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Ashley Solomon, Psy.D is a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, body image, trauma, and serious mental illness.

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Tag: acceptance

06 Jan

Is it okay to not love your body?

Ideas to Consider 7 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

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{image credit: identity photogr@phy

I keep a digital post-it on my desk-top with interesting articles I come across and topics that I want to be sure to blog about when I have the time.

This post caught my attention way back in March, a couple days after my son was born, and since then the URL has been staring back at me each time I open my laptop. While the delay is certainly due to not being able to remember what it was about in my post-partum haze, it’s also due to the fact that the piece left me feeling conflicted.

First, I’ll tell you that on the whole, I love the post. Be warned that the author, Elyse Anders, is passionate about this topic and expresses that through the liberal use of expletives to show you just how much she believes what she’s saying. She’s a talented writer and got me thinking (for nine months apparently), so my hat goes off to her. But back to the post itself…

Elyse suggests that people should get off her freaking back about loving her body so much and mind their own damn business(es). She tells us she doesn’t like her body…

I don’t love my body. My body is awful. I will never love my body. I never have. And I’m 35 and maybe you think that’s too old to have real hang ups about my body. But I do. And I always will. And maybe you think that because I’ve lost a bunch of weight I should feel great about my body. But I don’t. And I won’t.

…and makes a fairly compelling case for why that should be A-OK to do so, pointing out the double-standards inherent in this instance on women embracing their bodies:

The problem is someone else telling me how to feel. The problem is being told that there is a standard of beauty, and I should ignore it. I should ignore it despite the fact that everyone is still holding me to it. I should ignore it and create my own. As long as it makes me feel pseudo-good, and makes other people feel okay with how I pretend to feel about me.

Really, just to read the post. I can’t copy and paste the whole thing for you. I’m not you’re assistant over here!

Okay, so you read it now, right?

So here’s the thing, I agree with Elyse on most of her points. We live in a world where women (and men) face impossible demands at every turn. Run six miles before dropping your kid off at school in your four-inch heels  with your perfectly blown out hair and don’t forget the holiday pot-luck at work! You did make that Pinterest recipe, didn’t you? So the idea that not only are we supposed to appear perfect, but we’re also supposed to appear as though we don’t care? It simply saddles us with more potentially impossible demands.

We don’t all love our bodies, and I get downright tired of hearing people say that we all should. In fact, some of us have been engaged in decades-long battles with our physical selves, for which there are all sorts of reasons. We’ve internalized the critical messages of our family. We’ve been the victim of sexual abuse. Our bodies have let us down when we needed them the most. To offer a blanket directive to love and adore our bodies doesn’t seem to adequately acknowledge the complexity of these relationships.

It can feel a little Pollyanna-ish, to be honest. And perhaps most importantly, I don’t know that it’s totally necessary. Hear me out…

If my goal in working with people was to change their feelings about their bodies from hatred to love, I could be stuck in my chair for a lifetime, and meanwhile, they’d be miserable. It would be like me trying to get my friend Lisa to like peanut butter when the stuff repulses her.

Instead, my goal is to help someone develop a sense of body neutrality. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have any feelings about their bodies — that’s just unrealistic. Rather, it means they have whatever feelings they are going to have about their bodies and they can still choose to make decisions about their bodies in a values-directed and educated way. For example, they can hate their belly with a vengeance but choose not to punish themselves with a ridiculous diet because they a.) know that it won’t work and b.) have more important things to do with their time and energy.

So I agree with Elyse that loving one’s body isn’t necessary, and it’s not helpful to others to put that expectation upon us. Where I start to bite my lip is here:

Stop telling women that we should find ourselves beautiful and that we should love ourselves when you are standing right there, judging us on how our knees look in short skirts and how prominent our boobs are in a sweater and how much makeup we are or are not wearing.

While we’re all part of the machine of culture, I find myself thinking of the many “body-love advocates” out there who are so often proclaiming to others to embrace their imperfections. These aren’t, on the whole, brazen hypocrites. They are people who who have found a true and deep appreciation for their own bodies and know that love is possible. I wonder if it can feel to some like that annoying friend who just got married and keeps telling you that true love is waiting for you! You just have to get out off your couch. But Prince Charming is out there!

It can be hard to swallow. And you may want to punch her in the face. But that doesn’t mean she’s judging your singledom, at least not intentionally.

