Body Dysmorphia & Navigating a Negative Self-Image
Updated: Jan 20
Remember when you looked in the mirror and loved every inch of yourself staring back at you? Yea, me neither!
I guess you would assume that as a health coach, I have a very healthy relationship with food and my body, but this is definitely not the case. At least, it hasn’t always been. It has taken me a long time but through my training & understanding of my body, I have been able to create a healthy relationship with food and I now help my clients to do the same.
But this is not an article about that. This is an article to dive deep into the very real issue of body dysmorphia that so many of us are walking around with yet are too embarrassed or ashamed to talk about.
I spent years wishing that I looked different, that I was shaped differently, that I felt different but wishing doesn’t get you anywhere.
How often do you look in the mirror and feel love, gratitude, and awe for the image that is staring back at you? I am pretty sure not very often, right?
And who can blame us? Society is against us, the media is against us, our minds are against us. All it takes is 2 minutes of scrolling on Instagram to make you feel inadequate, incapable, and straight-up depressed!
Two years ago, I was in the best shape of my life but when I looked in the mirror I couldn’t see it. I still saw a 195lb (90kg) girl with big legs, a dimpled bum, love handles, and saggy boobs. I had put in so much hard work over about 3 years to heal my body, lose weight, get fit, gain muscle, and feel confident in my own skin. Yet even though I had done it, I was unable to see my progress because I had not worked through the mental & emotional weight I had carried for so long regarding my image and how I viewed myself.
I had spent so many years viewing myself a certain way that even when I put in the effort to change my physical body, I still felt & viewed myself the same way as I did when I was 50lbs (20kg) heavier because I did not put in the same effort to change my mental perception.
I felt better physically but I still hated the way I looked. I felt like I was trying so hard to look good, yet it wasn’t working because there was ‘No difference’ when I looked in the mirror. I could not understand how I was seeing the numbers on the scale drop and people were telling me all the time how good I looked yet I saw absolutely no difference! What were people seeing that I could not?
As I write this, I have gained weight in the past 2 years, I have lost a bit of muscle mass, and there are things I’d like to improve but I can honestly say I have learned to not only love my body but cherish it just as it is. Right here. Right Now!
A few months back it’s like a light bulb went off for me. I saw pictures of myself in the past and thought, ‘Wow Steph, you looked really good.” Then I remembered how bad I felt during the time those pics were taken and it hit me how skewed my self-image has been for so many years. It’s as if my eyes were opened for the first time in my life to the mental weight I had been carrying around every day for 25 years. The mental weight of self-loathing & body dysmorphia. It was then and there, at that moment that I made a conscious decision to release it. I was NO LONGER going to do this to myself.
It is not easy, that demon still rears its ugly head every time I look in the mirror but I do not accept that. I recognize those thoughts and immediately shift them. This will no longer have a hold on me.
It is OK, and admirable, to want to improve and get better every day, month & year but your get to - firstly, do it for the right reason and secondly, love yourself throughout the journey, not just when you get to the destination.
You probably have conversations with yourself that sound something like this, “When I lose 10lbs I’ll be happy, feel energized, and confident. Then I can show up in the world the way I want to. Then people will notice me, will love me more, will appreciate me”. I can honestly tell you that if you are unable to love and appreciate yourself where you are right now, you will NOT be able to do it when you reach your goal.
You get to give yourself grace & compassion. You get to decide and commit to your personal body goals (and be clear on WHY you are doing it) but step 1 is to love yourself right here, right now. With every thigh dimple, back roll, love handle, hairy arms, pimpled skin, dry hair, big bum, no bum…Every single part of you. You get to love it all, right here, right now while you know you are constantly working on yourself.
Working on yourself not to close the gap from where you are to where you want to be, but to reach your next cut, your next level of accomplishment, of achievement, of strength, of progress. Because I promise you, when you get there - when you reach your goal - there will still be more. More weight to lose, more muscle to build, more stretch marks to hide, more freckles to cover up, more hair to grow, more hair to get rid of…The battle never ends until we stop fighting.
When you shift from I am not enough, I am not where I should be, I need to do more, be more, look a certain way, into - I am perfectly & wonderfully made. A gift, a work of art that is constantly growing & improving, this is when life profoundly changes for you. This is when you find the happiness and confidence you are searching for. It is NOT found in a number on a scale.
