
Getting to grips with the body image myths is the first step in moving away from body hate. Life is a short and precious commodity which need not be wasted on hating your body.
Don’t let body hate be one of your dying regrets, promise yourself that you’ll begin the hard work to change the relationship you have with your body today.