• Gabby

The (honest) one about body image and expectations

I always wanted to be someone else. When I was a child, being someone else seemed like a much better idea then being myself.

I come from a small town, where judging and talking behind each other’s backs was normal. I guess this is not that special, it happens everywhere. For me, personally – and in my family – the unwritten rule was that you have to pay attention to others and try to be like them (because that's better).

There was only one problem with this rule – it completely left out everything that belonged to us as a family and to me as a person.

You can probably see how this setup has its disadvantages, coming from a world, where social media didn’t exist in its current form, but in a more ‘real’, more ‘threatening’ form. “What will others say” “What will they think” I heard these phrases so often. How I appeared was important - the facade, not who's behind the mask. What I thought and what I felt, didn’t matter.

This was my first experience of detachment to my own body and feelings.

I felt like I can never be enough. And this is a certain type of trauma, which affects many people I know. Long story short, the outcome of this setup was that when I was a teenager I started suffering with anorexia. I tried to control and perfect everything, in the hope that it will help and I can live a ‘normal’ life, that’s accepted by everyone. Except, oh yes, me. Because I didn’t spend any time listening to what I want. This is the part that is processed and I feel all right sharing with you, even as a therapist. I have since "recovered", but I am aware this experience has left me with a certain sensitivity to triggers around body image. The reason I use inverted commas for recovery is that I believe - and I know as a clinician - that completely recovering from an eating disorder is something that needs to be worked on for the rest of my life.

Using yoga and mindfulness are the two main pillars to managing this long term, as both include compassionate elements. And yes, of course, therapy. Perhaps more on this in another post.

Those who come to me with body image concerns or perfectionistic and OCD traits, I feel most comfortable treating, as I have lived experience of these issues.

These disorders are complex and often need complex interventions. Including the mind. Including the body.

This might give you an explanation why I am so interested in including the mind as well as the body in treatment.

Let's keep the body in the focus for a little bit longer, but a bit more in general.

Think back to the recent heatwave we've had or the recent beach holiday you've had. How many of you, reading this, thought that you cannot possibly wear a bikini (or any type of clothing) because of your perceived body image?

How many of you thought that you can’t go down to the beach or you need to hide your body as it’s not meeting the ‘ideal’?

How many of you might even try to hide your body from yourself or your loved ones?

Thinking it’s not right. Not acceptable. Far from perfect or the ‘beach body’. I go further, perhaps thinking it’s ugly. It’s disgusting.

Especially females in today’s society, but also increasingly men, carry so much shame about their ways of look. It might be about certain body parts or the entire body. Or their perceived body image. Or their weight. Or body shape.

We are so far removed from what a natural body looks like that it’s hard to accept that what we have (as an average person) is nowhere near like what you see in TV/online or in any kind of printed ad.

We live in extraordinary times. I talk to many people who say they've put on weight during lockdown and now they are preparing to diet or go back to Slimming world (exchange this to whatever you know).

Of course, you have every right to carry on with behaviours that suit your body and your views. And you can try diets and programmes. I can't offer any of those things to you.

I can, however, propose this.

Make friends with your body and mind.

No, really. Start to treat your body as a good friend. With kindness, with compassion. Listening to its needs and responses. Getting to know it more. Instead of fighting against, try what happens when you start to 'work with'. Be flexible around its needs, and give it time. Be patient, as best you can.

If you would like lasting change, then exploring your relationship with your body and identifying underlying rules and processes is something that will give you direction. Your body already knows what it needs in order to function better. Yes, that might mean changing something about what you eat or changing the way you move. It might also mean to be more intuitive and start trusting your body.

But that doesn't have to be punishing and restricting. You can write your own rules, you don't have to follow rules that someone else came up with. Because it might not work for you.

You might think you know what you need, but if you think about how complex our mind and mindset is, then I wonder, whether you can always trust what your mind says about your body. After all, I bet you tried many ways to make your body different from what it is.

So what do you have to lose if you try something else?

Food for thought...

As a mum, I want my daughter to grow up in a world and especially in a family, where she can be confident about how she looks like - whatever that means and in whatever way that changes. To experience all the strength, joy and power her body can provide her with. And I know, if I want to facilitate this, against all the expectations and pressures in real life and the media, then the process starts with me, and continues with me, as a role model. So I choose to love my body as it is. And look after it as best I can.

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