It makes me think of the beautiful Jasmin plant that blooms as it grows but does not allow itself to be confined to a single path just as the other flowers around it. When you provide it with a guide, a structure upon which to grow, it thrives. It needs a structure to grow upon, sunlight, water & some TLC. If its path gets blocked, it finds a way through & keeps growing, higher and higher, blooming along the way and leaving the most magical scent for anyone that comes near it. Be the Jasmin. Do not wait till you reach your goal and do not give up if you don’t. Get guidance, navigate obstacles, keep growing and recognize your progress along the way.
It took me years to even realize the extent of what I was dealing with and you may be in the same position.
So how do you know if you are dealing with body dysmorphia:
- Constantly checking yourself in the mirror
- Avoiding mirrors
- Trying to hide your body parts under a hat, scarf, big sweaters or makeup
- Constantly exercising or grooming
- Constantly comparing yourself with others
- Always asking other people whether you look OK
- Not believing other people when they say you look fine
- Avoiding social activities
- Not going out of the house, especially in the daytime
- Seeing many healthcare providers about your appearance
My top tips for managing body dysmorphia and a negative self-image:
It doesn’t matter what others think of you, it matters what you believe of yourself. Stop worrying about the assumed opinions of others. Most people are too self-absorbed and worry too much about what is happening in their own lives to worry about what happens in yours. I say this with love my friends. We walk around thinking everyone is looking at us, judging us, but this is not the case. The people who love you, that matter to you, love you for who you are, not what you look like.
You get to learn to love yourself unconditionally before you can expect others to love you in the same way. Our external environment is a reflection of our internal environment. If we want more love and acceptance in our lives, we first get to offer that to ourselves.
If you are feeling judged by others, ask yourself “How are you judging?”. It may not be in a physical way, maybe it’s a judgment of the way others chose to live their life or how they view the world. Judgment is judgment and it has no place in our life. Let go, focus on your progress and leave others to theirs.
Set boundaries for yourself and your emotions. If someone comments or shares an opinion on your weight or how you chose to live your life ask yourself where is this person coming from? From a place of love and concern or a place or judgment & insecurity? This will help you navigate emotions and set boundaries. If it’s from a place of love and concern, hear them out, be open to a discussion as this creates connection & understanding in the relationship. Allow yourself to hear what others are saying, don’t interpret it. Take it from where it is coming from, not from your own insecurities. If it’s from a place of negativity & judgement, stand up for yourself and set boundaries. You do not need to allow negativity into your life.
Have an outlet. When you are feeling negative, unmotivated, sad, or just full of emotions, have an outlet. I have found journaling (or in my case often blogging) to be very helpful. Release the emotions and negativity so it doesn’t fester in your body. Release the negative emotions onto paper but then write about the things you have accomplished, even if it’s making your bed or eating a piece of fruit that day. Acknowledge your wins, no matter how small.
Have a way to reground yourself in your beliefs and vision. Keep your vision written out and stuck somewhere you can see it daily.
Remind yourself of the gap from how far you have come to where you are now. All too often we focus on the gap between where we are and where we want to be instead of noticing how far we have already come.
Remember change is not linear, it’s a rollercoaster with a billion ups and downs. We can go 3 steps forward and 2 steps back but keep going. You only fail when you stop trying
Don’t compare. This is nobody else journey. One of my favorite quotes is “Comparison is the thief of joy”.
People’s comments say more about their own struggle & self-image than they do about yours. Remember that
Be brave and open about your journey including your wins and struggles. You will be amazed at how much support you receive and how many people you will impact
When people compliment you, believe it. They mean it.
I have been told that as a health coach I need to look a certain way in order to be taken seriously, to succeed. I call BS. My journey is as raw & real as yours. I have the exact same struggles as you do. Many I have overcome; many I am still learning how to navigate but both I get to share with you. Whether I have overcome your current struggle or am still learning how to, I can be your support either way. It takes nothing away from my skills and abilities as a coach.
If you can relate or are struggling with this let me tell you it is not just a physical battle you are fighting but even more so, it’s a mental one.
Your weight does not define your worth. Do not let yourself or anyone else convince you otherwise. You are perfectly & wonderfully made.
If you ever decide you would like help & guidance on your journey, please reach out to me. No one needs to go through this alone. You can jump on a call with me here and let's have a chat.
With love always,
P.S Body dysmorphia is not just something women experience, men go through this too yet it is far less spoken about.
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