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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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17 Apr

Could a patch make you feel more beautiful? Does it matter?

Current Events No Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

“I’ve been spending so much time thinking that if I could just get myself to like the outside, to feel satisfied with the external, then I would feel peace on the inside. But I realize that hasn’t work,” she said, shaking her head slightly and as her eyes shifted down. “Maybe it’s really about finding peace on the inside first, and the outside will follow. Maybe that’s the key to feeling beautiful.”

Her peer looked at her earnestly, her shoulders lifting into a shrug, and replied, “Or maybe when you feel peace on the inside, you just don’t care about beauty so much.”

I smiled at the reply, noting that I couldn’t have said it better myself. That’s exactly right, I thought. When you feel peace, there are more important things that how I look today.

And I think that sort of sums up my feelings about the latest Dove project. If you haven’t seen the video, under-cover Doves give unsuspecting women a “beauty patch” that they tell them will make them more beautiful. After a few days, the women report not noticing any changes. But soon they say that they are feeling different, more beautiful. They even notice how their own behavior changes as a result of this sudden “beauty.”

(Watch it here.)

Of course, the patch is a sham and the moral of the story is that there is nothing external that can make you more beautiful. Beauty comes from within. La de da.

Okay, okay — when I first saw the spot, I got a little choked up. I think seeing any woman start to feel better about herself gets me a bit emotional. Seeing the women’s reactions to hearing that they didn’t need a patch to help them feel more confident? There were truly touching moments.

But something about the whole thing still leaves me feeling… conflicted… Maybe it’s the fact that these women believed themselves to be putting on a patch — assumably of medication — and didn’t question at the outset what “chemicals” were seeping into their bodies. I realize this happens every day with things like diet pills and special creams that are purchased with similar intent. But it still weirds me out.

Then there’s the fact that the project was created by Dove, a company, like any other hygeine and beauty company, who profits from women feeling that they need their products to feel beautiful and better. I’m not dissing Dove here, specifically. I think they make good products, and I like their soap. But my cynicism, usually buried deep, starts to emerge when I watch this. So you’re telling me that women don’t need anything external to feel good? Well then your sales just dropped… Oh, you want us to still buy your sixteen products though to feel good? I see.

And last, I think I’m a little tired of the message that if we feel good on the inside, we’ll be beautiful on the outside, for the reasons stated above. I think if we feel truly good on the inside, we give importance to things other than how we look on the outside. That’s not to say that anything is wrong with wanting to look and feel beautiful. It’s just what I notice when I think about the truly happy and content people that I know. They aren’t slobs, but they don’t pay a whole lot of heed to their appearance either. It’s not scientific fact, just an observation.

But I’m curious what you think… Do you like the Dove ad? Did you tear up at first like me? What do you make of it?

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?

 

06 Aug

Dear Women of the World: I’m Weightist and I’m Sorry.

Ideas to Consider 2 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

[This post is inspired by the brave and poignant apology by Iris Higgins I shared with you here.]

Dear Women of the World,

Sitting up here atop my perch — the one made with my fancy schmancy degrees, nestled next to my thin privilege — it’s easy for me to throw stones at the diet industry and popular media. I talk about how women’s magazines are ruining our lives and how utterly absurd diet companies are with their dangerous fads.

I’ll be the first to start a letter writing campaign to companies sexualizing little girls. I’ll stand up with my virtual bullhorn and tell you where (and where not) to spend your hard-earned dollars and vent for hours about how angry certain billboards make me.

But what I don’t talk about nearly often enough is my own part in making other women hurt. I’ve rarely told you about the ways in which I play a role in the epidemic of low self-esteem. And that’s primarily because I don’t like to think about it.

I’m of an average weight. My BMI falls in the “normal” range and I don’t have health problems that doctors attribute to my current size. Perhaps even more significantly, I’m not stigmatized for the way that I look to others. I get by without scornful looks or strangers watching what I order at fast food joints. I only have to pay for one seat on the airplane. I don’t have industries and billboards and governments and  shouting at me to change my size — or else!

Just to be clear, I’m not hear to apologize for my size. I’m not sorry to be my particular size and shape, because no one should be.

But those facts are important to lay out as context for my experience.

I’m acutely aware of weightism, one of the last remaining socially acceptable “-isms,” and not just in others. I’ve learned to see weightism in myself too. And I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for the times that I assumed you wouldn’t be interested in going on that hike because of your size.

I’m sorry for buying hundreds of products over the years that only use incredibly thin (and usually always white) women in their advertising.

I’m sorry for the many times that I’ve not said to stop the fat talk at the lunch table. I’m sorry for taking the path of least resistance and not wanting to “stir the pot.”

I’m sorry for subconsciously granting thin people more credibility and leeway than you.

I’m sorry for former years of watching The Biggest Loser and cheering on players.

I’m sorry for failing to intervene when someone starting making unsolicited comments about weight.

I’m sorry if I’ve noticed more acutely what you ate or how you moved.

I’m sorry that I browse those same magazines that tell us to get rid of parts of ourselves in the grocery line.

I’m sorry that I’ve lost my voice at times I most needed it.

I’m sorry for all of the things that I’ve done to make this a more hostile world for those of a larger size to live in. I didn’t mean to hurt you, or myself for that matter. I could sit here and further blame society, but I am society. So instead, I’ll keep my excuses in check and simply tell you, I’m going to do better. 

Love,

Me

11 Apr

Body Love: Perfectly Imperfect

Guest Post 10 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. 

 

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