Why bad body image is not your fault

Disliking your body is exhausting. Spending time pinching and wincing at your muffin top, disciplined calculating of calories in versus calories out, mapping the perfect workout, and using the mental energy it takes to stop at every mirror and do a body check to confirm whether or not you’re allowed to like yourself that day… It’s draining just writing about it.

Lots of times, attempts at ‘improving’ your body (even though there’s no such thing as a good or bad body) or becoming more ‘fit’ (even though fitness doesn’t have a look) are started innocently enough. Maybe a friend is starting a diet and invites you to join her. Maybe your partner is trying a new exercise program and wants some support. These things normally start out with gusto, enthusiasm, and genuine happiness if you start to see results from your efforts. And then, often, your happiness (for a multitude of reasons) is totally dependent on a scale, how much willpower you were able to muster that day and whether or not you gave into those cupcakes being served at your kid’s birthday party, and how you ‘stack up’ in the nasty comparison game that you play against other women in the gym. And after doing this for years and years, you just become… done.

A lot of the women that come to me are in the stage of being SO. EFFING. DONE.

Like, at the point of being so mentally exhausted from all of this self-hatred and messing with their body that they just want OUT. Maybe this is where you’re at, too.

And yet…

Letting go of wanting to lose weight still feels totally impossible. The idea that maybe you just need to try one more diet before ‘succumbing’ to the self-love movement is always on your mind. Despite the years of mental torture, yo-yo weight loss/gain, and painful binges that you know are sure to follow after every. single. diet….You’re still thinking, “If I try this intuitive eating thing, it better make me skinny in the end.”


Which is why it breaks my heart that so many of the women I speak to are beating themselves up for being in this game of mental tug-of-war. Having bad body image is not your fault, and I’ll explain why.

In Brene Brown’s book, "I Thought It Was Just Me", she talks about the concepts of contextualizing versus individualizing. What this means is that, when we look at things on an individual level, you are the one responsible for everything that happens. Everything is a personal problem and can only be resolved by you. On a contextual level, major problems can be looked at through a social, cultural, and societal lens. Both of these concepts are true in different cases, but I firmly believe that bad body image is mostly the result of a contextual problem in Western society.

Little girls are not taught what makes them valuable besides their beauty. Take a look at any girl’s magazine (get fit in 10 days, lose weight with this one trick, make him fall for you), look at what is written on girl’s clothing (supermodel, princess, pretty girl). Rarely are girls (or women) exposed to the idea that their most valuable asset might be their mind. This trickles down through generations, as many women started dieting at a young age because their mom was dieting, too.

On top of this, we’re being fed the idea that a healthy, beautiful, and fit woman falls somewhere around a size 2. Statistically, fewer than 5% of women fall into this category naturally. As I’ve said before, you can’t see fitness, health, or true beauty. But we’ve been taught otherwise.

We’re taught that we’re just one juice cleanse away from being worthy, and that’s just bullshit.

Loving your body, or even just accepting it for what it is, is a literal revolutionary act. It is totally contrarian to believe that nothing is wrong with your body. It’s not just about changing your own mindset, you’re going against everything that women have been taught to believe, and that’s powerful. You’re healing past and future generations of hurt, of lack, of self-deprecation.

So as you’re moving through this process of learning to trust your body, eat intuitively, and fully accept yourself on a holistic level, don’t be so frustrated when you find yourself in the same ruts over and over again. You have a lot going against you, and you must be aware of this so that you A) realize how important compassion is in this process, and B) realize how important and awesome and badass the whole process is. Ruts will happen for a bit, and that’s okay. Eventually you will internalize all of the beliefs about how important and valuable and worthy you are, regardless of your body. And that’s when big shifts will start to occur.