Improving Body Image
© by Judy Lightstone, 2002
"If we place pornography and the tyranny
of slenderness alongside one another we have the two most significant obsessions
of our culture, and both of them focused upon a woman's body." -Kim
image involves our perception, imagination, emotions, and physical sensations
of and about our bodies. It s not static- but ever changing; sensitive
to changes in mood, environment, and physical experience. It is not
based on fact. It is psychological in nature, and much more influenced
by self-esteem than by actual physical attractiveness as judged by others.
It is not inborn, but learned. This learning occurs in the family
and among peers, but these only reinforce what is learned and expected
In this culture, we women are starving ourselves,
starving our children and loved ones, gorging ourselves, gorging our children
and loved ones, alternating between starving and gorging, purging, obsessing,
and all the while hating, pounding and wanting to remove that which makes
us female: our bodies, our curves, our pear-shaped selves.
"Cosmetic surgery is the fastest growing
'medical' specialty.... Throughout the 80s, as women gained power, unprecedented
numbers of them sought out and submitted to the knife...." - Naomi
The work of feminist object relations theorists
such as Susie Orbach (author of Fat is a Feminist Issue, and Hunger
Strike: Anorexia as a Metaphor for Our Age) and those at The
Women's Therapy Centre Institute (authors of Eating Problems: a Feminist
Psychoanalytic Treatment Model) has demonstrated a relationship between
the development of personal boundaries and body image. Personal boundaries
are the physical and emotional borders around us.. A concrete example of
a physical boundary is our skin. It distinguishes between that which is
inside you and that which is outside you. On a psychological level, a person
with strong boundaries might be able to help out well in disasters- feeling
concerned for others, but able to keep a clear sense of who they are.
Someone with weak boundaries might have sex with inappropriate people,
forgetting where they end and where others begin. Such a person way
not feel "whole" when alone.
Our psychological boundaries develop early in
life, based on how we are held and touched (or not held and touched). A
person who is deprived of touch as an infant or young child, for example,
may not have the sensory information s/he needs to distinguish between
what is inside and what is outside her/himself. As a result, boundaries
may be unclear or unformed. This could cause the person to have difficulty
getting an accurate sense of his/her body shape and size. This person might
also have difficulty eating, because they might have trouble sensing the
physical boundaries of hunger and fullness or satiation. On the other
extreme, a child who is sexually or physically abused may feel terrible
pain and shame or loathing associated to his/her body. Such a person might
use food or starvation to continue the physical punishments they grew familiar
with in childhood.
Developing a Healthy Body Image
Here are some guidelines (Adapted from BodyLove:
Learning to Like Our Looks and Ourselves, Rita Freeman, Ph.D.) that can
help you work toward a positive body image:
1. Listen to your body. Eat
when you are hungry.
2 .Be realistic about the
size you are likely to be based on your genetic and environmental
3. Exercise regularly in an enjoyable
way, regardless of size.
4. Expect normal weekly and monthly
changes in weight and shape
5. Work towards self acceptance
and self forgiveness- be gentle with yourself.
6. Ask for support and encouragement
from friends and family when life is stressful.
7. Decide how you wish to spend
your energy -- pursuing the "perfect body image" or enjoying
family, friends, school
and, most importantly, life.
here for more Blossom Fuller"
Think of it as the three A's....
Attention -- Refers
to listening for and responding to internal cues (i.e., hunger, satiety,
Appreciation -- Refers
to appreciating the pleasures your body can provide.
Acceptance -- Refers
to accepting what is -- instead of longing for what is not.
Healthy body weight is the size a person naturally
returns to after a long period of both non-compulsive eating* and consistent
exercise commensurate with the person' s physical health and condition.
We must learn to advocate for ourselves and our children to aspire to a
naturally determined size, even though that will often mean confronting
misinformed family, friends, and media advertising again and again.
Also Highly recommended:
by Susie Orbach. Value Priced at: $8.99
Hardcover - 304 pages (March 1997). Includes
both Book I and Book II
Is a Feminist Issue : A Self Help Guide for Compulsive Eaters, by Susie Orbach
This is the
newest edition of the two most famous books from the Women's Therapy Centre,
the one that got us all started back in the early 80's. At that time, this
kind of thinking was revolutionary. The book inspired such well known authors
as Geneen Roth, Mary Pipher, Jane Hirschmann and many others. The very
notion that dieting doesn't work and that society's expectations of women's
bodies was what needed to be challenged was first introduced here. Susie
gets right to the heart of eating problems with techniques to tune into
physical hunger rather than dieting and trying to ignore it. It is
as timely now as it ever was, after 20 years of being put to the
test by women and therapists all over the world.
Is a Feminist Issue : A Self Help Guide for Compulsive Eaters
Feast or Famine: A New Zealand Guide to Understanding Eating Disorders.
Karen McMillan. Random House (2006)
Other Recommended Books
The Obesity Myth: Why our obsession with weight is hazardous to our health.
Paul Campos. Penguin (2004)
Ways to Love the Body You Have by Marcia Germaine Hutchinson ,
Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf, Doubleday, 1991.
Learning to Like Our Looks and Ourselves, Rita
Freeman, Ph.D., Harper & Row, 1988.
Body Image: Learning to Love the Body You Have
by Marcia Germaine Hutchinson, EdD , The Crossing Press, 1985.
Strike : The Anorectic's Struggle As a Metaphor for Our Age by
Susie Orbach, Norton Books, 1986.
Obsession : Reflections on the Tyranny of Slenderness
by Kim Chernin (1984)
You could just read this for its inspiration
and poetry if it weren't also so wise and true.
For books and videos on eating disrders click
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a loved one with an Eating Disorder, Fat,
Thin and Power, Why Dieting is