The other thing I found myself thinking about is the fact that there’s a difference, to me, between love and gratitude. It may be a subtle distinction, but I think it’s important. I don’t have to love every line, every sag, every bulge, every soft spot. But I can still appreciate my body on the whole. I can wish to the heavens that my legs were more svelte while also feeling grateful that they allow me to dance until 2 a.m. with my girlfriends. If we don’t have a sense of our bodies playing a role in helping us to do the things we love and be the people we want to be, we won’t be motivated to take care of them.

I don’t think it’s a particularly helpful goal to set out to love your body (if you do, that’s great!), but I do think it’s worth aiming for neutrality and gratitude.

So what about you? Do you think we should try to love our bodies? And what place (or responsibility) do we have in the body-love of others?

 

11 Apr

Body Love: Perfectly Imperfect

Guest Post 9 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

Can we love our bodies while still feeling imperfect or dissatisfied? Becca Clegg, a therapist, educator, and coach, tackles this important question in today’s guest post. If you like what you read, go check out more of her insightful musings at Life Beyond the Diet.

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This week, I did a talk for a group of mental health clinicians on Eating Disorders.  The talk went great, and I was feeling really pleased with myself for being able to help other therapists learn more about a topic that I am so passionate about.

As I was packing up my stuff to head out, one of the therapists stopped and asked me a question.

“So, you talk about all this stuff, but you are slim.  Do your client’s ever ask you how you can talk about struggling with your body when you don’t look like you do?”

I answered her as honestly as I could, telling her that you can’t look at someone’s body and know what their own struggle is, as the relationship we have with food is truly internal, and doesn’t really have to do with how the body looks anyway.

I left and didn’t really give her question much thought, but later that day, her question came back to me & stated to morph into self-doubt.

I have been at peace with my body for a long time, but how would I feel if my body changed drastically?  Would I still love myself the way I do now if something external shifted?

Does the peace I feel about my body come from within, or is it more related to a judgment that things on the outside are “ok”?

Could I practice what I preach if I lost this sense of peace? 

One thing I know deeply is that every part of me is devoted to the idea of self-love and body acceptance.  I have a deep knowing that to help women learn to find acceptance is my passion.  So to be in this space of questioning was extremely unnerving, and I’ll admit that it hit me between the eyes.

As I started to think about how I relate to my own body, it dawned on me that I don’t actually think everything about my body is ok.  In fact, I still judge plenty of things that I see in my body as “wrong” or “not good enough”.

I break out.  I have awful hair days that even a hat can’t fix.  I am aging, and I am starting to see the laws of gravity demonstrating themselves.  I have flab here, and wrinkles there, and if I’m looking for it, I can usually find something that is “out of place”.

At first these thoughts jumped out at me as evidence that I must be an imposter. “Oh crap!”, I thought,  “How can I think those things and have the nerve to write blog articles about loving your body?”

And then I remembered a concept that I have been following for some time.  It’s the basis of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which basically espouses the following:  We are culturally indoctrinated with certain thoughts.  To try and change those thoughts is nearly impossible.  It is much kinder, loving, and quite frankly, easier, to accept those thoughts as what they are, old cultural ideas that have just gotten in your head.  Then you move on to commitment to change.  Commitment to living from a kinder, gentler thought that is more aligned with what you want to believe.

When I realized this, it gave me a sense of peace.  Quite the contrary to feeling like an imposter, it made me realize that of course I still have the judgments about my body that are less than loving.  I am human.

I am also, however, fortunate enough to realize that my judgment about my body is the cultural lie, social conditioning left over from being raised in a society that taught me that there is a boiler plate standard for what it means to be “good enough” as a woman in this world.  I also realized that the deepest part of me absolutely knows that this is a pile of B.S.

I can be committed to loving my body and have wonderful, blissful days where I am 100% full of gratitude for everything about it.

I can still be committed to loving my body and have days where I question and doubt and think thoughts that are less than ideal. Body love, like everything else in life, it isn’t all unicorns and rainbows.

I remind people all the time that they should avoid black and white thinking, and search for the middle ground.  I came out of this realizing that I needed a dose of my own medicine.

The lesson I took away was that trying to be ‘perfect’ at love, be it self-love or body-love, is as unrealistic and as stressful as trying to be ‘perfect’ in our bodies themselves.   I choose to ignore the thoughts that I know aren’t kind, and align with the thoughts that are kind and quite frankly, feel better.  That is my daily commitment.  And the biggest lesson of all is that that is enough.

