There’s a pervasive cultural myth that as women, we should be “trying to get our bodies back.”
As a therapist in private practice in Rockville, Maryland, specializing in helping individuals with body-image issues, I am particularly passionate about raising awareness about the myths that we are told around our bodies.
Whether it’s post-baby, post-college, or any other life stage, we are sold two major lies by the diet and beauty industry, surrounding this notion of trying to “get your body back.”
Myth # 1: Our bodies are meant to stay the same over time.
There’s a societal belief that our bodies are meant to stay the same over time and that any changes are a “failure” on our behalf.
However, the reality is that our bodies are meant to change as we age. Our bodies are not slabs of marble. Thus, putting your self-worth into your body or appearance-is a recipe for discontent. As humans, it is natural for our bodies to change over time, whether that means weight changes, changes in body-shape, or signs of ageing. We are simply not meant to look the same as we did in high school, until the end of our lives!
Additionally, there may be physiological reasons why your body is changing. For instance, during menopause, women often gain belly-fat. However, this is actually adaptive, as it helps women to produce more estrogen (which they produce less of during menopause).
Jessi Haggerty, a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer, explains,
“When your ovaries no longer produce estrogen, the body’s adipose tissue (fat tissue) takes over to produce and regulate estrogen in the body. An increase in body fat is our bodies’ way of adapting in order to regulate estrogen production as we age. Since estrogen depletion is the main cause of many of the negative side effects associated with menopause, increased regulation of this hormone can help mitigate many of these undesirable symptoms.”
Further, diet-culture and the beauty industry teaches us that we should try to reduce or eliminate other signs of ageing and changes in appearance, such as wrinkles. While men and women both face these pressures, I believe that a fixation on appearing “youthful” and “attractive” is more pervasive among messaging targeted towards women.
Having the privilege to age, is not something that everyone will have the gift of experiencing. What if instead of seeing signs of ageing as flaws, you took a moment to feel gratitude for the years full of laughter that caused the creases on your face?
Additionally, after giving birth women are also faced with a ton of societal pressure to “get their bodies back.” After birthing an actual human life (what could be more amazing?!) women are promptly reminded of their true value, which is their ability to “look attractive” and “be thin” (I hope that you can recognize the sarcasm is this sentence).
What if instead of seeing stretch marks and post-baby body-differences as “flaws,” you took some time to be thankful for the amazing thing that your body just enabled you to do?
Myth # 2: Women’s worth is found in their appearance, weight, and body.
We are sold the lie over and over again that our value as women is found in our appearance, weight, and body. This myth serves to fuel the $60 billion dollar diet industry, sell tons of beauty products that promise to “eliminate cellulite,” and “reduce wrinkles,” and also keeps women from achieving their full potential in this world.
When women spend their time fixating on their appearance and body, they are devoting precious time-which they could be using to impact real change in the world.
When you fixate on how your body looks it takes away valuable time that you could be using to pursue your passions, strengthen your relationships, or reflect on other things. No one writes in someone’s obituary: “she was so thin” or “she was the perfect weight.” What would you like to be remembered for? Work to shift focus to the things and people in your life that truly matter.
The Bottom Line
If you are struggling with a fixation on your appearance or body, it’s so important to be compassionate with yourself. It’s not your fault that you are struggling with this. These cultural messages have been learned, and with time and support-they can be unlearned.
Despite what societal messages say, I know this to be true. You are not more valuable if you take up less space in this world. Further, your worth is not found in your body size or shape.
Your true value is found in the sparkle in your eyes when you laugh, the way that you pursue your passions, how you give back to others, and in your relationships. You are enough. You are worthy of love and belonging, just as you are.
Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C: is an eating disorder therapist in private practice in Rockville, Maryland. Jennifer specializes in helping adolescents and adults struggling with anorexia, binge eating disorder, and bulimia, and body image issues. Jennifer provides eating disorder therapy in Rockville, MD, accessible to individuals in Bethesda, Potomac, Olney, and Washington D.C. Jennifer offers eating disorder recovery coaching via phone/Skype. Connect with Jennifer through her website: www.jenniferrollin.com