A HealthyGirl.org reader named Trish left a comment with this question the other day. I got her permission to post it here—with an answer from body image expert Leslie Goldman, author of Locker Room Diaries: The Naked Truth About Women, Body Image, and Re-Imagining The Perfect Body:
Q: How does anyone begin to change the way they think? Most of my issues about my body are contained in my own mind, and even when I go to the gym, I can’t help but think that I’m the only fat chick there (and usually, I am).
I don’t take group classes for that reason, because my thoughts are consistently negative and I always assume people are judging me for my weight. And I’ve had probably hundreds of people tell me, “look within yourself, you’re beautiful no matter what size you are, blah blah blah” and it doesn’t sink in.
How [do] you overcome the negative thoughts? Even if I think positive, the negative side creeps back in and tells me that thinking positive is actually just me being unrealistic and trying to make myself feel better. —Trish
A: First, let me assure you that no one is judging you at the gym, simply because everyone is too obsessed with worrying what they look like. I spoke with hundreds of women for my book about the thoughts racing through their minds while in the gym locker room and the one consistent thing I heard was, “I think everyone is staring at my fat thighs/dimply butt/saggy boobs.” No one said, “I usually look at the woman getting undressed across the aisle or running on the treadmill next to mine and think, Ugh! Her stomach looks like a Sharpei puppy!” Not one person.
That said, I absolutely hear you when you say negative thoughts are forever creeping in and crowding out the positive. Considering we spend our days getting assaulted by airbrushed ads and hypersexualized billboards and diet food commercials and massive weight loss reality shows, a simple, “Wow, I look pretty good today” has about as much of a chance of surviving as a snowflake in a microwave. But one of the things that has really helped me is to give the harmful self-talk a voice. Have you ever tried actually saying out loud the mean-spirited thoughts you have about your body? It’s incredibly jarring to hear. Looking in the mirror and thinking, “I’m such a fat pig. My cellulite is gross and it’ll never get better. Why did I just eat that pasta?” is one thing; saying it out loud is another. Try it, and when you hear the words come out of your mouth, imagine saying that to your best friend. Or your mother. That would NEVER happen, right? You’d never look your mom in the eyes and say, “You’re a fat pig, your butt is covered in cellulite and you should probably only eat salad for the next week.” Why? Because it’s inhumane and disrespectful and abusive. Because it’s cruel and unusual punishment. Because you love her for who she is, not how she looks. Because she deserves better. And yet, many of us think it’s okay to say those things to ourselves. It’s not okay. You and I deserve better, too.
Hi, it’s Sunny again. Much love to Leslie for answering this reader Q. I just want to add that I used to hate all of those, “Just love yourself! You’re great the way you are!” platitudes, too. For me, the change came when I started reading about emotional eating and realized that I didn’t have eating and weight problems because I was a pig with no willpower–but because I had an actual disorder that required time and gentleness to fix. Getting better on the inside slowly became more important to me that what I looked like on the outside, and that freedom allowed me to stop hating myself and start getting better. (Therapy helped, as well!)
[pic via Migraine Chick]