Topic Tuesday: Body Image

“The Summer Body Image Struggle” (By: Peggy Miller)

Summer is here (well not technically until June 21, but its close enough), and so are shorts, swimsuits, and all kinds of clothes that make hiding your body hard – a huge struggle for someone in recovery from an eating disorder.

One of my friends described bad body image in a way that I have never heard it described so accurately — so I am going to quote her on it. “The best way I’ve found to describe it is it’s like sitting in the back seat of a car on a really hot day and the air conditioning is broken in the car and the windows don’t roll down and there are too many people in the back seat with you squishing you and you’re wearing a heavy, tight, itchy wool sweater and you feel super car sick and have a pounding headache and someone in the car smells really bad and someone else is making a really loud meaningless sound right in your ear and you’re trying to get it off you and you accidentally bend one of your fingernails backwards. And you have to pee really really bad. And you don’t know how much longer you’ll be in the car but you’re stuck in traffic and there’s no end in sight.”

So yeah, it’s a terrible feeling. And don’t forget, your eating disorder is probably also gracing your mind with some choice words about your appearance and your worth as a person.

And the thing is, most of the time, this feeling really is not about our bodies. It’s about how loveable or worthy of love we feel, about our identity, about how in control or perfect we are, and many other things.

Lately, I have been struggling with these thoughts and feelings, and that’s why I wanted to write about them and give a few ideas of things that have helped me combat these thoughts:

  1. Try to think about what the feelings are really coming from. For instance, do I feel stressed about an upcoming situation? Do I feel angry at a person in my life? Do I feel insecure? Try to identify the root of the body image struggle and address that emotion or situation. Not harshly, but with compassion.
  2. Sometimes, I think that bad body image really is just that. It’s hard learning to live in your body in recovery. Whether you’ve had to gain weight or not, it feels different to live in your body and not use food to cope with life on a daily basis. Recognize that what you are doing is hard work, and it feels uncomfortable because you are fighting. Try to recognize all the amazing things that your body can do now that you are not in your eating disorder, and remember those.
  3. Try to distract yourself. Go talk to someone and ask about their life and try to be engaged with what is happening with them. Watch something on Netflix. Take a walk and think about how amazing it is that your body can move and be outside. Do something artistic. Journal. Take a nap. These feelings are real and hard, but they aren’t truths about you, and they will pass.
  4. Remind yourself of truths about your body. You are nourishing your body with what it needs to fully live. Your body does not determine your worth as a person. Clothes are just clothes – they keep you from getting arrested. Your body keeps you safe and lets you live in a world full of beautiful, fun, and amazing opportunities and people.

Lastly, I have been thinking about body image and how discouraging it is to have the expectation that recovery looks like absolutely loving every part of your body every day. A very wise therapist told me that maybe we should think about body image differently. It is not healthy to absolutely hate your body and try to hurt it, but it also maybe is not the most healthy to worship our bodies and think about how amazing they are all the time. Bodies are just bodies. They let us love the people around us, go hiking in beautiful scenery, sleep in on a rainy morning, hold a newborn baby, and witness all the other blessings that make up this thing called life. Maybe healthy body image looks like putting our bodies in their place as bodies and not using them to define our worth or who we are, but being thankful for the life they allow us to live, even though they are not perfect.

So this summer, I hope that when that yucky-stuck-in-the-back-of-a-car feeling comes around, you can challenge it with the knowledge that your body is a blessing.

About the Author

Peggy is a college student in Nashville, Tennessee, and hopes to one day become a therapist for eating disorders. She has struggled with some kind of mental illness for most of her life, and has struggled with anorexia for several years before choosing life and recovery by deciding to get treatment. She is passionate about recovery, and hopes to one day get to help a client find the freedom and hope that her treatment professionals helped her find. Peggy absolutely loves people, deep conversations, coffee, and most of all, Jesus. She aspires to show each and every person she meets that they are loved and worth immeasurably more than they can imagine.