To fall in love with your body – this phrase will conjure up different emotions, depending on your life experience. For anybody that has struggled with body image, the phrase may even trigger a visceral reaction. Shame about our bodies is heaped on us from a young age, and from almost all angles, leaving us with a negative body image and no clue as to how to heal from this.
We have to start healing from the shame we’ve been taught to feel about ourselves. No diet or exercise program will undo the trauma, but making an effort to do inner work will help us begin healing from this mindset and change unhealthy patterns. A negative body image is not a life sentence!
Healing from Shame is a Journey – But Not Impossible
We live in a society where many people are always looking for the next “thing” to finally be happy, feel beautiful, and love themselves. This takes many forms: getting your body altered, participating in dangerous diets, deleting entire food groups out of your nutritional vocabulary, not taking medication in fear of it causing weight gain, yo-yo dieting, etc. For many, the mere idea of body love without weight loss or their idea of perfection may seem laughable.
Before we were corrupted by this mindset of shame, we simply existed and did not think about our bodies. We dressed how we wanted, didn’t worry if our tummies were hanging out, didn’t overthink our meals and the amount of calories in them – we just enjoyed life.
We will never be able to return to that level of innocence. However, we can experience freedom by learning to love ourselves, just as we are.
To start this journey, we must become aware of our unconscious actions. Actions, even unintentional, continue the narrative that our body is bad, that it needs to be hidden and punished. This narrative is not, has not been, and never will be true – but unlearning shame is a process.
The First Step of the Journey: Practicing Self-Awareness
When we recognize shame, we can start to bring awareness to those behaviors and begin to mindfully change them.
Here are some common, unconscious signs of negative body image:
- Consistently tugging at the shirt around our tummies, to pull it away from our body.
- When sitting down, immediately reaching for a pillow or something to put over your midsection.
- While eating, placing your hand over your mouth (not referring to when you’re speaking and eating).
- Negatively thinking or talking about your body.
To heal this relationship, we must bring mindfulness into our actions. Start paying attention – when you notice yourself doing any of the above, give yourself grace, and try to break that behavior. As we become aware, the mindless actions that we do which continue the shame and hate cycle, will begin to deteriorate – and in its place, a more nourishing connection between mind and body will begin to grow.
Practices to Help You Move Towards Healing
Being self-aware of unconscious behaviors is the first step in changing the narrative of negative body image, but it’s also important to both reflect on the feelings causing these unconscious habits and replace the negative behaviors with more thoughtful, body-appreciating practices. Consider implementing a few of these into your daily routine:
- Body Neutrality – If the jump from feeling shame for your body to loving your body is too difficult for where you are in your journey, consider body neutrality. This idea is centered around appreciation and respect for your body – accepting it as it is. It may be a good starting point if body positivity feels too pressuring or disingenuous for you.
- Journaling – When in doubt, write it out! Journaling is not only an effective way of getting all your thoughts out of your system, but it’s a good opportunity for reflecting and healing. Answer journal prompts related to body image, or take ten minutes each morning listing the things your body allows you to do. Your answers might be revealing!
- Move your body! Stir up some serotonin by getting in movement everyday – whether that be dancing to your favorite song, going on a short walk, or taking a yoga class. Shame is rooted in anxiety, and our bodies need movement when we’re anxious. Not only will your body feel relaxed, but you’ll notice that your mind is more at ease too.
- Meditate – Shameful thoughts can be overwhelming to both the mind and the body. Take some time out of your day, in the morning or before bed, to recenter yourself. Look into our meditation & breathwork practices to see what could work for you.
- Find support – Healing from shame is a journey, but it’s not one you have to walk alone. Reach out to loved ones you know you can trust. Or if you’re comfortable with it, reach out to a professional for the most effective ways of overcoming your shame. Consider looking into Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, too – it helps you refocus your thoughts and change patterns of behavior.
This is the only way we can begin to truly liberate ourselves from the societal lens through which we view ourselves. And once we’ve done this, we can start to care about wellness, versus thinness and perfection.
Loving your body does not always mean you love it aesthetically. You may still want to change things, but it’s the intention behind those desires that should come from a place of mental clarity. Not looking to finally be happy, or find love for yourself by looking a certain way.
This is freedom.
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