Links on Body Positivity

We all imbibe harmful messages from our culture about our bodies. Too short, too tall, too fat, too thin–everyone has felt that they don’t measure up in one way or another, and body hatred has real and harmful consequences for our health and happiness.

Body shame can also hurt our relationships. Among other things, it makes it difficult to feel comfortable being naked in front of another person. That discomfort often inhibits people from relaxing, connecting, and experiencing pleasure as fully as they would like to.

If you have a client who struggles with negative body image, or if you’ve struggled with it yourself, I hope that you find something helpful in these links.

Resolution: Start Loving Your Body, Today

How To Set Loving Goals for Lifestyle Change

Body Positivity and Health Consciousness

How You Can Help a Client With Negative Body Image

How You Can Help A Client With Negative Body Image

People come in all shapes and sizes, but our culture tends to only value bodies that fit a very limited mold. Almost everyone has had the painful experience of feeling like their body doesn’t measure up. Almost everyone is somewhere along a journey of coming to terms with the unique way their body looks and works. As a therapist, you can play an important role in helping your clients on this journey.

Healing body image is often a part of my work as a sex therapist and a couples therapist. There are all sorts of ways that negative body image can hurt a relationship. If you don’t love your body, it will be hard to be comfortable being naked in front of another person, or being touched in certain places, or being in certain positions. If you’re always worrying that your appearance is turning your partner off, how can you relax into an experience of pleasure? The self-consciousness and negative self-talk might block your arousal or make it difficult to experience an orgasm. Body shame can get in the way of having a conversation with your partner about it. In this way, building body love and body acceptance is often the first step to more satisfying sexual experiences with a partner.

The way you feel about your body will naturally shape your way of experiencing the world in a fundamental way, in all spheres, not just sex. For that reason, I believe that helping your clients build a better relationship with their body is one of the most meaningful projects you can take on as a therapist.

If healing negative body image is a part of your treatment plan, where can you start? Often, I ask people to talk with me about what they love about their body. It’s quite revealing how often I hear that they can’t think of anything. When that happens, I shift the focus to function, not aesthetics.

From the perspective of function, it’s hard not to see how incredible your body is. Think of the zillions of magical and automatic functions it does every single second! If your client can take a moment to appreciate the wonder of all the work their body does every moment, that can be a seed that sprouts into a more nurturing, grateful, appreciative relationship with their body.

When a client expresses hatred for their body, I might say:

  • “Your body is absolutely beautiful just exactly as it is. You don’t have to change it in order to love it or find it beautiful.”
  • “This is a belief system, you know. Other cultures view this differently than ours”.
  • “I’ve never known anyone to change anything about themselves by hating themselves into it.”

That last one is important if you have a client who is trying to motivate a lifestyle change while also struggling with negative body image–a difficult balancing act, and one that they will likely benefit from your support. In that vein, I advise you to be very cautious about body compliments that might come across as judgments. The urge to compliment a client who has been struggling with body hatred is understandable, but it is important to choose compliments carefully, in order to avoid falling into the same body-negative tropes that are hurting your client and us all. For instance, if a client said to me, “Do you notice I lost weight? I think I’m looking a little better,” I would respond with “I’ve always thought you are beautiful, and you know, I’m the wrong person to ask about weight loss because I just don’t see people that way.”

If you want to learn more about body positivity, or are searching for something on the topic for your client to watch, I recommend the film “Embrace.” It’s an excellent recent documentary and a real education in body acceptance and body politics.

How to Set Loving Goals for Lifestyle Change

For the last few weeks I’ve been writing about different aspects of self-image, body positivity, and health. This is difficult material because our culture is steeped in body-negativity, harsh judgments and confusion between health and body size. My hope is that I can inspire you to think about this material from a new perspective, one grounded in hope, love, compassion, and kindness, especially for yourself.

Today I’m going to focus on goals, which are at the root of motivation. Setting loving goals is part of the key to success in most things, and definitely in body things.

What are your goals for your relationship with your body? Go ahead, write them down. What kind of relationship with your body would you like to have?

What kind of relationship do you currently have with your body? Write that down too.

Now consider. How far apart are those right now?

Now I’m going to apply my best couple therapy tool to the relationship between you and your body. What would YOU NEED TO DO to get closer to the relationship with your body that you aspire to have? (Clue: don’t write down anything about what your body needs to do or become).

How are you feeling right now? I hope you feel empowered and inspired. Because you actually are completely in charge of the relationship you have with your body. You and your body are one organism, not two. You definitely have complete control over what kind of relationship you want to have with your body.

Now consider your body-related goals again. Is your body happy about how your mind is handling body-related decisions these days? Here’s the thing. You ARE your body. There isn’t that much separation between body and mind. Your brain is a collection of nerve cells that connect throughout your body. Your body and brain are completely intertwined.

How could you be kinder to your body? Make a list.

Get curious about how you talk to your body. Look at yourself in the mirror, and listen carefully to what your mind is saying to and about your body. Think about what you are hearing yourself say. Is this what you want to tell yourself? If not, today is the day to change.