By the end of this article, you will have a greater understanding of why you think certain things about your body, and how to think differently. When you do, please let me know what you experience and please share the article with others!
Do you remember Stick Man from Article 3 (How to feel satisfied with your body image)? Stick Man was comparing. After he had been on social media and looked at 17 pictures of ripped stick men, he looked at his reflection in the mirror and felt bad. In this article, I am going to unpack why Stick Man felt bad about himself.
Consider Baby Stick Man. Baby Stick Man looks at the two different objects (which are really just shapes to Baby Stick Man) and he is toldby his parents that one is orange and one is apple. Baby Stick Man has no preference for oranges or apples, based on looks, they just are.
Later, Baby Stick Man begins to associate taste with orange and apple. Baby Stick Man likes the taste of orange but not of apple. When he tastes apple, he reacts by crying and spitting it out to avoid eating more apples. This experience gives him information that he attaches to the orange and apple. As Baby Stick Man grows up, he knows that he likes oranges to put in his mouth but not apples. Baby Stick Man brings this experience into his teenage years as he becomes Youth Stick Man.
Youth Stick Man is very happy living his life by eating oranges and avoiding apples. In fact, he has applied this strategy to lots of things in his life – he does more of what he likes and less of what he does not like. It works for him.
One day Youth Stick Man is eating an orange in the school cafeteria. A slighter older, more popular teenage stick man comes along and tells Youth Stick Man, “If you want to be the most popular Stick Man in school, you have to eat apples every day. That’s what I did, and I am now the most popular kid in school!”. Sounds a bit far-fetched doesn’t it? However, to Youth Stick Man, who would quite like to have a few more friends and fit in at school, it seems like a plausible strategy; after all, his peer does eat apples every day and is the most popular kid in school at the moment.
So, Youth Stick Man ignores his dislike for apples, and eats them every day. He begins to notice some results - more stick men are chatting with him, he feels more confident, he notices the teenager stick women are looking at him differently. This strengthens his belief that apples are the ‘popular fruit’ that he needed in his life, so he eats more and more of them.
Youth Stick Man has attached a new meaning to the apple; he overrides he primary experiences of dislike with the information he got from a source that was external to him. With a bit of time, he consolidates the new meaning of apples with feedback he gets from the world which creates a belief that apples are better than oranges and that eating them makes him popular. Of course, we know that this is ridiculous! But to Youth Stick Man, this is his reality that he continues to believe for a very long time (until he reads my articles…!) – he has distorted his experience.
Now consider Stick Man and apply the above to his black box thinking about his body image.
There was a time in Stick Man’s life, either as a baby stick man or a youth stick man, that he looked in the mirror he had no emotive meaning or judgement associated with his reflection. Stick Man just saw Stick Man (or Baby Stick Man or Youth Stick Man). As he grew older, Stick Man started paying attention to what others said, naturally comparing himself to others. Stick Man unfortunately, also had an experience where a friend sneered at him and called him fat and ugly.
Without realising it, these comments, ideas, comparisons became a part of Stick Man’s thinking as he has associated their meaning with his reflection in the mirror. This is subtle; Stick Man isn’t aware that his thinking has changed – he just starts to think and behave differently. In fact, it happens so subtly that Stick Man accepts the comments from people external to himself as truth and integrates their words into his thinking distorting how he sees himself.
Fortunately, Stick Man has a great coach. She helps him understand this. She also helps him to understand that he can change the meaning he as associated with his body image. She does this by drawing attention to the comments which are not Stick Man’s own, but spoken by someone else. Stick Man, now has more choice and he quickly identifies counter examples to the thoughts he accepted as true; for example:
He notices how easily he can find friends and community on days he doesn’t eat apples.
He notices the times when he isn’t dieting but feels happy anyway and he notices the experiences that make him happy that don’t involve food.
He identifies other Stick Men who have lost weight and become healthier through lifestyle and habit changes, rather than crash diets.
He surrounds himself with people who value him from his personality rather than for his looks.
He identifies ways in which he has been successful that are separate from his looks, and identifies alternative meanings for success, such as his happiness each day.
Some days, Stick Man looks in the mirror and thinks, “I am fat and ugly”, and he feels bad. However, his mind quickly recognises that this thought was someone else’s short-sighted comment. The meaning of the thought changes and he remembers his choice to think differently and reminds himself all the counter examples to the thought and instantly feels much happier.
If you still feel stuck and would like some help identify the thoughts to change in your life, please contact me for a free discovery call - firstname.lastname@example.org