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Let’s Talk Body Image
Article Contributed By: Adrienne Ressler, LMSW, CEDS, Fiaedp, Vice President of Professional Development for The Renfrew Center Foundation
The “thin” Issue
Thinness has become a symbol of power, moral superiority and even a measure of fitness/wellness itself. Unfortunately, few of us have peace of mind when it comes to our bodies and our appearance.
No one is immune to the ever-changing cultural beauty standards and the ever-present pressures to be thin. Many women cling to the belief that their lives will be magically transformed when their goal weight or dress size has been reached.
When the magic does not happen, females of all ages tend to stay caught up in the relentless pursuit of thinness—a quest that all too often results in body-shame and body-loathing, low self-esteem and disturbances in body image – believing that “next time” they will be successful.
To bring attention to body image issues and dangers surrounding eating disorders, February 23rd through March 1st is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. This special week is targeted to not only raise awareness about eating disorders but to also provide an opportunity to start conversations about body image disturbance and its signs and symptoms while getting involved in educating others.
What Exactly Is Body Image?
Body image is an extremely complex concept. It goes far beyond simply feeling that “I love my body” or “I hate my body.” Our body image begins to form at an early age and is influenced by our parents, caregivers, peers, and life experiences.
The development of self-esteem, a strong personal identity, the capacity for pleasure, and the ability to connect emotionally to one’s self and to others are all linked to a positive body image.
Each of us has a picture of our self in our mind’s eye. That image, coupled with our belief about how others perceive us, constitutes two of the facets of our body image.
Body image also involves how we actually feel living in our bodies. Ironically, many women, although obsessed with their bodies, have actually cut themselves off from body feelings and sensations.
Others may continue to perceive themselves in inaccurate images from childhood, and most tend consistently to overestimate their own size and shape and punish themselves for falling short of perfection. When repeated and reinforced over time, these behaviors can result in body image disturbance.
Signs of Body Image Disturbance
Body image problems occur along a continuum that ranges from mild dissatisfaction to severe body-hatred. At the higher end of the continuum, body image disturbance is generally seen in conjunction with self-esteem issues, depression, eating disorders, or sexual abuse.
A person may be suffering from body image disturbance if she:
- Is unable to accept a compliment.
- Is overly affected in her moods by how she thinks she looks.
- Constantly compares herself to others.
- Calls herself disparaging names—“Fat.” “Gross.” “Ugly.” “Flabby.”
- Attempts to create a “perfect” image.
- Seeks constant reassurance from others that her looks are acceptable.
- Consistently overstates the size of her body or body parts.
- Believes that if she could attain her goal weight or size, she would be able to accept herself.
- Subordinates her enjoyment of life’s pleasures or pursuit of personal goals to her drive for thinness.
- Equates thinness with beauty, success, perfection, happiness, confidence, and self-control.
- Compartmentalizes her body into parts (thighs, stomach, buttocks, hips, etc.) rather than feeling connected to her whole body.
- Has an ever-present fear of being fat—even if she is slim.
- Has an overriding sense of shame about herself and her body.
Improving body image is an important step in the recovery from an eating disorder. The Renfrew Center, the country’s first residential eating disorder treatment facility, offers individual and group therapy, as well as a continuum of care, to help those who are struggling with body image disturbance.
For most adolescent and adult women in today’s society, achieving that “perfect body” has become the dominant measure of self-worth but, no matter their size or shape, women can learn to make peace with their bodies through specialized body-focused activities that promote self-acceptance and reduce self-criticism.
This year during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (February 23 – March 1), The Renfrew Center Foundation is sponsoring its third annual Barefaced & Beautiful, Without & Within campaign. The goal of this campaign encourages women nationwide to go without makeup for one day in order to start a dialogue about healthy body image and inner-beauty.
For many, negative feelings about one’s self-image can set the stage for destructive behaviors, such as addictions or disordered eating. It is our hope that through the Barefaced & Beautiful, Without & Within campaign. Renfrew can promote a greater understanding of how beauty and confidence can come from within.
To participate and show your support for body self-acceptance, we are asking you to share a photo of your natural self through your social media networks—Twitter, Facebook and Instagram—with the hashtag #Barefacedbeauty. Supporters can also post a positive comment under someone’s natural photo or retweet positive body image messages from Renfrew’s Twitter page, @RenfrewCenter.
By coming together this week we will raise awareness about body image disturbance and help those struggling to reclaim their lives!
Adrienne Ressler, LMSW, CEDS, Fiaedp is Vice President, Professional Development, for The Renfrew Center Foundation and has served as senior staff for 24 years. Adrienne attended the University of Michigan where she served as faculty in the School of Education. A body image specialist, she is a member of the Academy of Eating Disorders as well as a fellow and past president of the Board of Directors of the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (iaedp). Her trainings reflect her background in body-focused methods to treat eating disorders, body image, trauma, and substance abuse. She is published in The International Journal of Fertility and Women’s Medicine, Social Work Today and Pulse, the journal of the International Spa Association. Author of chapters on the use of experiential and creative therapies for eating disorders in two textbooks, her work has also been included in the first Encyclopedia of Body Image and Human Appearance. A frequent contributor to popular media, she has appeared on the Today Show and Good Morning America Sunday and is the featured body-image expert for documentaries on both cosmetic surgery (Lords of Esteem) and menopause (Hot Flash Havoc).
Last Reviewed and Updated By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on July 7, 2014
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com, Online Help and Support for Eating Disorders