After Mental Health Awareness week, it seems appropriate to address body image in an article. By the end of the article I want you to have a greater understanding of how to consistently feel satisfied with your body image.
Imagine that you are looking at yourself in the mirror. Have you had the experience of looking at yourself in the morning, liking what you see, and then later in the day feeling the opposite? Or maybe you have had this experience over a longer period of time? For example, when you take a photo of yourself; at first you don’t like the way your body looks like, but months or years later, you can’t remember what you were worrying about and are happy with how you looked. This tells us that the way we see ourselves is changeable. What experiences in your life are similar to these examples?
As you think, you are already understanding that is possible to change how you think and feel about your reflection. You have been doing it naturally without realising. Now let’s break this down to use it for our good. Consider Stick Man:
Stick Man is looking at his reflection in the mirror and feels bad because he has seen how poorly drawn he is. Stick Man believes he is feeling bad because of his reflection. Stick Man’s assumes that his reflection is the same as his body, so in short, he blames his body for his bad feeling. Stick Man continues to focus on his feelings, which sends him into a negative spiral of body blame and feeling rubbish, so he reaches for a bag of stick sweets to cheer himself up. Alternatively, Stick Man may engage with lifestyle interventions to change the way that he looks. He may even succeed in changing his body, thus his reflection. However, Stick Man hasn’t addressed the real reason for his body dissatisfaction, so he continues to feel badly about himself (even though he is now ripped). Therefore, he will either work even harder to continue changing his body or revert back to his bag of stick sweets for comfort.
Shall we give some advice to Stick Man? Let’s show him an alternative perspective which will give him more choice and the opportunity to feel differently about his body. See below:
The black box represents Stick Man’s thinking*. This could include all of Stick Man’s experiences, judgements and comparisons. It may also include his thoughts about the 17 images of ripped, well drawn stick men he saw whilst scrolling on social media. Stick Man’s thinking distorts what he sees in the mirror, which changes how he feels about his reflection, thus his body:
In fact, Stick Man doesn’t even need the mirror to see his reflection for this process to happen. Stick Man only has to imagine the mirror and seeing his reflection, when he is sat at his stick man job or talking to his stick men friends, for him to feel bad about himself; he engages in the same process in his head with the same result, over and over, many times in a day:
A good way to think about it is, a reflection isn’t just a physical reflection of a body, it is also a reflection of how one is thinking at that moment in time.
This process happens so quickly that Stick Man doesn’t know to pay attention to it, he just knows that he feels bad and assumes that is because of the way he looks. In a culture that focuses on looks, convenience and feeling good, who can blame him? However, with a new understanding, the Stick Man knows that his feelings are not a result of the outside world, they are a result of his thinking. Therefore, feeling good about his body image isn’t about making his body look different or distracting himself with quick fixes, it’s about thinking differently.
With this insight, Stick Man has paid attention to his thinking and he finds that he consistently feels happier and satisfied when he looks in the mirror. He has stopped fad diets and engages more consistently with a balanced lifestyle which keeps him healthy. Sometimes, Stick Man finds himself looking in the mirror and feeling bad, but those days are becoming fewer and he knows that when this happens, he can address his thinking, change his perspective and feel differently about himself.
Now that we have helped Stick Man out, I am wondering what you will discover? What were the differences about the times you felt good, compared to the times that you felt bad about your body image? Is there a pattern? What were the similarities? What were the differences?
*I have demonstrated a process, that happens inside our minds using a simplified visual representation - the purpose is to explore an alternative way of understanding how our minds work.
In my next article, I will address one strategy to change the 'Black Box Thinking’ related to the same topic of body satisifaction. If you have enjoyed this article, have been challenged, or have questions, please comment or contact me and we can chat further.