Overcoming Negative Body Image

Body Image

Negative Body Image Treatment (from The Center for Growth in Philadelphia)

It is likely that the commentary you  received about your body as a child and adolescent impacts the way you  currently view your body, possibly creating negative body image. This  commentary came from various sources: your parents, siblings, friends,  strangers, etc. If you have low  self-esteem about your body, or a general lack of self-confidence, it is worth  examining how this past commentary about your body impacted you and caused you to have negative body image. It is important to explore the discomfort you  have about your body because if you’re not comfortable with your body, your  discomfort could be impacting your sexuality and your ability to be intimate  with your partner.  At The Center for Growth in Philadelphia we can help you to overcome negative body image.

“You’re  going to need a longer dress …we need to cover up these bulky knees.” You probably never thought about  your knees. You probably never  considered their size or considered that they might be bulky. If you heard comments similar to the one  above, these comments probably made you aware of a body part that you never had  paid much attention to. As a kid, they  were just your knees; the knees that you scrapped when you fell off your bike,  the knees that cushioned you as you played in the sand box. But thanks to the commentary of an adult, or  perhaps a peer, they became your bulky knees. What did it mean to have bulky knees anyways?  You may have started to compare your  “deformed” knees to other kids’ knees.   You may have begun to notice knees everywhere: at the grocery store, in  math class, at the dentist’s office.   Regardless of reality, you began to perceive your knees as the  bulkiest.  And if you heard repeated  messages about your “bulky knees” you likely began to feel quite negatively  about your knees and tried to hide them under your dresses or pants, as not to  repulse passerby’s or scare off other children.   What were your “bulky knees” and how did the commentary about this  specific body part impact you?  To examine your negative body image, consider  the following questions about messages you received from your childhood about a  specific body part or parts and how these comments may have contributed to negative body image:

  1. What  body part(s) did you receive negative commentary about as a child?  Write down the specific messages.
  2. Who  made this commentary?  List everyone you  can think of you made comments about a specific body part(s) (family members,  friends, teachers, coaches, a stranger).
  3. How  did it feel to hear these messages?  How  does it feel now to think about these messages?
  4. Think  about the different people who made the comments.  Did some of the comments seem more hurtful  depending on who they were coming from?
  5. In  what situations were the comments most hurtful?
  6. How  did you emotionally protect yourself from the hurt (embarrassment, self consciousness  etc)?
  7. In  what situations were you most able to ignore or brush off the comments?
  8. In  what situations were you unable to let go of the comments?
  9. Who  knew?
  10. As a  child, how did you begin to view your body part or parts that were negatively  commented about?  How did you feel about  your body in general?  What actions did  you take?
  11. How  did you cope with these comments?
  12. In  what way do you imagine these feelings effect you today?

“Hey Big  Knees McGee!” Not  only did you have to cope with fairly drastic and awkward body changes, you  likely had peers and family members who commented on these changes.  This new set of commentary either on the same  body part(s) or new body changes likely influenced you.  The messages you received as an adolescent,  compounded with negative commentary you received as a child, could still be  influencing how you perceive your body today.   In thinking about commentary you received in adolescence about your  body, consider the same questions as above to explore your negative body image:

  1. What  body part(s) did you receive negative commentary about during adolescence?  Write down the specific messages.
  2. Who  made this commentary?  List everyone you  can think of you made comments about a specific body part(s) (family members,  friends, teachers, coaches, a stranger).
  3. How  did it feel to hear these messages?  How  does it feel now to think about these messages?
  4. Think  about the different people who made the comments.  Did some of the comments seem more hurtful  depending on who they were coming from?
  5. In  what situations were the comments most hurtful?
  6. In  what situations were you most able to ignore or brush off the comments?
  7. What  did you do to protect yourself from the feelings that these comments brought  up?
  8. In  what ways do you compensate for this issue?
  9. As  an adolescent, how did you begin to view your body part or parts that were  negatively commented about?  How did you  feel about your body in general?
  10. How  did you (and do you) cope with these comments?   Were their specific activities, people, places or styles of dress that  you avoided? Or did more of?

“You never  wear short dresses.  I wish you’d wear a  dress above your knees…I think it would be sexy.” So there you are, years, perhaps  decades later, and those “bulky knees” are still an issue.  You realize you are still avoiding, hiding  and are overly aware of the specific body part you received negative commentary  about as a child or adolescent…and now it is negatively affecting your sex  life.  Your partner would love to see you  in a shorter dress, but you can only imagining the repulse on his face when you  come strutting out with your “bulky knees.”   You refrain from wearing sexy lingerie because you worry that your knees  will overshadow any sex appeal.  You  constantly turn off the lights to hide your knees when your partner begins to  put on the moves.  You avoid certain  sexual positions because you do not want your partner to be looking at your  knees.  Here are some tips to help you  confront how the negative commentary you received is now causing negative body image and impacting your sex life:

Talk to your partner Talk  to your partner about the body part(s) you are uncomfortable with or  self-conscious about. Your partner may  be surprised to hear your concerns. Once  your partner is aware of your insecurity, your partner will have an easier time  becoming a source of encouragement by making statements like I know you’re  worried about your knees, but I am not! I love your legs, including your knees, and I want to see you in this  short dress. By sharing with your partner  you might also discover he/she has a body part that he/she is self-conscious of  or worried about. It may surprise you  that your partner his or her own bulky knees, especially if you happen to  like the specific body part that he/she is concerned about.

