Building a healthy relationship with your body might feel utterly impossible, especially if you’ve been bashing your weight or shape for years, especially if you look in the mirror daily with disgust, and say “Ughhhh.” Thankfully, it’s not impossible. Which is why I love sharing different tips and resources with you. Because you don’t have to spend your days fixated on your supposed physical flaws, feeling terrible about yourself. You can change your relationship with your body, with yourself, without changing your appearance.
Margarita Tartakovsky is an associate editor at PsychCentral.com, an award-winning mental health website, and the voice behind Weightless, a blog that helps women deal with body image issues and disordered eating. She also writes a monthly feature for Beliefnet.com, covering topics such as patience and procrastination.
Editor: Saad Shaheed
Today, I’m honored to share my interview with Jennifer Rollin, which is filled with valuable insights and suggestions for cultivating a healthy body image. I first came across Rollin’s work on Instagram, where she posts thoughtful, encouraging and empowering messages. Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C, is an eating disorder therapist in private practice in Rockville, Maryland. She’s a writer who pens excellent articleson body image, eating disorders and mental health. Rollin also is a proponent of Health at Every Size®, a movement that celebrates body diversity and focuses on compassionate self-care (e.g., moving our bodies in ways that bring us joy; eating with flexibility, honoring our hunger cues and prioritizing pleasure). It’s a movement that I truly believe is life-saving and life-giving.
Q: What stops so many of us from having a healthy relationship with our bodies?
A: I think that from the time that we are little, we are culturally conditioned to dislike or even hate our bodies as it serves to fuel a $60 billion-dollar diet industry and many other industries as well. Especially as women (but increasingly for men as well), we are taught to dislike our bodies and appearance from an early age, as it helps to keep a variety of industries afloat.
Also, weight stigma is a real problem as well—with people in larger bodies often being stereotyped and judged by society. This can then lead to people in larger bodies developing internalized fat-phobia. It’s important to note, however, that negative body image can exist in people of all shapes and sizes because it’s a mindset issue (not an issue with their body).
Also, for those with the genetic predisposition for an eating disorder, body image issues are often a big component of eating disorders as well.
Q: What does a healthy relationship with our bodies look like?
A: While all bodies are beautiful, I think it’s important to shift focus from celebrating the appearance of your body. Our bodies are meant to change as we age and putting our self-worth into our appearance is a recipe for discontent. I believe that having a healthy relationship with your body is spending not a lot of time and energy thinking about your body—because you are so busy living your amazing life.
Q: Why is this so important?
A: It’s important because body-shame can keep people from reaching their full potential, from pursuing their passions, from developing meaningful relationships, from finding a true sense of peace and fulfillment. It’s so sad to see people’s lives being so impacted by their poor body image. Often when clients initially come to me for therapy, they describe that their negative thoughts about their body take up a huge part of their day.
Q: What are several myths about having a healthy body image?
A: One myth is that you must love the appearance of your body. Again, while I believe that all bodies are beautiful, the more important and helpful message is that your worth and value have nothing to do with your body or appearance.
Another myth is that having a healthy body image means you can never have a self-critical thought. Unhelpful thoughts are a natural part of life and while many will find that their unhelpful thoughts about their body decrease as they do body-image work, what we work on in therapy is helping people change their relationship to the thought. Essentially, learning that our minds tell us a variety of things all day long, however we do not have to believe everything that we think.
Q: Building a healthy relationship with our bodies is an ongoing process that takes time. How do you suggest we start, especially if right now we despise our bodies and feel very uncomfortable in our own skin?
A: I would suggest starting by noticing when your body image distress is starting to build, and then asking yourself if there is anything else that is bothering or (or any other emotions that you are feeling), which you might be putting onto your body. Often it’s easier for us to talk about hating our thighs, then to express that we feel insecure in our relationship with our partner. Negative body image is often an important signal that we need to pay attention to something else in our life.
Additionally, surrounding yourself by images of body diversity and healthier messages around body image, would be another great place to start. For instance, you might choose to clean out your social media feed of anything that is triggering and add in some body-positive accounts.
Also, another big thing is that if you are weighing yourself—I’d encourage you to throw out your scale. This is one of the first things that I often talk about with clients if they are weighing themselves or doing any body-checking, is working to decrease and then eliminate these behaviors.
Q: What else would you like readers to know about building a healthy relationship with our bodies and ourselves?
A: That weight loss or trying to change your body is not the key to healing negative body image.
Negative body image is in the mind and if this is something that you are struggling with, it’s so important to seek help from a professional.
Freedom from body-hatred is so possible and you deserve to have a meaningful and joyful life.