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.