4 Steps to Improve your Body Image: How to Stop Hating Your Body – Interview with Amy Harman, CEDS

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If people take a moment to just listen to their inner dialogue, we can really see how abusive it is. And I like to think about body image as an abusive relationship sometimes, or just a relationship. It doesn’t have to be abusive. But a lot of times it turns out that way

Is it Possible to Improve Your Body Image?

Emma:

Hello, everyone. Today we’re going to be talking about a specific form of anxiety that doesn’t get talked about enough, which is body image.

So, a lot of people who experience anxiety, this anxiety manifests in how they talk to themselves and how insecure they feel in their own body. And that might lead to avoiding activities that are important to them, like going out in public, interacting with other people, going to the beach.

So, today I brought on Amy Harman. She’s a licensed marriage and family therapist and a certified eating disorder specialist, and she’s here to teach us some ways that we can improve our body image, improve how we talk to ourselves about our bodies.

I’ve also worked with Amy. She has developed this incredible course, 4 Steps to Better Body Image, where you can learn all about how to improve your body image by taking these really practical steps to change how you think, to let go of these distorted ideas and move toward a healthier relationship with your body.

So, I’m really excited to have Amy on the show. Amy, thank you so much for being here. Today we’re going to be talking about body image.

So, can you speak to people out there? What do you do if you hate your body? You know, what do you do if you tell yourself terrible things like, “Oh, I’m so ugly.” “I’m so fat.” “My nose is too big” or “my butt is too small.” Is it possible to change how you feel about your body?

Amy:

Yes, it is possible to change how you feel about your body. And if you think about a long time ago, hundred years ago, 200 years ago, people did not feel this way about their bodies.

And there was a whole range of people, there were beautiful people, there were ugly people. People came in all shapes and sizes, and they probably did not struggle with their bodies as much as people today struggle with theirs.  

And so there is a way to change it. We don’t have to feel this way all the time.

Emma:

So, people haven’t always obsessed over their bodies as much as they do now?  

This is something that isn’t necessarily natural; it’s something that’s been caused?

Amy:

Yeah. I mean, you think about our culture and how many images we see every single day. And we see them on the internet. We see them just in advertising around. We don’t have magazines as much, but you think about where you get all your ads anyway. A lot of them are online, a lot of them are on social media, and we probably see more images of people than we see actual people in real life.

Emma:

That’s a good point.

How Media And Advertising Affect Your Body Image

Amy:

When you think about all those images that you’re seeing, most of them have been doctored. Most of them have been touched up.

Most of them have been changed, and they don’t even look like the person themselves. And so, our mind starts believing that women are supposed to look a certain way.

And men too. It’s mostly geared towards women. And advertising works. Like, it’s a real thing, and we wouldn’t do it if it didn’t work. And so, we have to understand that what we see really does affect us, and there’s never been a society that’s had that pervasive amount of images shown to them on a daily basis, minute by minute basis.

Emma:

So how does this pressure from the media and this pressure from advertising, this pressure to have this ideal body, how does this impact how people talk to themselves?

Amy:

If people take a moment to just listen to their inner dialogue, we can really see how abusive it is. And I like to think about body image as an abusive relationship sometimes, or just a relationship; it doesn’t have to be abusive. 

But a lot of times it turns out that way. And if we had a spouse that was constantly telling us, “You shouldn’t wear that.” “You don’t deserve to go on that vacation because you’re not thin enough.” “Why are you eating that?” “You need to exercise more.” “You should be so embarrassed by how you look.”  “You shouldn’t go out with your friends,” we would think that would be abusive. And yet we feel comfortable saying it to ourselves all the time.

And why do we give ourselves permission to talk to us that way when we wouldn’t allow someone else to say that? Or we wouldn’t even say that to someone else.

Emma:

So, one of these first steps is really noticing like how abusive and harmful that self-hatred or that body hatred can be. How does that negative self-talk impact people?

Amy:

You know, studies have shown that negative self-talk and that poor body image does lead to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and it can be really problematic.