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Rebecca Clegg, LPC (www.rebeccaclegg.com), is a therapist, writer and speaker specializing in helping women overcome unhealthy eating patterns and body image issues.  For the last decade, Rebecca has worked in both hospital and outpatient settings, and has worked extensively with a variety mental health issues. She is the President and founder of Authentic Living, LLC, and creator of the blog, www.lifebeyondthediet.com, both committed to the growth and empowerment of women everywhere. 

 

04 Feb

Learning to breathe again

Ideas to Consider 3 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

breath

{via pinterest}

I’m getting to the end my pregnancy and I have to be honest: I’ve had an easy go of it. My body seems to have adjusted to this new state fairly well, which is an example to me of just what amazing things our bodies can do if we aren’t busy manipulating them or obsessing about them.

I was blessed to be passed over by the nausea gods and while I felt a bit tired in the beginning, I didn’t succumb to that consuming exhaustion that many people describe. Like I said, I’ve had it fairly easy.

But (and you knew there’d be a but, right?), I’ve had one symptom in particular that plagued me since the very beginning: I’m regularly short of breath.

In the beginning of pregnancy, I was told that this was due to hormonal and blood volume changes. Now, the baby growing inside of me has taken up residence on top of my lungs (or so it seems), and is constricting me taking a full breath. Regardless of the cause, the feeling has been the same — it feels impossible to get enough air.

Have you ever been short of breath, whether from illness, exercise, or some other reason? Honestly, it’s a really uncomfortable feeling. I was thinking recently about what makes it so uncomfortable. It’s not painful, per se. But it is scary. And I think that’s what makes it feel so awful.

Breathing is obviously so central to us staying alive as human beings. When we can’t get enough air, for whatever reason, our brain registers distress. This is clearly advantageous in most cases in which we can’t breath. Our brains need alerted that we need to do something to change that!

But what about when we there’s nothing to be done? I can’t make this baby move out of my ribs (as much as I would like to) or change my hormonal balance. So the panic response becomes pretty useless. It’s also useless because, despite feeling very much like I’m drowning, I can actually breath. It feels like I can’t, like I’m about to fall over after running a race, but in reality I can. If I couldn’t, I wouldn’t be typing these words right now. If I can say the words to you, “I can’t breath,” I’m breathing!

So, you ask, what’s my point? You mean, other to get a chance to complain about my malady?

I was thinking recently how there are so many moments where we believe that we just cannot survive. We think we are drowning, we are going to die (literally or figuratively), and that we just can’t make it through. We feel hopeless and helpless. But in reality, if we can get enough perspective to take a single step back, we can see that there is a very alive “us” in there thinking that we’re not going to survive. In reality, the fact that we can think about how awful the situation is means we’re alive to think about it.

I realize with my breathing issue that the more I focus on thoughts like, “Oh my gooodness, I can’t breathe right now,” the worse the  experience becomes. Similarly, it’s in the believing that we cannot tolerate something uncomfortable (sadness or anger, for example) that we actually create pain. My difficulty breathing is not actually painful, really. It’s not comfortable. But the pain comes when I start getting panicked and frustrated and scared. My breathing shallows further and my body sends stress signals.

On the other hand, when I can remind myself that I am actually breathing and then focus on taking long, deep breaths in through my nose, my lungs suddenly fill further, my heart rate decreases, and I feel more at peace.

I think the same goes for any feeling or experience that we encounter. We have to take a step back, ground ourselves, and recognize that we can get through it – we are getting through it in each and every moment that we have the ability to think that we can’t, in fact. We just have to take it second by second, reminding ourselves that the pain only comes when we elevate the experience to something we believe we can’t handle. It’s amazing what can happen when we stop fighting against the experience.

Now, someone just remind me of this post when I go into labor.

15 Jan

Giving Up on Being Right

Ideas to Consider 5 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

{image via pinterest}

It was the weekend before our first ever baby shower when a couple people texted me to tell me that the registry we had created a major baby retailer had suddenly disappeared. They knew something was up because they had checked it out online before and now it was gone. Had we deleted it for some reason?

Noooooo…. I responded, confused. I checked myself and saw that they were in fact correct. The registry was nowhere to be found online. I started to get worried, knowing that our guests would likely be looking for it in order to purchase gifts. It wasn’t so much that I felt nervous to not receive a Baby Bjorn, but rather that our guests would be inconvenienced and confused.

