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What a Negative Body Image Really Is

Every Monday features a tip, exercise, inspiring quote or other tidbit to help boost your body image. For many of us, Mondays are tough. We may feel anxious and stressed out, anticipating an arduous week, especially if we didn’t get much rest and relaxation during the weekend.

These kinds of feelings don’t create the best environment for improving one’s body image. In fact, you might be harder on yourself and easily frustrated. You might even feel like you’re walking on egg shells – with yourself! With these posts, I hope you’ll have a healthier and happier body image day, that’ll last throughout the week.

Got a tip for improving body image? Email me at [email protected], and I’ll be happy to feature it. It can be anything you do that’s healthy and helps boost your body image. I’d love to hear from you!

When I had a negative body image, I thought that I just hated my body. But in reality, I hated many parts of myself. To me, being thin didn’t just mean a hotter body. It meant I’d be a different person. I’d be more adventurous, more outgoing, prettier, more popular.

A flat stomach meant that I’d be less fearful. Thin thighs meant that I’d be stronger. Small hips meant I’d be 100 percent confident.

Either way, I thought changing my shape could bring about a change in personality – and a change in my life, in its structure, vibrancy and excitement.

And being prettier would finally bring me peace.

That’s the thing about body image: It often has to do with more than just your figure. It has to do with your idea of happiness, of who you truly are and who you want to become.

“When I was in high school, I used to dream about having Melissa Morris’s legs, Toni Oliver’s eyes and Amy Breyer’s hair. I liked my skin, my breasts and my lips but everything else had to go. Then, in my twenties, I dreamed about slicing off pieces of my thighs and arms the way you carve a turkey, certain that if I could cut away what was wrong, only the good parts – the pretty parts, the thin parts – would be left,” writes Geneen Roth in her book, Women, Food and God.*

While I searched for my own pretty parts and a sense of peace, I turned to diets – the ultimate in redemption.

So did Roth:

And since I also believed that the way to get there was by judging and shaming and hating myself, I also believed in diets.

Diets are based on the unspoken fear that you are a madwoman, a food terrorist, a lunatic. Eventually you will destroy all that you love and so you need to be stopped. The promise of a diet is not only that you will have a different body; it is that in having a different body, you will have a different life. If you hate yourself enough, you will love yourself. If you torture yourself enough, you will become a peaceful, relaxed human being.

That’s the other thing: My negative body image – my shame-filled statements and shaky self-image – didn’t get me anywhere. I wasn’t any thinner or happier for long – and I certainly wasn’t any healthier (clearly not). I was losing myself, insult by insult, diet by diet.  In my warped body image, I had forgotten to trust myself. I looked to the outside to tell me what I wanted, what felt right.

Roth writes:

If you wait until you have Toni Oliver’s eyes and Amy Breyer’s hair, if you wait to respect yourself until you are at the weight you imagine you need to be to respect yourself, you will never respect yourself, because the message you will be giving yourself as you reach your goal is that you are damaged and cannot trust your impulses, your longings, your dreams, your essence at any weight.

When you stop struggling, stop suffering, stop pushing and pulling yourself around food and your body, when you stop manipulating and controlling, when you actually relax and listen to the truth of what is there, something is bigger than your fear will catch you. With repeated experiences of opening and ease, you learn to trust something infinitely more powerful than a set of rules that someone else made up: your own being.

Even worse, I had forgotten who I was me. What was special about me. What was lovely…

Roth quotes the poet Galway Kinnell:  “Sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness.” She then says: “Everything we do, I tell my students, is to reteach ourselves our loveliness.”

So, today, I challenge you to dig deeper. Ask yourself, what does your negative body image reveal? If you opened up the many layers – and yes, most times, there are many – of your body bashing, what emotions, experiences, ideas and rules would spill out?

If you’re apprehensive about opening up the flood gates, just start with a ripple. Consider what being thinner means to you. What would be different if you were thin? What exactly is the reason your body image is so negative? How would your life change if you liked your body (and yourself)?

Understanding yourself is the starting point, as Roth says. And that loveliness you, too, might’ve lost, will be found.

To be given wings, you’ve got to be willing to believe that you were put on this earth for more than your endless attempts to lose the same thirty pounds three hundred times for eighty years. And that goodness and loveliness are possible, even in something as mundane as what you put in your mouth for breakfast. Beginning now.

Today’s favorite post. Part of Being Sane About Food is Enjoying Eating,” a guest post by Esther Kane, a therapist who specializes in body image issues and eating disorders, on HealthyGirl.

By the way, if you didn’t get a chance to check out Friday’s guest post by Kate Thieda also about Roth’s book, please do. I was seriously blown away by it.

(* I received a free copy from Roth’s publicist.)

What a Negative Body Image Really Is

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

Margarita is an associate editor at She writes about everything from taking compassionate care of yourself at any weight, shape, and size, to coping healthfully with difficult emotions. Her goal is to give readers practical, empowering tips to better their lives, and to remind you that whatever you're struggling with, you're never, ever alone.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2014). What a Negative Body Image Really Is. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 13, 2020, from


Last updated: 20 Mar 2014
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