When you hear the term “body image”, what shows up for you? Do you notice anxiety in your chest? Do you notice a quickening of your breath? Maybe you feel anger? Frustration? Sadness? Hopelessness, even, around the ability of changing your relationship to your body? As an eating disorder specialist, I have witnessed all of these responses. So, it begs the question of: “what even is body image therapy?” Below are a few things that may happen in therapy for body image concerns:
- An introduction into the concept of body grief. What do I mean by this? Most individuals’ body image exists on a spectrum, from body hatred/disgust, to body tolerance, to body neutrality, to body respect, to body acceptance. Identifying where you are on this spectrum can be helpful, along with the therapeutic work of naming the experiences you have had in your body, and the resulting emotions. This may also look like identifying problematic behaviors that reinforce negative body image (such as buying clothes that don’t fit) and moving towards behaviors that reinforce respecting your body. This could also include grieving the thin ideal that is unfortunately reinforced in our society, or the expectations that have been put on your body from caregivers, society, or those that may be self-imposed.
- Working through a body image timeline. We can be creative with this as therapists and clients. This may look like identifying an age when something happened to you that involved your body (example: a negative critique of your body), identifying what the negative belief about yourself that you took away from this, and what you needed in that moment that you perhaps didn’t have. Going back and reparenting yourself through these difficult experiences can be incredibly healing.
- Identifying appropriate boundaries. This can often be setting boundaries around comments made towards you or your body. This involves the skills of practicing assertive communication and determining who is a positive influence in your life specifically in the context of body image or who you can reach out to for support when you struggling.
- Working through the four-component model of body image. Body image therapy involves identifying what behaviors, thoughts, emotions, physical sensations all contribute to your body image experience. Identifying and tracking these experiences in therapy can also be helpful for your healing process.
Body image therapy is sacred work. It can be a lengthy process of doing the grief work and showing up for yourself. If you are struggling with poor body image, know that you are not alone. You are deserving of professional support. There is hope in improving your relationship to your body.
With so much care for each of you,
By: Laura Deneen, LPC-MHSP, CEDS-S, NCC