I took a deep breath and called customer service. I talked to a fairly pleasant young woman for a while about the problem, and she was just as confused about it’s disappearance as I was. After about a half hour, she said she would transfer me to someone who may be able to help. And then she disconnected me instead. Deep breath. I was on my way to an all-day class, so I had to wait a few hours to call back. When I did, same routine… half hour with a representative, she says she’ll connect me with a manager, we are disconnected. I’m  starting to think this is a giant scheme… 

After my class is over, I take my tired and very irritated self straight to the store. Enough with phone calls! Being in the midst of the holidays, to call the place a zoo would be to insult zoos. There had to be six million people in this one store. I felt claustrophobic just walking in. I talked to a store employee for a while (time number infinity it seemed of explaining the story) and he agreed to have me talk to a manager. Now I can finally get some help!

Oh, how I was wrong. The manager seemed to have very little patience for my plight. But my shower! He kept insisting that the registry did not exist. Which it clearly did not, any longer. It was there, I swore. I’ve spent six months creating it. People had purchased us a couple of gifts from it. I came in this exact store and played with one of those little zapper guns picking out everything from pacifiers to a crib mattress.

And yet the manager insisted that there was no way that this was possible, given that it was gone. He told us that there’s no way it disappeared and that the only thing that could have happened is that we never created it or we chose to delete it. Now I want to scream. He had no interest in the fact that neither were true or even in the realm of possibility. In fact, he suggested that we had never even walked into the store before that day, implying not so subtly that we were possibly trying to scam him into giving us something as compensation for this. Because I spend my weekends playing out this elaborate scheme, while in my third trimester of pregnancy. What a great use of my time. Is this actually a pillow in my shirt? He said that his hands were tied and said that if we could even prove our story, he would be “so happy to help.” I hardly believed that, given that he looked like I was the most annoying person on earth in that moment.

I went home, feeling shocked, angry, and defeated. Here was my dilemma: Should I create a whole new registry, knowing that the shower guests would be looking for it, but knowing that this just make it impossible to prove our case (the store would see a registry and assume it was the same one as before)? Or should I hold out and search for a way to prove my point, delaying having a registry and inconveniencing guests and possibly forsaking getting my coveted Baby Bjorn?

I’ll be honest. I really wanted to hold out. I wanted so badly to prove this jerk wrong. I felt angry and insulted that he could imply I would lie about the situation, and I had already spent hours trying to fix the mess. I wanted retribution for my time and energy being wasted. Part of me really wanted to make this guy feel small, to be honest. I was so mad. The hormones didn’t help the matter.

When I got home, I actually got the evidence I needed. Someone had a receipt that showed the registry had been in existence the week before. I called the store, but of course the manager couldn’t be reached. I had another dilemma. Do I hold out to see if he calls me back (I left a message) or do I move on, suck it up, and create a new registry? Now I had the evidence leading to vindication in my hands. But it would require me to either wait (and, again, inconvenience friends and family possibly) or make yet another trip to the store, not even knowing if the guy would be working. And if I went, could he, would he, even do anything?

But man, I wanted to show him that darn receipt… Just to see his face and get an apology.

But would I even get an apology? Or would he have another rationale, a way to explain it away? Should I spend more time on this issue, time that I could be making a new registry and moving on with life?

Ultimately, I decided that the battle wasn’t worth it. I realized that proving myself to this person had become much too important to me. It wasn’t serving me to be so wrapped up in whether he knew that I was right and he was wrong, and in fact it was taking up more of my time and energy that just addressing the problem myself would have (wasting my time and energy being the thing I had just been complaining to him about).

I recognized that my intentions were to make someone feel less than me, and that was hardly the person that I wanted to be. This whole issue revolved around baby items, and I certainly wouldn’t want the baby in question to grow up feeling that being right was more important than anything else.

So I sucked it up. I complained to some friends and did something else for a while (and later wrote this post), which helped release some of the tension. And I was able to recognize that while it didn’t feel great forsake getting to prove myself, it was what needed to be done to release the negative energy I was holding on to. I wish I could tell you that I let it go for the guy’s sake, but ultimately it was what was best for me.

And in the end, our shower was full of love, laughter, and a plenty of gifts.

Have you ever been faced with a situation in which you knew you were right, but someone else didn’t think so? How did you handle it? 

 

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