Mon, 22 Feb 2016 0:00:00 GMT Marion MacDonald

Straight Talk on Body Image

A Mirasol Panel Discussion

Body Image Challenges

Development of a more positive body image is often used as a yardstick for eating disorder recovery, but it's one of the most difficult issues to address in treatment. In honor of Valentine's Day, Mirasol staff got together to discuss the challenges body dissatisfaction. Can you really improve your body image by gazing into a mirror, or shouting from the hilltops that you love yourself just the way you are? Probably not. But working through the feelings that come up when you do may help you uncover more important issues.

Featured Panelists:

  • Diane Ryan, Executive Director
  • Maeve Shaughnessy, Clinical Director, Adult Program
  • Ann Twilley, Trauma Therapist
  • Katie Klein, Primary Therapist
  • Jamelynn Evans, Primary Therapist
  • Anne Ganje, Dietitian
  • Allison McCabe, Counselor Assistant

Download Audio: M4A

Moderator: "To me, this is actually one of the more difficult topics because, I've got to admit, I don't really get why there is this movement to encourage people to look in the mirror and say, "I love my body, I'm beautiful', almost as if the body were something detached from the person."

Diane Ryan: "One of the reasons this is such an interesting topic, and you hear people talking about it all the time, is that when people come to Mirasol, every time we do a focus group where we're trying to elicit feedback about what people want to work on, I have never seen a single time when this wasn't at the top of the list. Body image and body dissatisfaction are acknowledged topics in our society, especially for women. It's something that creates great suffering within us as women, as part of the culture, as we relate to each other. Diet and weight loss and things to do to make yourself look better are probably the majority of the conversations that happen in break rooms. And at the same time, you're absolutely right, you can't separate them. Whenever you're having a bad body image day, that's just a euphemism for saying 'I feel terrible inside, something is hurting, something is confusing, something doesn't feel right. I don't like myself, I don't like the way I am in this moment.'"

Ann Twilley: "I think there's a place for affirmations, but always my concern with that type of work is that it can cover up the core deficiencies that someone feels. I think there has to be a careful balance between using affirmations in that way, looking in the mirror and saying, 'I love myself,' versus doing something that bridges it. Because what happens in the system is there's an incongruence. Sometimes we'll start the groups that we do by having people say out loud, 'I love my body exactly like it is.' And what they get out of that is a voice that comes back and says, 'Oh hell no I don't,' and that's information that we can use to show them how their body disagrees with what they are saying. And then we can begin experimenting with a bridge to that, with some small steps they can take to move forward, like 'tips for loving your body.' But those types of exercises are generally later in the game, because if they don't do the core work, they're not going to believe it anyway. In fact it's going to cause them more shame because they can't feel that way."

Katie Klein: "A lot of the clients that we see here place so much value on how they look, and maybe their families or their partners have been giving them a lot of validation for how they look, and so it becomes really tied in with their identities. As a therapist, part of the work I do with my clients is to try to find out 'What else do you like in life? What are your interests? What are your passions? What career would I like to go into?', and really broadening the spectrum of what they're interested in and shifting the focus from 'what I look like' to 'what part do I play in the world?'"

Ann Twilley: "Someone came in Monday, and she was saying she had a moment when she looked in the mirror and said, 'I think I look okay,' and she was so astonished. And so we started digging into what was happening that day, and the previous day, and what might have contributed to that. And 'Oh my gosh, well this happened' and 'I felt really good about having accomplished this' and it really had nothing to do with her body!"

Anne Ganje: "I totally agree and I think one really simple illustration of this is how women often talk about how they feel better about themselves as they get older when that's counter-intuitive, because we age. But that's because I think a lot of us become more accepting of who we are as people and become wiser and more in touch with the things we want and don't want in life."

Ann Twilley: "I do think that age does help. Nobody ever comes in and says, 'I wish I had been more beautiful or had these procedures done'. They don't say that, they say 'I wish I had spent more time with my family' or 'I wish I would have had better relationships' or 'I wish I hadn't invested so much in my career.' And so as we get older, I think we get a better perspective."

Maeve Shaughnessy: "I often get asked by clients, 'Does somebody who doesn't have an eating disorder 100% love their body and everything about themselves,' and I say, 'No, I think every person has something about themselves that they don't love, but that doesn't determine how they value themselves, it doesn't ruin their day, and it doesn't affect how they show up in relationships.'"

Katie Klein: "Clients say to me weekly, 'When am I going to accept the way I look?' and my answer is 'It takes time, it takes time, but it's possible.'"

Ann Twilley: "I always tell clients that it's the last thing that shifts. If they do the work — their food plan, their core work, their trauma work, that body image piece is the last thing that catches up to the rest of it. And they need to know that, because otherwise they're expecting that to be the barometer for their recovery, and it's just not going to look like that."

Diane Ryan: "Given that, and given how long it takes to actually make peace with your body, and how many people don't, and the joy that that sucks out of your existence on a daily basis, it's really tragic. So even though it's very difficult to tease out how to address this specifically, because going at it directly doesn't necessarily seem to be the way, it's such an important issue that it really bears talking about and exploring further."

There's additional information about body image issues on Mirasol's website, including, yes, tips to love your body.