You don't plan to hate your body. It's something that sneaks up like a sly fox in the night.
Hating your body (often referred to as negative body image) can develop out of a mesh of cultural, environmental, family and peer influence. It's complicated, as is the pervasive impact on one's life.
Let's travel back a few years to where my body image issues began to share what I've learned personally and professionally. So that you can take a quicker path to appreciate your body where it's at today.
1. How Hating Your Body Can Start So Early
Research has shown kids as early as 9 years being conscious of their bodies. That’s scary young.
My tween-years were an awkward time. I was less physically developed than my peers, an immediate point of comparison. I remember these were the years where my body insecurities began raging like a dance party.
Back then, we— as in our communities, school, parents —had little clue. There wasn’t much research or education, even much time given to negative body image as a significant thing, like today.
Not knowing where to turn for support left these issues unaddressed for many years to follow. This had a massive impact on my life going forward.
2. How Trapped You Feel A Never-Ending Cycle of Body Checking
Something that you can never get back from hating your body is hours, days, years blurred by constant ruminating, lamenting, mirror checking every square inch of it. This process, at its most intense, can occupy every waking moment.
This kind of compulsive body checking is insidious because it's so hard to break free from its clutches. Throw into the mix a few timely bodily changes like acne, pregnancy, a health-related condition, and aging, for example, and it can really wreak havoc on your state of mind.
We know that this degree of body checking can evolve from being over-invested in physical appearance as a significant part of one's self-worth.
You can see where this is going, can't you? Any situation affecting how we look over our lifetime can sink a positive body image based solely on having a good appearance as fast as a dingy filled with punctures.
Having a positive body image (i.e., positive thoughts, feelings, and perceptions about your body) has little to do with liking its appearance. Instead, it stems from feeling a strong community connectedness, being compassionate toward oneself, and being able to cast a critical eye over the media you're viewing.
3. Hating Your Body Robs You of Having Fun
Have you ever said 'No' to participating in a fun activity for worry about how it might make you look?
No judgment here, If the answer is never, fantastic! But if it's 'yes' I'm here with you!
Backpacking overseas, playing competitive tennis, swimming in the river on scorching hot days, enjoying delicious meals on dates, not going bike riding with friends, they're just a few on my list.
A negative body image can wipe away life's little enjoyable moments, and sadly these are the moments we don't get back.
But it's not enough to miss out on the fun stuff. We tend to replace these fun activities with arduous regimens trying to 'fix' our bodies instead. Overexercising is one of these.
In their zine Detox Your Masculinity about the cultural influences affecting men's body image. Dr. Faith Harper and Dr. Aaron Sapp highlight that "your internal reality of body hate persists long after the shape you hated has changed." This shows how deeply ingrained negative body image can be, and that it often is far more culturally influenced than we realize.
So how do you break the cycle of saying 'No' to the fun stuff? Take a moment to reflect on what's holding you back. Challenge yourself to participate, and enjoy those moments whenever you can. You might surprise yourself and have a blast regardless of how you look doing it.
Hating your Body Can Be A Serious Mental Health Issue that Deserves Attention and Support
I've done pretty drastic things to try to love my body more over the years. Overexercising, dieting, food restriction even rushed into more permanent cosmetic changes faster than snagging a bargain during a Black Friday Sale.
Do I have regrets? Yes.
The desire to physically change one's body when you feel like you hate so much can become so strong it can feel like a perfect solution. You get so blurred by it that it's hard to see the forest through the trees. But it doesn't always solve things. Often there are deeper issues at play.
Having ongoing negative thoughts and feelings about your body deserves attention and treatment just like any other mental health or physical health concerns.
Looking Forward, Not Backward
Many years down the road, a dietitian with some body image research under my belt. I can recognize many of the patterns that I battled for so long. Hindsight is a beautiful thing.
Do I still have bad body image days? Yes. I say this not to dishearten you, but to show that it's realistic not to love everything about your body.
It's not so much a matter of clicking one's finger, and it's all better. Long term attitudes and behaviors are difficult to work through. But with strategies in learning to show yourself greater compassion and discern more about the media you view will make those bad body image days easier to work through positively.
Tips for Better Body Image
- Talk about body image with trusted friends and family. Don’t go through it alone.
- Do it anyway and have fun!! If you’re worried about how an activity will make you ‘look’.
- Read more about body image. Causes of negative body image, its effects and impacts. Learn about comparison, and objectification theories and other fun topics!
- Let go of the pressure to love everything about your body. You won’t and that’s normal and okay.
- Seek professional help. If you feel thoughts and behaviors about your body are affecting your quality of life, or getting out of hand.
- Never speak badly about your body. Period!
- Celebrate the diversity in all of us. If we were all the same, life would be pretty boring.
It goes without saying that hating your body has huge implications to living a full life. If you've been struggling you're not alone here. The reason I created thankubody is to grow and learn from each others experiences, to celebrate our differences. If you’d like to learn more check out our body image zines, and articles.