Emma:

Do some people think, when they’re saying mean things to themselves, do they think that it’s helping? Do they think that by saying, “Oh, you’re so fat,” that that’s going to help them lose weight or help them, like, “Oh, I’ll be happy when I do lose weight, so I’ll abuse myself until then?”

Amy:

I think that is what they’re thinking. And it’s funny – and we kind of know this, I think,  in our culture, as far as like parenting and like behavior change, but you can’t shame somebody into changing. And yet we try all the time with ourselves. 

We try to shame ourselves into changing. And then we also have to confront this idea that you brought up, that if my body looks good or looks right or is thin, then I will be happy.  

And that’s just false. And so, we have to detach those things from themselves as well.

Emma:

Yeah. I mean, you would never take a kid who is struggling to learn math and just yell at them, be like, “Oh, you’re so stupid. You’re so dumb.  What’s the matter with you? Why can’t you figure this out?” And like the average person at least who knows something about parenting would not use that technique to motivate a child to do their math homework, right?

I mean, I’m sure there are some people out there who do this, but it’s just not helpful. But yet we seem to have this like disconnect with ourselves where it’s like, well, it’s okay for me to call myself stupid or ugly or fat or whatever.

Amy:

Yeah. So, we really need to change the way we’re doing that. And also change maybe our motivations. Like, like if we’re trying to be thinner or be more beautiful, maybe we need a question about whether we actually need to do that.

Because there are people, there are beautiful people who have terrible body image, and there are just average-looking people who have great body image.

There are fat people who have good body image. And so, it’s not just about how your body looks. It’s something deeper than that.

Emma:

That’s really interesting because the way we think and the way we talk contributes to how we feel, and how we feel about ourselves really matters to how we feel overall.

So, there are these distortions that pop in. So, the media says, you know, “If you want to be happy – ” or the advertising says, “If you want to be happy; you need to look a certain way” or “Good people look a very specific way.

And for you to feel happy or for you to be good, you need to fit this certain thing.” So, people develop this way of thinking that says, “Oh, yeah, I’ll be happy if I change this about myself,” or “I could never be happy because I can’t change this about myself.”

Amy:

Yeah. That’s exactly right. And so, when we start believing those ideas, that happiness depends on how my body looks, we’re never going to be happy.

Our body is never going to be perfect. It’s a mortal body of flesh and bone, and things happen, and we’re never going to look perfect. And so, we really need to confront that belief.

How Distorted Thinking Affects Body Image

Emma:

Yeah. Are there some other distorted ways of thinking that impact body image, like how we think that contributes you’ve mentioned a couple here.

One is like comparing yourself to media or these photo-shopped images. And another one you’ve mentioned is where we maybe wouldn’t treat anyone else that way, but we’re treating ourselves that way. And it’s like we have a double standard for ourselves. In my mind, I would consider that as like a distorted way of thinking.

“It’s okay for me to talk to myself like this, but not to others.” But are there other ways of thinking that really, if you can learn to identify how these are harmful, you can kind of start to see through them?

Amy:

Yeah. So yes, we need to stop comparing ourselves to other people. Yes, we need to start to stop comparing speaking kindly to ourselves, being more positive about ourselves, positive self-talk, positive affirmations, mantras, you know, that are helpful.

I think the other thing that is helpful is if we confront these ideas that our society holds so dear. Fat people are unhealthy. Fat people are lazy. There is just a lot of fatphobia, I call it, in our society.

And when we internalize that, we start believing that it’s okay for us to judge and criticize and believe false things sometimes, believe negative things about somebody else based on how their body looks.

And we would never do that – well, we should never do that based on someone’s skin color. Right? I think our society has come a long way with that. There’s still a ways to go. But I think generally we agree that it’s not okay to mistreat somebody based on their skin color. But I don’t think we’ve come as far when it comes to people in larger bodies.

And so confronting your own fatphobia is also something I think that will help because when we believe – and sometimes we believe too that we have to be fit. If we’re going to be a good person, then we must be fit. And we believe that our physical health is everything.

And this is kind of where I like to help my clients and those I work with understand that it is something deeper. You are more than just your body. You’re more than your fitness level. You’re more than your thinness. You’re more than your weight. You’re more than your imperfections. 

