Reader Poll :: Does sharing negative body thoughts help or hurt?
When Diana Spechler, author of the soon-to-be-released novel about a weight-loss camp, contacted me to tell me about a new website she had created, I was decidedly curious. In her email, Diana described the site as a “place where people can anonymously post their feelings about their bodies.”
As I thought about the potential for this body-focused PostSecret-esque venture, I wanted to know what had prompted Diana to create the site, so I asked her to share with me its evolution. “When I was writing Skinny… I was terrified to write about my characters’ body image issues and relationships to food because I worried that the book would get published and everyone would know that I had body image issues… I had to get over that before I could write the book,” she said.
So Diana began pouring out her “secrets” – the dark thoughts about herself and her body that she found so shameful – in the novel. She recalled, “I had to remind myself a million times along the way to be honest, to stop hiding. It wasn’t easy. But five years later, I feel better. I can talk about my own body image issues and eating issues much more freely. And that’s because I spent so much time telling my secrets in my novel.
Like many others, Diana found healing in sharing what she had perceived as unspeakable. She gave voice to the negative thoughts that plagued her and found that as she shared these thoughts, they became less powerful. They loosened their grip.
“It seemed miraculous to me, and I wanted to find a way to give that gift to others,” Diana told me. “I wanted to tell the world, “Just talk about it! You’ll feel better!”
And so Body Confessions was born. It developed as a place for women to feel connected. Diana feels that “pretending that the problem is something different from what it is harms all of us and compounds the shame we already feel. [It’s] so we can say the things we aren’t supposed to say, and so that other people can read the truth and feel less alone.”
But does connecting over a shared hatred for our bodies really do us any good? Could it be more harmful than helpful? Where is the line between releasing shame and spiraling into negativity drawn?
These the question that began to stir in my mind as I perused the site. What I found saddened me for the women who had written the “confessions.”
Take this one, from an anonymous visitor: There are two possible reasons God did not create me as pretty and beautiful as other women. Either He thought I’d be able to handle it. Or I am just not worthy. I’m leaning towards the latter because I just can’t handle this.
Other confessions are equally heartbreaking (and potentially triggering), ranging from complaints about the size of one’s tummy to struggles with binging and purging to certainty that one’s partner will cheat because of one’s size. There are also the occasional uplifting posts, such as this one: I love myself the way I am. Affirmative posts like this are certainly more the exception than the rule on the site, however.
Personally, I didn’t leave the site feeling any better about my body. I actually didn’t feel much of anything about my own body, but rather a sense of helplessness in wanting to take away the pain of those posting these messages.
However, Diana has found that the site makes people feel less alone. And Glamour recently shared it on own of their blogs.
Interestingly, and perhaps contradictorily, Glamour’s recent piece in its March issue on body image included research suggesting that negative body thoughts actually shape our brains in an unhealthy way, promoting even more negative thoughts.
Ann Kearney-Cooke, Ph.D., a Cincinnati psychologist who was quoted for the article, said, “Neuroscience has shown that whatever you focus on shapes your brain. If you’re constantly thinking negative thoughts about your body, that neural pathway becomes stronger—and those thoughts become habitual,” she explains. “Imagine a concert pianist. Her brain would have stronger neural pathways that support musicality and dexterity than someone who hadn’t spent her life practicing.”
So, what do you think?
Respond to the poll and then share your thoughts in the comments below. We want to know! Do you feel it’s healing to get those thoughts out of your mind and onto the computer screen, knowing that others have “been there?” Or does it fuel more self-deprecation? Have you found writing your negative thoughts down to be helpful in other ways? What has helped you in overcoming negative body image? Would you ever use this site?