Skin Suit or Temple? How Your Body Image Affects Your Whole Life

Conversation by Emma Williamson and Tania Coats on How We Can Heal Our Body Image

If you have a body, you’ve probably experienced body image concerns, just like me. Whether our bodies look similar or not, our experiences can feel quite universal in how people naturally don’t like their body.
Of course, your relationship with your body is influenced by your own experiences and upbringing. But now feels like a more important time than ever to really open up this conversation because the mix of the pandemic, politics and pervasive social change has been doing all kinds of things to self image. My body image feels as though it is compounded, complicated and unpredictable.

 

Why? Because your body-image shifts with your mood. The last few years have felt strange, and unpredictable and I, personally, am getting really conflicting messages on how I am meant to feel about myself. Going through times of being at home altogether, working from home, the return of Y2K fashion (?!), the commercialisation of the body positivity movement coupled with ‘the return of heroin chic’– it can be really confusing to know what I am feeling.

 

I’m Emma, I am currently the Marketing Coordinator at Freedom Co, which means I get to spend a fair chunk of my time working alongside Clinical Psychologist, Tania Coats– the brains behind Freedom Co. I thankfully get to learn about how we can build up our toolkit to better body image, wherever we are starting from. I had a chat to Tania about some questions I had on body image and why it feels so %@*ing hard on a bad day, and smooth sailing on a good-mood day. Turns out it has much more to do with how I feel than how I look.

 

Emma: Last month we were talking a lot about diet culture. How do you think diet culture affects and impacts our body image?

Tania: Diet culture sets the tone, for how our society is ‘supposed’ to consider their bodies. We’re taught how to frame how we feel about our bodies. We don’t just come at our bodies neutrally. We’re not taught to look at our bodies in terms of their functionality or taught to appreciate what a body is for. We’re actually not taught to even nurture our body. We can often feel like our body is something that is done to us (often in the space we work in). People can feel like ‘f*@!& I have to deal with my body’. Those of us that are more significantly affected by diet culture than others would come from a place of deficit in regard to body image. There can be a feeling that your body is something to overcome.


Emma: When you say overcome in that sense, what is the goal on the other side?

Tania: To fix the ‘problem’– there’s this core belief that our body is a puzzle to be solved. Personally, my body felt like a problem to fix, many of us don’t see our body as normal. We have converged the idea of ‘normal’ with ‘ideal’– which has a set of rules around how a body ‘has’ to look.
If we are thinking about the equilibrium or baseline state for us all, maybe it is acceptance and neutrality– which are quite similar in my mind. This sounds like ‘I accept the body I have’ and ‘I feel neutral about my body’, eventually leading to gratitude which sounds like ‘my body is my friend, I am grateful for my body’. So often we have a hatred, which causes a fracture or split from our body. We divorce our body and see it as an enemy that works against us.


Emma: I never realised there were actual terms for body acceptance, body neutrality, body grief, and so on. What are some tools for how we can identify where our relationship with our body is right now?

Tania: Starting with an awareness of your thoughts. There is a dialogue there, a chatter that isn’t ‘you’. It’s kind of like having a TV on in the background, running all the time. I would start by sitting on my own and fleshing out how I think and feel about my body. This is called self-discovery. An activity you can do is draw a triangle, label the top with thoughts. The bottom two corners are labelled feelings and behaviours. In the centre of the triangle, we write our core beliefs. I would do a mind map where I work out thoughts, feelings, and behaviours I notice when I conceptualise my body. Do I sit differently? Do I hold myself differently? Do I wear different things? Do I suck my tummy in? Do I notice a shift in my mood? Does my thinking change? Do my thoughts feel fast?


Emma: Wow, so that can really help differentiate from what is a destructive or negative core belief coming into our behaviour in full force – rather than seeing our poor body image as a part of our identity.

Tania: Yes. It’s not you, you might look or behave very differently when you’ve worked on your body image. You have to take stock in your own time, in quiet, with an honest conversation. You are priming yourself so that in your real world you can be really cognisant of what is going on. Once you notice it, you have to be ready, because you can’t unsee it.

 

Emma: When I am having a low body image day, how can I alleviate the discomfort and care for myself in a healthy way?

Tania: Acknowledge firstly that your shit has been triggered. Something has happened to cause this. Not just how you feel about your body– it could be that you looked at your body and that was enough of a trigger to bring up deeper problems. Our body image and core beliefs about ourselves are totally linked. They are side by side, holding hands. Psychologists will often say we want to nurture the inner child. What makes you feel safe? Comfortable? Spend some time on your self-care, nurture yourself, have a long shower, eat a really nice meal, and do things that make you feel really safe and comfortable.

 

If you resonate with any of the conversations in this article, we have resources for you. Follow us on Instagram for regular additions to your toolkit to help you work through body-image concerns.

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