I recently read the book When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies by by Jane R. Hirschmann and
Carol H. Munter.
Carol H. Munter.
I picked it up because I realized that I have, at best, a tense relationship with my body. In some ways, I listen to it, love it, and care for it. In others, I mistrust it, hate it, and try to control it. I have wondered what it would be like to be friends with my body--to fully accept and appreciate it for what it is without conditions or fear. (Maybe you have experienced this? What's it like?)
(By the by, I don't think body hatred is special or exclusive to women. Men absolutely experience the trauma associated with body standards, they just are less likely to recognize those feelings because they also aren't supposed to have feelings in this sweet, toxic patriarchy.)
The main thrust of the book:
According to Hirschmann and Munter, the bad things we think about our bodies aren't actually about our bodies. They are about our lives. When we think, "my belly is huge," we are actually nervous about an upcoming job interview or feeling shame because we had a taboo thought or otherwise feeling anxiety, guilt, anger, sadness, or like a failure.
This masking of our actual feelings and life-issues with body shame has a double-whammy effect: not only do we begin to hate our bodies as the scapegoat for all that unpleasantness, but those feelings are left to drift and fester as feelings do when they are ignored.
Then what happens? We try to make our disgusting, hated bodies smaller by restricting them, disconnecting ourselves from our body's natural hunger/movement urges and teaching ourselves that we don't really take care of our body's needs, destroying any trust we had in ourselves.
Coincidentally, this self-hatred, food restriction, and severing of our connection to our body's natural hunger cycles also may also lead us to compulsively shove food into our mouths when we have feelings we don't want to face.
PHEWF! That's a LOT right?
Honestly, I'm not entirely sure I buy their premise that this is always what's going on with our relationship with our bodies (they say it's literally 100%, every single time) , but overall it's a compelling framework.
So what's the answer? There are a few:
1) Affirm your body for the wonderful thing that it is, right now and for all time, no matter what it looks like or its abilities. (This isn't part of their recommended practices, but one great trick is to follow people on social media who have different bodies! It really helps teach your brain to see them positively.)
2) Begin to treat your "bad body thoughts" as a signal and look around your life to see what else you may be upset about. Learn to face what you're really feeling without transferring it to your body or judging/punishing yourself for it.
3) Reconnect to your body's natural hunger and fullness cues by simply allowing yourself to eat whatever your body wants whenever it wants it and stopping when your body is done. Treat all food as equally valuable--there's nothing "naughty" about eating chips and broccoli isn't virtuous or a punishment. (They don't call this intuitive eating, but it's basically intuitive eating.)
4) Prioritize feeling physically comfortable and taking care of yourself in general. Strive to meet all your body's needs and be gentle and non-judgemental of them. This will help you show yourself that you can actually take care of yourself and rebuild trust.
There's a few things I realized while reading this book:
The judgement! I judge myself so often: the things I've said or not said, my feelings, my thoughts, let alone my body. I could do with a bit more gentleness and compassion.
The fear! My first reaction to the idea of letting go of that judgement and truly loving and accepting myself/my body unconditionally is terror! The fear reveals that no matter how much I have rejected the concept of good and bad bodies, those beliefs and judgements are still in there, at least for myself. It's also pretty messed up to think that withholding love will somehow make me better. No one looks at a well-adjusted adult and thinks, "yeah, their parents must have really taught them love is conditional on their performance in life, because they are so emotionally healthy now."
As they say in the book:
"The truth is not nearly as frightening if you don't have to worry about condemning yourself for it."
The work! Learning how to listen to myself, parsing our my body's needs from my emotional needs and honouring both, learning how to trust myself and my instincts and facing what's actually behind the fear that prevents this? That's hard. In many ways, for many of us, it probably feels easier to just live with some low-grade self-hatred and mistrust for the food that keeps us alive than to step into the mess. But the reward? Of living life in harmony with yourself? That's gotta be worth it.
The care! This is a big one! When we care for ourselves in the general sense, we are better able to care for ourselves when specific issues arise. It builds a foundation of trust and support within ourselves so that we don't need to start from zero (or negative 5,211) when something bigger comes up. I have been practicing this in general over the past year and wowwwwweeeeee it makes a difference. Treat yourself like a precious object. One that deserves to have its needs met, physical comfort, and care. It actually makes you stronger.
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