Forget bad hair days, do you feel like you’re having a bad body day (or week)? You’re not alone and here’s what we need to do about it….
By the age of 13 years, I already had a very clear idea about the many ways my body wasn’t good enough. I wrote those body problems down in a long list on a sheet of A4 paper. Then I filed it in the bottom of my drawer, to keep a running track of them all.
There was cellulite on my thighs, and too small-breasts, a boyish waistline, and my poor tanning efforts to name a few. I was short-sighted and needed to wear glasses, but rather than accept that, I wondered around high-school half-blind, unable to recognise my own best friends until I’d literally banged into them in the hallway.
That led to a common misconception that I was unfriendly (apparently). In my first job I got the nickname of Ice Queen (sigh). When the truth was, I was shy, full of self-doubt, had low self-esteem and was so short-sighted I avoided making eye contact with anyone in the college hallways.
And I know I’m not alone. Women by the thousands and millions, are struggling with their body image. They’re cajoled and criticised when they don’t smile enough for complete strangers, aren’t friendly enough 24×7, or fall short in the body requirements of our generation.
Along Came The Body Positivity Movement
The body positivity movement made a bold and brave entrance into the world. Ready to change the sucky-old habits of judging women’s (and men’s) bodies and telling them what they should look like and when to smile.
We were ready to hear that accepting our body, whatever shape it was, was actually the right answer. Not another shreakingly, awful diet. And that we didn’t have to smile if we didn’t feel like it. BTW, smiling is fraught for me, I have what is colloquially known as “resting-bitch-face” and permanently look unhappy (which in hindsight may also have contributed to the nicknames of my youth).
Anyway, body positivity is a super-important social movement based on the belief that all human beings should have a positive body image. The movement also challenges the way in which society presents and views the physical body.
And this is not about more skinny, white girls putting up instagram posts with #bodypositivity hashtags. This is about everybody – fat and thin, black and white, short and tall, able-bodied and disabled – all being about to celebrate their bodies.
I can’t say enough about how amazing the body positivity movement is, and I don’t feel qualified enough to do it anyway (given my white, able-bodied privilege).
But what I will say is this – body positivity is NOT ENOUGH for you!
Say Hello To ‘Your Self-Worth’
You, and I, base our self-esteem on a range of things that we’ve decided define self worth during our lifetime. For some people it might be their professional achievements, for others it might be their appearance or body weight, for others it might be their Christian faith and belief in a loving God, for still others it might be a combination of all.
So for example, some people believe that a worthy person is one who follows a clear-cut moral code; like not killing people, being kind, polite and so on. Therefore their own self-worth is defined on this moral code. And if they are meeting that moral code on any given day, they feel good about themselves…. in other words, they have high self-esteem.
Some people base their self-worth on their religion or faith. So Christians who believe that God loves them, regardless of anything else, have a healthy sense of self-esteem for this reason. They trust that they are loved by Him, even when they make mistakes.
Whereas, other people believe that self-worth is based on your academic and professional achievements. That a worthy person is someone who does well academically and succeeds professionally. So when they’re personally getting straight A’s at college or a promotion at work, these people feel fantastic. Their self-esteem is flying high! Because they’ve met their own standards of worthiness. But when they fail a paper, or get a B- grade, or get passed over for the promotion, their self-esteem plummets. Because they’ve based their entire self-worth on this external measure of achieving well academically or professionally.
The Problem With Measuring Your Self Worth By Body Weight or Appearance
The same is true for those who believe self-worth is based on how attractive or thin you are (trust me, this is really common, especially among women). These people believe that if you’re overweight you are in some way flawed as a human. So if they themselves are a normal weight, their self-esteem is good, but if they gain weight, their self-esteem plummets. What they see in the mirror, or what number is displayed on the bathroom scales defines their self-worth. And this is HUGELY problematic.
These people expect themselves to take a certain thinner shape in order to be considered worthy. As long as they don’t attain that size and shape they have low self esteem, they feel like a failure, that nothing is right, that they need to fix this weight problem up. And again, this is HUGELY problematic.
Self-esteem that depends on external validation, is easily threatened and tends to be low, according to researchers. So those who depend on their appearance or body weight (or other external measures) as a measure of their self-worth, are much more unstable when it comes to their self-esteem. And that instability has been shown to lead to increases in depression, stress, and a perceived lack of control over life events.
Those who depend on their appearance for feelings of self-worth are much more likely to have low self-esteem. Those who depend on a normal body weight, or being thin, for their self-worth also have unstable self-esteem, body shape anxiety and a number of other emotional challenges. In contrast, those who depend on God’s love for their self-worth, had the most stable self-esteem in a number of studies.
So what is all this telling us?
Life Will Be Better If I Lose Weight…. Or Will It?
I’ve long listened to stories from clients (and on social media) about how life will be better once “I’ve got this eating and body stuff sorted.” Among many women there’s a strongly held belief that fixing up their eating habits and losing weight, is going to make life better.
That once you’ve lost weight and got thinner, you’ll feel better about yourself, have more confidence, be accepted by family, friends, work colleagues and society. You’ll stop worrying about your body and what you’re eating, enjoy food again, be healthier and fit your clothes better.
Only there’s a big problem with this. It’s all a lie. I call it The Diet Lie.
the diet lie (noun)
Definition of the diet lie:
- A regime of eating and drinking sparingly, so as to reduce one’s body weight, falsely promoted as a means of miraculously producing happiness, confidence, acceptance and more loving relationships.
“The fact is, you don’t actually need a thinner body, what you really need is more self-worth and self-esteem:
to feel better about yourself, have more confidence, stop worrying about your body and know you are accepted.”
And you’re never going to find improved self-esteem by focusing on your body. Instead you need to find OTHER WAYS to define your self-worth.
If you continually return to your body and appearance as the source of your self-confidence and your self-worth, you will continually ride the rollercoaster of self-esteem. Up and down, up and down, up and down.
And while the body positivity movement is a much-needed social movement, it does not replace the need for you to stop looking to your body weight and appearance to deliver the self-esteem you so desperately want and need. It is time to stop basing your self-worth, and the self-worth of strangers, on body weight and dress size.
By changing the way you define self-worth, you can significantly improve your self-esteem, confidence, feelings about your body and life!
Tips To Redefine Your Self-Worth
So how do you start doing this? Here are some tips to get started:
- Make a list of all the great things about yourself that are NOT related to your external appearance.
- Minimise the time you spend talking about food, diets and your weight.
- Spend less time at the gym (if necessary).
- Modify your social media feeds so you’re NOT continually viewing body-image related posts.
- Try to reduce body checking (e.g. pinching your stomach, arms or thighs to feel how much fat is there).
- Try to reduce body avoidance (e.g. stop avoiding mirrors, photos).
- Place focus on your other attributes – hobbies, sports, family time, self-care.
This is not a bandaid or a quick fix. This is about getting to the root of the problem – how you measure your self-worth!
If nothing else, then I hope you take from this that your self-worth does not depend on your appearance or how thin you are. Because you are a worthy human, no matter what size clothes you wear. And you do have the power to change how you view your own self-worth.