Go get a piece of paper and a pen, right now, please. And do a little exercise with me. Without any editing, write down all of the negative thoughts you had about your body yesterday. That’s right, all of them! Your list might include: I’m fat. I feel fat. My belly is huge. My thighs jiggle. My upper arms keep waving long after my hand has stopped. I’m the biggest woman in the room. My body is ugly. My breasts hang down to my knees.
Does the above list look anything like yours? Do your thoughts repeat and repeat and repeat during the course of the day? How do these thoughts make you feel? Energized? Ready to tackle the world? Or depleted, defeated, drained of energy? My guess is the latter.
Okay, now for part two of this nonscientific experiment. Estimate how many minutes or hours of yesterday you spent thinking these thoughts. Five minutes? Five hours? I think you would agree that if we spent only five seconds belittling ourselves and our bodies, well, that would be too much. If only a few of us women experienced these thoughts, then we wouldn’t have what many theorists consider an epidemic of body hatred. Believe it or not, these negative thoughts are experienced by women of all shapes and sizes and of all ages. Lean women and round ones, eleven year olds and women in their sixties and beyond have similar thoughts.
In their 1995 ground breaking book “When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies”, co-authors Carol Munter and Jane Hirschmann explore what they term “bad body fever”, the proliferation of negative thoughts that women have about their bodies, most of the time. They ask us to examine the price we pay physically and psychologically for entertaining these thoughts. They also ask us to look at what these thoughts really mean.
Get this. They speculate that bad body thoughts, the negative thoughts that we have about our bodies, are never about our bodies, and always about our lives! When we have a not so nice thought about our bodies, what are we really saying? So reread your list and try to “decode” what your thoughts really mean.
When we say, “I feel fat”, right before an important job interview, are we really saying we’re nervous about not fitting in? When we think, “My belly’s so big and disgusting”, are we really saying that our lives are too full, too overextended and there’s no time left over for us? When we say “My upper arms are fat”, are we bemoaning having too many burdens to carry? Right now, some of you are thinking that translating bad body thoughts makes sense. Others, well not so much. You’re shaking your heads insisting that you are indeed fat and your belly is truly big and disgusting. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we know we had these same thoughts when we were bigger – and when we were smaller.
So – just maybe, the problem is not with our bodies, but with our lives! Maybe if we’re scrupulously honest with ourselves, we’ll acknowledge that parts of our lives need fixing, rather than parts of our bodies. Maybe my relationship with my partner is not as loving as it used to be. Maybe I’m worried sick that my child or spouse is drinking too much. Maybe my job is unsatisfying and I’m no longer valued for my skills and talents. The list could go on and on of some significant life issues that are causing us distress and possibly increased caloric intake.
So what do we do? Do we eat restrictively, exercise excessively, undergo surgeries to feel better about the stuff of our lives that have absolutely nothing to with the shape and size of our bodies? Or do we tackle our life issues?
Yes, we need to eat healthily and yes, we need to move our bodies to maintain health and well-being. However, I am suggesting that we get real with ourselves (did I just sound like Dr. Phil?) and put our energies where they belong – into fixing our lives and accepting our bodies.
Ilene Leshinsky is a licensed clinical social worker with over 16 years of counseling experience. In her Plattsburgh-based private practice, she works with women who desire more joy and fulfillment in their lives. Ilene’s BodySense program is open to women of all ages who want freedom from food and body obsessions and who want to develop a peaceful relationship with themselves. Come to her Open House on September 17th from 9-12 and learn more. Ilene can be reached at 518-570-6164, firstname.lastname@example.org; or www.ileneleshinsky.com.