There are so many great things about you, physical things, emotional things, passions that you have, or relationships that you have in your life that makeup who you are. And when we tie everything into this one little physical aspect, it really distorts and throws our lives off balance.

Emma:

Wait. So, you’re saying like, if I’m ugly, I could still have a really good life and do a lot of good in the world?

Amy:

It’s amazing! Yeah!

Emma:

I could like be nice to people or make great art or have a vision or make music? I mean, like there’s more to me than just my body?

Amy:

Yes. And I think that’s the thing that is so frustrating, I think, about the advertising in our society and the culture, the diet culture in our society, that we believe that the only way to happiness is to diet your way there, or make yourself – and I’m like, there are many ways to happiness, and we are a whole person. We’re not just this two-dimensional image on Instagram. We are a whole person.

Emma:

Yeah. So that’s one way people can change how they, they feel about themselves. They see their, their body and their physical part of them as just one part. And there’s so many other parts.

How Living Your Values Improves Your Body Image

Amy:

Yes. Yes. There are so many other parts. And when we look at that and decide, well, you know, some people will say, “Well, when I look a certain way, then I will be outgoing.” You know, I get that a lot. And I’m like, “Well, how can you be outgoing today?”

Emma:

So, it’s like living your values instead of waiting for something to change so that you can live the life you value. Like if you care about being outgoing, you care about being with other people, you care about creating beauty, you care about serving, you care about love, and you care about being in a good sexual relationship, it’s like, you don’t have to wait until this magical weight loss or this magical transformation or your skin magically doesn’t have zits anymore or whatever it is, right?

Amy:

Yeah, exactly. We can start today by living the kind of life that we want to live.

Emma:

Okay. So earlier you mentioned, you know, being a little bit more compassionate toward yourself as a way to change how you feel about your body. Can you speak a little bit more to that?

Amy:

Yeah. Sometimes being compassionate with ourself is that kind language, and sometimes it’s our behaviors. So, throwing out the scale, spending less time in front of the mirror, wearing clothes that fit you properly, not waiting, you know, hoping you’re going to fit into some smaller clothes. It can also be things like showing up in the body you have today. So, let’s say, you know, you want to go to the pool with your kids, wearing a swimsuit, even if your body isn’t perfect, and allowing yourself to enjoy your time there. And when we allow ourselves to be visible, then we begin to tolerate that distress that sometimes comes up for us, all that, all that body-image distress that we’re having.

But the more we practice being in the world, showing up in the world, not hiding, dressing appropriately for the occasion, we will learn that we are more than a body, that we’re a whole person, that people aren’t treating us differently because our body doesn’t look perfect in our swimsuit. And we’ll start to be able to foster those connections with other people, pursue our passions, you know,  all of those great things that we want to do that bring us that wholeness that is so healing, I think, for a lot of people.

Emma:

Yeah. It’s so important. And it’s interesting as you speak about that, it reminds me a lot of general anxiety work. And anxiety work is about taking something that you’re scared of, facing it, and showing your brain that you’re actually okay. You’re actually safe. So, if you’re scared of apples, you start being around apples.

And so, with body image, you know, it sounds like hate, but maybe underneath that is fear, right? Like I’m scared that I’m not good enough, or I’m scared that people judge me, or I’m scared that people will mistreat me. And when you face that, like you said,  you do exposure therapy, you go out there and you say, “Okay, I’m gonna go wear a swimsuit and see how it goes.”  And most of the time people will be nice to you. And sometimes they might not be nice to you. And either way, you can handle it and life can be good. And your brain will relearn that you can show up as you are, that you are a whole being, and that you’re good enough, right?

Amy:

Yeah. That’s exactly right. And sometimes, you know, if we’re doing like systematic desensitization, wear a swimsuit in our house by ourselves.

And then we wear a swimsuit like around our family or something. And then we go out. And I will, you know, I do want to just make a caveat that there are people in bodies that do get discriminated against.

And so sometimes the fear is not real. Most of the time, I think, the fear is not real, but there are some people in marginalized bodies where the fear is real. Like they, they are getting called out or pushback just by being in their body.