Experiment. Do the exact thing you are avoiding doing. In the example above, the woman who believes  she has bulky knees could buy a short dress and wear it for her partner. If this is too unnerving, start out wearing  the short dress around the house when you are alone. Later try to wear the dress for your partner  when he/she comes home. Even if your  partner is not in the mood, your partner should be impressed by your new  courage and should at least humor you. Next, let your partner pick a piece of lingerie for you to wear (one  that you would normally reject due to your fear about your whatever specific  body part you are worried about). Wear  it for your partner. Keep the lights on  or at least light some candles!

Realistically Compare Do not compare yourself to models in magazines, on billboards, etc. They are not real; they are airbrushed. When at work, out at dinner, or just out  running errands compare your dreaded body part to that of others. You may begin to realize your bulky knees for instance are not that bulky after all. This exercise can also help you realize the natural variation of the  body part you are worried about. You may  begin to realize that everyone has differently shaped knees and little  imperfections.

Do Your Bulky Knees Really Matter? Seriously consider if it really matters that you have bulky  knees. You have many other body parts,  plus a personality! Your partner does  not see you as a set of knees! Your partner sees you as the package deal. Remember, your partner is not dating or  married to your knees…they’re dating or are married to YOU. Why are you  letting one body part trump your entire self-image? It is worth thinking about being in a  relationship with someone who only focused on one aspect of them. Would you want to be with someone who saw  himself or herself as just a crooked smile?

Question How Realistic Your Thoughts Are.  The  next time a thought like, “I have the ugliest knees,” or “My knees are  enormous” question how realistic your thoughts are.  Replace your exaggerated thoughts about your  knees with more realistic statements such as “My knees just a bit larger than  average,” or “My knees are really not that bad!”

Refocus.  Instead of putting all of your energies into focusing on your bulky knees, focus on the parts of your body that you like.  The next time a negative thought pops into  your head about the specific body part that you do not like, refocus your  thoughts on the positives about your body.   For instance if the following thought pops into you’re head, “My bulky  knees are so ugly!” then make a few positive statements about the features you  do like:  “But I do have great hair,” “I  love my arms,” “Everyone always tells me how nice my smile is.”  Ask your partner what they love about your  body.  Include their feedback into positive  statements you make about your body such as, “My partner loves my eyes” or “My  partner thinks my legs are sexy”.  Repeat  this exercise until it becomes a habit.

Be Confident.   Even if you feel negatively about some of your body parts, this does not  mean you should feel negatively about your entire body.  Now that you’re making positive statements  about your body (see suggestion above) show your love for these body  parts!  Remember to ask your partner what  they love about your body too.  Highlight  or show off these aspects of your body to your partner.  The confidence you feel about specific parts  of your body may help you feel more confident in your body overall.  If you feel more confident about your body,  you’re more likely to feel more desirable and comfortable with your partner,  especially during intimate moments.

Focus On the Function.  You  may not like the way a certain body part appears, but it certainly does a lot  for you!  The next time you begin  thinking negatively about your “bulky knees” think about their  functionality.  Think about what you  would not be able to do if you did not have your knees.  Create a list of all the daily activities  your “bulky knees” help you with.  When  you begin to feel negatively about the appearance of your knees, revisit your  list and focus on all of the activities you are able to do because of your  knees.

What  is the Family Story?  Are “bulky knees” a family trait?  If so, think about the people in your family  who inherited the “bulky knees” trait.  Were  people with this trait ashamed of this trait or did they accept this  trait?   It is possible that you could be  modeling your attitude towards your “bulky knees” based on your family members  attitudes towards that particular trait.   If your family members seemed indifferent towards their bulky knees, it is  worth considering in what ways you could adapt their attitude.  Also consider whether the people in your  family with “bulky knees” had loving and supportive relationships.  If so, it is important to realize that their  “bulky knees” did not prevent them from having meaningful and important  relationships.  Also consider whether the  people in your family with “bulky knees were positive or negative people in  your life. If they were a negative  influence in your life, it is worth thinking about whether your reaction  towards your knees is exaggerated because they remind you of a person who you  did not like.

While it can be painful to revisit  parts of your childhood and adolescence, it is often necessary to understand  how the way you have coped with your hurts are still influencing you today,  especially when it comes to your ability to be intimate with your partner. Once you better understand how you were hurt  by negative commentary about your body part, and what you did to survive that  moment in time, the easier it will be for you to better understand how this  coping mechanism is helping / hurting you today. Most likely if you are reading this tip, there is a way in which your current beliefs are having a negative impact on  your sense of self, and your ability to be intimate with your partner. Use the tips above to help you rediscover the  body part you are concerned about and learn to experience this body part in a  positive way. Also use these tips to  begin to be more comfortable and confident in your body. This comfort and confidence will positively  impact the relationship you have with your partner, especially when it comes to  being intimate with your partner.