Overcoming Negative Body Image

Education. Every Body Loves, Cupped hands gathering water

In my work, I often come across women who have a very negative body image.

Some will endlessly inspect their faces for lines, or other imperfections. Others are convinced they are fat, and obsessively monitor themselves.

Very few women seem entirely happy with their bodies.

Why is that?

One obvious culprit is patriarchy. Women, unlike men, have historically been judged by what they look like, rather than what they are. But if it were just that, why does the problem seem to be getting worse, and why, to an increasing extent, is it also effecting men, particularly young men?

The UK Parliamentary Women and Equalities Committee conducted a survey into body image in July 2020. Almost 8,000 people responded. You can read the report here

Of the adults surveyed, only 16% felt positive about their body image. 21% felt neutral. A worryingly high 48% felt negative about their body image, and even more worryingly, 13% felt very negative. The results weren’t broken down by gender.

The problem seems to be getting worse.

The blame is being placed squarely on social media.

59% of people under 18 felt that images on social media were extremely influential on their body image [negatively, we imagine], compared to 26% of people over 18.

What to do?

In approaching the problem of negative body image, we regularly hear a number of proposals, most of which usually focus on having more representative and realistic portrayals of women’s bodies.

And in dealing with people who have an unrealistic idea of their own bodies – thinking they are repulsively fat, for instance, when they are neither – we tend to think that for some reason they are viewing their body incorrectly, like they’re wearing Fat Specs or something, so we just need to correct them, and reassure them that they’re beautiful.

But they don’t believe us

What is striking with people who have a negative body image is how dominant the visual sense of themselves is – the view from the outside – and how little they have a felt  sense: what it feels like to be them, in their body – the view from the inside.

So for instance, when I was working with a client on this issue, she was almost entirely unable to report body sensation, which she kept re-interpreting from an external vantage point. It was as if she couldn’t stop looking at her body from the outside, and making a negative assessment. She couldn’t say what she felt in her thighs, for example, but she could say that they were fat.

There are two ways out of this.

When I can work in person with a client, I can give them loving, attentive touch, obviously only to the extent that’s been agreed beforehand. One client only felt able to let me touch her left hand, for example. The extent doesn’t matter. What does matter is attentive, present focused touch with no goal. That seems to soothe the body, and enable it to just feel what its feeling, which drops, temporarily and intermittently at first, the incessant voice of harsh judgement.

If I am working remotely with a client, I try to get them into a very relaxed state,  then focus on the experience of the breath in their body,  going on to developing a non judgmental awareness of the different parts of their body, sometimes using movement, sometimes using self touch, and sometimes using visualisation.

I have found that working in this way does seem to reduce the constant voice of negative judgment, which opens up a space to gradually experience more of what you’re feeling rather than what you’re looking like, which gradually re-balances our sense of ourselves from appearance to embodiment.

If this approach sounds as if it might be helpful, why not contact me for a chat?

You can read my related post on body dysmorphia here

You can read more of my articles here