And so sometimes that is a little harder, and it takes a lot of work and skills and fortification and practice, you know, standing up for yourself and being okay to be in the world.

Emma:

Yeah. And I think from my perspective, choosing what you want your life to be about and using that as a compass to do hard things. Like it is uncomfortable to show yourself. It is uncomfortable to risk being mistreated perhaps, but showing up is better than hiding if you really look at what life you want.

Amy:

Yes.100% agree with that. Showing up is a winner every time.

Using Positive Affirmations To Improve Body Image

Emma:

Do you have any mantras or positive affirmations that you’ve found for some clients who maybe, they get up in the morning and they say, they’ll say a hundred mean things to themselves in front of the mirror?

Like, is there something you would encourage people to replace that with?  Or to try, some, some experiments to try there?

Amy:

Yeah, absolutely. The thing is, positive affirmations work. Like people sometimes roll their eyes about positive affirmations.

And I think people mostly talk about mantras now, but it’s the same concept, right? So, they actually work because our brain is listening.

We are listening. And sometimes my clients will come up with a positive affirmation or something like, “The weight does not define my worth.” And they’ll be like, “But I don’t really believe that.” And I’m like, “Well, is there a part of you that believes that? Or did you use to believe that, maybe when you were two, maybe when you were five?

And so, if there’s a small piece of you that can believe that some of the time, then it’s still a good mantra for you.” And so, it is important, the way we talk to ourselves. And sometimes it can be about our body. It can be something like, “Well, I like my toes,” you know, or “My eyes are a beautiful color.” But it can also be about who we are as a person, like “I am okay, no matter what I look like.” or “I’m a good person even if I didn’t work out today.”

There’s lots of different mantras that we can develop for ourselves. And a lot of times I’ll have my clients write like 50, you know, positive affirmations or 50 positive things, or put it on your phone and say those things like every day.

Maybe they pull it out when they’re just having bad body image, like something happened and they’re really nervous about their bodies.

And so, I’m like pull out your phone, read your mantras. It’s just good to have some of that thought through ahead of time so that you can always have it available to correct those negative messages when that body-image relationship becomes abusive.

Emma:

Yeah. I’d love to see a list of like 50 positive affirmations that people have written. It’s amazing. Do you have a list anywhere that people could access that has a way to practice those affirmations or learn more about those?

Amy:

Yeah. So, in my course, I have examples of a bunch of positive affirmations. And then in the workbook, I have some space for people to write their own positive affirmations that work for them.

So, you can use the ones that I give in the course, or you can kind of develop your own, and then you have your own list that’s readily available for you.

Finding and Understanding Your Negative Core Beliefs

Emma:

So, what’s underneath poor body image? I mean, is this really about someone’s body and how it looks?

Amy:

You know, I will often say body image is not about the body; it is deeper than that. Body image is really the manifestation that something isn’t sitting right with you or that things are bothering you.

And with my clients, I like to dig deeper and find those core issues. So, let’s say a core issue is that you have a fear of ending up alone. And something happens maybe at school or with your family, and the relationship doesn’t go well, and you have that fear come up for you that you’re going to be alone. 

A lot of times, people with poor body image go straight to body image. They don’t conceptualize that process. It happens so quick that it manifests as “I hate my body.” “I don’t like how I look today.” “I need to skip dinner” or “I shouldn’t eat those sweets.”

And so, we have to kind of dig deeper and say, what are your core issues? You know, how are those core issues bringing up this body image? And I will say, my clients who understand their core issues, we can tie it back.

I mean, they’ll come to me and they’ll say, “Ah, my body image this week, it’s just been really bad.” And we’ll say, “Well, let’s see. Tell me about your core issues. Did anything happen?” And we will find it.

We find something that happened. And that’s where you need to go. You need to process that, not lose weight, right?

Emma:

Yeah. So, people think, oh, they don’t maybe realize what’s actually going on. They know that they’re not feeling well. They think it’s about their body.  And what it’s really about is some other insecurity or fear or worry or doubt.

Amy:

Yes.

Emma:

And if we can identify that and address that, then the body-image issues may be resolved a little bit.

Check out our course below to learn how you can rewire your brain to be healthy and happy. 

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