Changing Your Body Image Monologue

body monologue

No one is born hating her body. We learn to hate ourselves as we begin interacting with other people and absorbing messages from the media and participating in society. Eventually, the negativity becomes ingrained and we outgrow outside input, berating ourselves and scorning our own physical forms with little or no prompting. That internalized loathing becomes a body image monologue, a personalized story that loops and loops, reinforcing negative feelings and drowning out love.

Now each person’s body image monologue is different, so I won’t presume to know how to change yours. But here’s where I can help: For many of us, the drone of that negative feedback is so low and constant that we hardly even realize it’s there. We’ve lost it to familiarity, so we don’t even realize it’s something we want to combat. But changing your inner body image monologue can be transformative because it alters your baseline. Even just moving from a baseline of body hatred to a baseline of body neutrality can ease stress, change thought patterns, and encourage acceptance and serenity. So here’s where you might want to start:

Acknowledge that you have body image monologue

Basic, yes, but also essential. You can’t eradicate something you can’t see, so the first step is simply to admit that you’ve got running commentary in your mind that relates to your body. What are the thoughts that surface whenever you look in a mirror? What phrases pop up when you think about bikini season, shopping for jeans, getting naked in the gym locker room? What do you tell yourself when you step on the scale or go to apply your makeup? All part of your monologue.

Listen more carefully

Now that you know it’s there, try to make yourself more aware of the monologue. When does it become loudest? What are the most common messages? Can you remember where those messages came from originally, or when they began? If possible, jot down anything that you notice, especially recurring themes.

Notice, don’t judge

You are on a fact-finding mission, so do NOT berate yourself for … well, berating yourself. Loading guilt on top of shame is never a good idea, and it’s better to make a plan for moving forward than it is to punish yourself for engaging this behavior in the first place. Try to be impartial and don’t despair. You are beginning work, and that is fantastic. Always explore from a place of acceptance and forgiveness.

The rest is really up to you. Your inner monologue may be related to things that family or friends have said and cause you to reevaluate your emotional boundaries. Your inner monologue may be related to media consumption, and prompt you to cancel a few magazine subscriptions. Your inner monologue may be relatively mild or surprisingly harsh, deeply ingrained or relatively easy to alter. HOW you change the monologue, should you choose to, is really up to you. The only general tip I’ll give is this:

Start by pausing when you feel yourself thinking negatively about your body. Just pause. Acknowledge what is happening, and bring it to a stop. Then you can go one of two routes. You can switch your thought pattern entirely, re-routing your thoughts to something unrelated to your body or body image. Or you can replace the negative thoughts with supportive language. Supportive is different than positive, so if you were thinking, “I’m hideous,” don’t feel obliged to switch to, “I’m gorgeous.” That may be too big of a leap. Since negative self-talk often arises in times of crisis, something like, “I am struggling now but doing the best that I can” might work. Or even “My best self is yet to come.”*

As with all things related to self-image, it will take time to change your body image monologue. But if you discover that yours is especially toxic or draining, acknowledging and eventually re-routing that negativity may work wonders for your confidence.

*See Heather’s thoughtful comment for a different perspective.

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8 Responses to “Changing Your Body Image Monologue”

  1. emily

    this post made me go back to my green mountain notebook – two things there: Thought-Stopping, with its three steps: 1. Say, STOP! 2. Say, “it doesn’t do me any good to think about this now.” 3. Create a relaxing scene and be there for a few breaths.

    But better suited to this, I think, is just what you said: observe without judgement what’s going on, move into neutrality IN THE MOMENT. Maybe ask yourself “what’s one thing I can do in this next moment differently?” OR, simply try to name the feeling you’re feeling in this moment. Say the feeling out loud or to youself. Don’t judge it. And don’t think it requires action.

    Yesterday into today I had quite a loud miserable monologue, not sure why. Nice to see this post today.

  2. Heather

    I really respect the work you do, Sal, and I believe you have good intentions, of empowering women and working to stop bodily self hatred. This is good advice for cisgendered women without mental illness or eating disorders. But I’m not sure that’s your whole target audience and that worries me. I’d limit your advice some.

    Women (and people of all genders) experience hatred of their bodies for reasons other than just unrealistic beauty / weight standards. Those reasons are a lot harder to address than simple mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy talk. I wish things were so easy! Folks can also be born with bad feelings about their bodies. For example, a woman who experiences body dysmorphia, which is an actual psychological delusion about her body. That’s the result of the severer side of depression or another mood disorder. Children experience it. I worry when organic mental illness is based on bad programming or voluntary thought patterns.

    Another thing I immediately thought of when this showed up in my reader was my trans*woman friends. One trans*woman I know experiences body dysmorphia because she feels her male body doesn’t reflect who she is: actually affirming her negative interior monologue, fully exploring/acknowledging how much she hated her body and having the guts to tell her family and friends was a big part of making healthy (but painful) changes.

    I am out of spoons, but I wanted to share my thoughts.

    • Sally

      Thanks for this feedback, Heather. I did my best here to make this about acknowledging the existence of an inner monologue, and left it to the individual to decide on next moves. I feel like the steps of tuning into your monologue, noting what it’s saying, and trying not to judge yourself for having those thoughts – whatever they may be – are steps that anyone regardless of gender or orientation might utilize. Also potentially helpful to some people struggling with mental illness, since it encourages reflection and awareness. Though that, of course, is an extremely varied group and it would be incredibly difficult to even attempt to address each potential disorder or struggle in a post like this.

      I can see how asking people to pause the negative talk might encourage suppression, especially in cases like the ones you’ve mentioned. This leaves me with the conundrum of “Do I speak to the women that I know to be the majority of my readers and their concerns, or do I alter my message to be more inclusive but less specific and potentially actionable?” I struggle with this often. Since I have finite knowledge about who is reading and why and what they need, I have to make educated guesses and take risks.

      I do my utmost to be all-inclusive, all-encompassing, and all-loving because I want everyone who reads this blog to feel welcome and respected and important and gorgeous and worthy. I try to consider all the angles, but I can’t always see them. In this case I’ll point readers to your thoughtful comment.

      • Heather

        Thanks! I left the comment in particular because I have directed a bunch of femme, transitioning and trans* friends here and heartily recommended the non-consumer oriented style exercises time and again. Results have been had! When I had to learn how to dress a whole new body (because of the autoimmune wacko, plus receiving the memo I was no longer a teenager at age 32), this site was a godsend for me. And, you know, I can’t speak for anybody else’s experience either. I’m pretty sure loving your body can’t ever be a bad thing. Some of us have different obstacles to get there. You do great, inclusive work, particularly for people on budgets! Keep it up.

  3. LIz

    The advice “I’m struggling now but doing the best I can” is wonderful advice for so many situations in which we feel we’re falling short of some standard of perfection.
    Thanks for reminding us.

  4. jb

    I am returning to this post and really appreciating it. but I remain struggling with my replacement body positive thought — I may focus on strength and health and appreciating….thanks for your guidance here.