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Body Image: Why is it so hard to like my body?

Written by Kara Thompson-Miller, Licensed Clinical Social Worker: January 2023

 

“Why is it so hard to like my body?”: A unassumingly complex question that has been asked by many clients in many different variations, but one that, nonetheless, tends to show up in the therapy space time and time again. In this blog, I aim to speak to some theoretical lenses that can allow further exploration of this question and ways to move through it.

 

The National Eating Disorders Collaboration explains how the concept of body image isn’t just one unidimensional construct, pulling from a lens leaning in cognitive behavioral approaches. NEDC speaks to how the body image is made up of four separate constructs that are interrelated with one another:

 

  1. Perceptual body image: how you see your body
  2. Affective body image: how you feel about your body
  3. Cognitive body image: how you think about your body
  4. Behavioral body image: the way you behave as a result of your perceptual, affective, and cognitive body image (“Body Image,” 2017)

 

Often our behavioral body image (actions) can almost feel automatic or reactive to our perceptual (see), affective (feel), and cognitive (think) body images. Slowing things down to offer ways that we can behave, or act, differently toward our body despite how we currently see, feel, or think about our bodies at that moment can be a powerful step. Or for some, it may be helpful to challenge a reframe of how we think about our bodies, to encourage a change in this dynamic. These interventions encourage a bit of a “re-write” of our brain’s natural programming, encouraging a sense of self-efficacy in choosing intentional, value-based actions.

 

When working with clients on the topic of body image, we often end up exploring factors such as the way that bodies were spoken about in the family unit growing up, the expectations of perceived image, the understood function of your body, and both the implicit and explicit messaging received socially around body image. When we begin to break down these constructs, it’s not uncommon to find that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors around body image are often deeply rooted, messy, and sometimes even carrying unspoken shame.

 

Let’s think about this through an additional lens here centered in parts-work concepts from a theoretical orientation named Internal Family Systems, founded by Dr. Richard Schwartz and influenced by his work with clients struggling with eating disorders. The IFS model believes that the mind is divided into what we call “parts,” in addition to a “Self.” As we grow as humans, these parts develop along with and form a complex internal system, hence the name Internal Family Systems (Williams, 2020). The model explains that by exploring our parts while recognizing their perceived roles and positive intentions, we can unblend from our parts moving closer to a sense of trust in Self. IFS encourages us to move towards our “parts” to get curious about them and befriend them in a way, rather than the often natural reaction of shaming and trying to rid ourselves of them. 

 

Through this IFS lens, we may acknowledge that this part of us that has struggled to like our body is quite familiar to us. Possibly, this part has been around for quite some time, picking up on messaging, rules, and beliefs throughout the years. What would it look like for us to turn to this part, soften, and listen to what it believes it is doing for us? What important role does it feel responsible for playing? What pain might it carry? What is it worried might happen if it stopped being quite so loud? It is through this approach that we begin to get curious, befriend our parts, develop trust in the “Self,” and work to transform the often rigid roles the parts have felt the need to play (Williams, 2020).

 

It is my hope that as we return to this question of “why is it so hard to like my body?” we have gained some perspectives in which we can further explore this question. In more of a cognitive behavioral approach, we may seek to understand the way that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influential to one another. We may explore opportunities for reframing or increasing value-based action moving us closer to behavior change. We also can explore this question through the lens of parts-work, encouraging compassionate curiosity to the parts of us that may hold hurt and pain, encouraging the gentle transformation of these roles as trust in Self is built. 

 

Navigating body image-related struggles can be difficult and is deserving of support. If you or a loved one are interested in exploring your relationship with your body, image, and self-esteem, reach out to us at Symmetry Counseling. You can contact us online or by phone at (312) 578-9990 to schedule an appointment with a clinician today.


References

Body image. (2022, July 19). Retrieved January 30, 2023, from https://nedc.com.au/eating-disorders/eating-disorders-explained/body-image/

Williams, B. (2020, October 19). Internal Family Systems & Treating Eating Disorders as Parts. Retrieved January 30, 2023, from https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/blog/internal-family-systems-treating-eating-disorders-parts 

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