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Positive Body Image

David: What do you mean by that?

Dr. Burgard: I'll take a relatively mild example - Say you are teased by your older brother for beginning to develop breasts. And you feel furious and ashamed at the same time - some of your anger is at your brother, but some of it can go toward your own body for "being a target."

David: Here's an audience question:

DottieCom1: I am a mature woman with a nice figure and at middle range of ideal weight. I'm so afraid of food. If I gain a pound, it ruins my whole day.

David: It's more of a comment, but a lot of women feel that way.

Dr. Burgard: I would wonder, what is the meaning of gaining a pound for her? Maybe it feels like an achievement to keep her weight stable, or maybe it gives her life a feeling of order. We attach all these powerful ideas to these numbers of the scale!

Sharyn: How can we feel good about our body image when "gravity" takes over? Perhaps applying for a job knowing the younger person may have a better chance? I like my body image but not when applying for a job or just those little things we deal with when out in public.

Dr. Burgard: Well, so this is a feeling you are having not about your body itself, but about the stereotypes about what it means to have an older body. The feeling is totally valid, and it may include feelings of loss, especially if you had the power of being seen as very attractive before. I try to remind myself that if I don't die, I'll get old. I'd rather get old! : )

Sidzel: I went to a job interview and they said they weren't hiring, even though I had seen the ads in the paper. Several months later I tried again and I was hired on the spot. The guy who was once doing the hiring was fired. Reason was, he didn't hire what he thought were overweight people. I learned this after I was hired. I was so hurt. I couldn't believe people could be so rude.

Dr. Burgard: Wow, you could have told your story to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors last month when they considered, and eventually did, add height and weight to the anti-discrimination code. People made fun of us out there but as you can vouch for, it happens all the time.

jesse1: We see fat on our bodies as us being too much. So we try to be less. Somewhere in our life, we got the impression that if there was less of me then they would like me.

Dr. Burgard: Yes, Jesse, very good observation. Why do you think anyone would want you to be less?

jesse1: Our culture is built around perfection. We strive for perfection.

David: Here's an audience comment on what's been said so far:

Barbara2: It is interesting that in some cultures fat is considered beautiful and a sign of wealth, so women are fattened up before marriage!

David: What would you suggest, and I'm looking for 2 or 3 concrete ideas that people can take with them tonight, on how to begin to improve your feelings about your body.

Dr. Burgard: Well, the Body Positive tag line says:

  1. Change your mind.
  2. Change your culture.
  3. And let your body be.

So let's go one by one:

First, you have to look at what you say to yourself, all day long. The world may be "polluted" but what most of us hear is our own internal dialogue. Remember that your "body self" hears everything you think. So if you want to feel better about your body, you have to treat it better. You don't have to say things that aren't true, but you can replace the critical comments with descriptive ones; like replacing "I'm so disgusting" with something that you're grateful for, like how your body stayed awake to drive you home safely or any number of the incredible things our bodies do for us every day.

Next, activism helps! Do something, any small step, to speak up to try to change the culture. If your friend starts the "fat talk" ask her what she is really feeling, if she can't use body angst to disguise it.

And then, learn to take better care of this amazing entity that is your body. Remember when we were all finding our "inner children"? We now have to find some "inner parents." That means the part of you who helps you get enough sleep, eat your vegetables, and go out and play. Our bodies need love and care.

David: Now, for those who asked, here are the links to Dr. Burgard's website, www.bodypositive.com and for her book "Great Shape".

aimilub: I gained a lot of weight over the past 2 years, I believe due to medication. My husband refuses to be intimate with me until I'm back down to my old weight, hence bulimia relapse. Now I'm 11 weeks into bulimia recovery, but restricting big time and losing lots of weight. I am afraid to eat for fear of gaining again. How can I feel good when I'm getting these messages from him that I'm not attractive unless I'm thin?

Dr. Burgard: How would the two of you deal with some other kind of change? Partners change all the time, and part of the task of being in a relationship is to be able to keep up. I wonder if you are feeling less attractive and less sexual, and maybe that is affecting his feelings too? But whatever help you need to get, to get yourself more stable again, I would encourage you to focus on that. Maybe there is something that the two of you need to talk about that is being masked by this issue.


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Last Updated: 19 April 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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