Fear – it is a high-traffic word. Anyone who is on the journey of healing, change, transformation, or consciousness has more than likely come to some awareness of fear’s hurdles. At time it is very bold. However, when it comes to it's link to body image, fear tends to be a bit more sneaky.
For those dealing with poor body image (PBI), it often shows itself through some of the following experiences:
- The language you use to describe yourself and your body is often negative. It is language you would likely never speak to a friend with.
- You have a difficult time looking at yourself in the mirror without feeling anxious or hopeless, and you often find yourself analyzing particular body parts and/or features of yourself.
- You are willing to put yourself through extreme measures to change your appearance such as: diets, exercises, surgery.
- You believe your life will change if/when you finally change your appearance.
- You view people with your “goal appearance” as better, smarter, more beautiful, more successful.
What is often completely and totally missed when it comes to poor body image is that the thoughts associated with it, more often than not, are expressions of fear.
You know all those images of women you see in magazines, commercials, billboards, and movies? They plant the seeds of very fast growing weeds. Woman are led to believe there is something innately incorrect with them - for they do not fulfill the set standards. (This is not an opportunity or reason to shame women for having the idealized appearance. Everyone is beautiful. Everyone is unique.)
[ 75% of “normal” weight women believe they are overweight, while over 90% overestimate their weight. And at least 50% of American women, at any one time, are dieting. ]
There is a deep-rooted belief that if you can control your appearance, then therefore you can control your life. This comes from the images that consistently link appearance with: success, happiness, intelligence, well-being, love, and the list goes on.
Surprisingly, women aren’t actually fearful of being fat. (There is a reclaiming of the word fat in the body-positive community. Remember when queer became okay to use again? Well, fat is okay if used in a non-derogatory way.) Women are fearful of: being unsuccessful, not getting married, being thought of as weak and unfriendly, being unloved. Messages shown deeply root into your subconscious that you are safe from these things if you meet the standards set. With this, it is learned that if you control your body, you won’t have to fear the loss of happiness, success, flow of love, etc.
So, if you are someone with PBI, that which you fear will show up as something wrong with your body. Poor body image is protecting you from deeper insecurities and fears, so you can feel as though you have some sense of control. If you are fearful of an experience or outcome, you likely go to your body's lack of x, y, or z because you believe if you lose/gain/reach/change enough, you will maintain/reach success in life.
But, what it comes down to is: you cannot control how other people feel about you – regardless.
The rabbit-hole: Controlling your body in order to control the “success” of your life so you don’t have to live with the fear of being unsuccessful/unloved is a really unnecessary, wrongly directed and exhausting cycle.
People have much clearer grasps of reality when not directed by fear.
Try this: When you find yourself experiencing symptoms of poor body image (you will start to get better at catching it - continue to practice awareness), find a mirror and look into your eyes. Ask yourself, What am I fearful of?
What am I afraid of? What is actually scaring me right now? Why am I feeling out of control? What is making me uncomfortable? What is the root of my anxiousness?
Your experience with your body and fear is a means to learn more about yourself, and to uncover and release unnecessary fears. It is a tough gift to receive, but a valuable one at that. Use it.