Here’s part two of my interview with Ashley of Nourishing the Soul, a blog about body image, media literacy and disordered eating. Ashley’s blog is fantastic, so if you aren’t familiar with it yet, please check it out!
If you missed it, check out part one of our interview, where Ashley discusses what Nourishing the Soul is all about and how we can nourish our bodies, minds and spirits.
Below, Ashley talks all about body image: the body image issues she’s seen in her clients, how she developed a positive body image, what having a healthy body image means to her and body image boosters for readers to try.
Q: You specialize in treating clients with body image issues. What seem to be the most common issues that your clients come in with?
A: I have had experience working with various types of individuals with concerns that are as varied as they are, from those who have committed sexual crimes to people with post-partum depression. However, I particularly enjoy working with individuals struggling with body image issues because these issues often involve the intersection of culture, genetics, early experiences, and current thought patterns. The issues are so multi-faceted, but also changeable. No one has to live a life of hating themselves, no matter their circumstances.
When working with individuals with body image issues, people often report that they have such disdain for their bodies. They may have spent years being overweight, fighting with their body at every turn to conform it into the way that they (or their parents or friends or the media) would like it to be.
And usually what they end up with – besides severe health issues from excessive dieting, binging, and/or self-harm – is a sense of complete disconnect from their bodies. They see their bodies as the enemy, something to be targeted and tamed.
This hatred for their bodies often (though of course not always) derives from an intense sense of fear. I think many women are consumed with fear that their bodies will betray them – and they feel that this has happened in the past. They fear their own sensitivity and vulnerability, as well as their own power and agency. A lot of these fears come from cultural standards, but they also come from messages we receive from our caregivers, our experiences in the workplace, and our natural temperaments as well.
Q: You’ve talked about your own struggles with body image and eating. How were you able to develop a healthier body image?
A: Like I believe most women today, I have faced my fair share of body image issues and struggles with food. Between the cosmetic companies, the weight-loss industry, image-altering practices (i.e., airbrushing), it can feel like we as women don’t have a chance. For a long time I felt this way as well.
But I realized that in fact I don’t have to buy into what others tell me is beautiful. I began to develop my own conceptualization of beauty, and it went far beyond the limited idea that the media puts forth. Beauty to me is now much more than a small waist.
One of the ways that I was able to widen my perspective was to begin using my body in new ways, ways that weren’t solely about its appearance. I think that beginning to value your body as an instrument is one key to a healthier self-image. I began running about four years ago and have found that this exercise gives me a whole new perspective on my body.
For one, despite not being incredibly fast, I am sometimes really in amazement that my body allows me to move quickly, feel the wind on my face, take in the beauty of the city streets or the quiet woods. Unlike the exercise I did in the past that was about conforming my body to a certain size and shape, running for me is not about all that. It’s about movement, fluidity, and joyful expression. It makes me thankful for my body.
Another way that I’ve developed a healthier body image is by exposing myself to more varied views of beauty. Like most of us, I used to see beautiful through a very narrow lens – basically the image put in front of me by the popular media. But as I’ve gotten older (and hopefully a little wiser), I’ve had the opportunity to see beauty in new places and in new people. One avenue of developing this appreciation has been through mindfulness practice, in which I have learned to become more aware of the world around me and hold more gratitude for what it is offering.
Q: What does having a healthy body image mean to you?
A: I think that to say that I have a perfect image of my own body or to deny that I continue to struggle at times with seeing myself as beautiful would be misleading and potentially damaging. I struggle. Period. But I think that struggle is part of what having a healthy body image is all about – recognizing and acknowledging that health and a healthy sense of self is a process.
Having a healthy body image to me means appreciating my body for all of the incredible opportunities it affords me. We get so caught up in seeing our bodies as ornamental – appreciated for their aesthetic value and for garnering attention – rather than instrumental, as I mentioned before. Seeing your body as instrumental means seeing it as tool that allows you – the body-mind-spirit you – to engage in all the pleasures and opportunities that our world offers.
For instance, I value my body for it allowing me to comfort others through a hug, to take in breathtaking views at the top of a mountain, and to experience the sensation of cool water on a hot day. Our bodies are so much more than their appearance, and I think healthy body image means acknowledging not only our beauty (which is important!), but our strength as well.
Q: What are your favorite tips for improving body image?
A: One of my favorite “tips” is to begin developing empathy for your body. One exercise is to take a particularly loathed body part (everyone can usually identify one) and give it a voice. This involves some visualization where you allow the body part to tell “you” just how it feels to be criticized and belittled.
Our bodies are so often the innocent victims of our feelings. They receive the blame and disparagement for all that goes wrong in our lives. It’s sad to imagine what it must feel like to be our bodies when we have an unhealthy relationship with them.
Another tip I have is to take a stand against the thin-ideal that is portrayed by the media. I am a firm believer that we as consumers hold the power, and that we can change the unhealthy and unrealistic standards displayed by taking a stand. This first means educating ourselves about the practices used by the media to create certain images and learning to question the motives of the companies that we are throwing money at.
It also means voicing our concerns by writing letters, boycotting products and services, supporting companies with practices we support, and spreading awareness of what is real and what is not – even if it’s only to our children. It’s amazing how advocating for a healthier society can enhance our own health and self-image.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add about your work, body image, eating disorders or a related topic?
A: As you can tell if you follow me on twitter or on the Nourishing the Soul facebook page, I really love quotes and metaphors. One of my recent favorites is that we should, “get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful or joyful.” I think that this is a good ideal for life. Any material possession, relationship, or even thought that isn’t adding to our life is not worth our time. This definitely includes negative feelings about our body.
I’m really grateful that Ashley took the time to share her valuable insight with Weightless readers. Thanks so much, Ashley!
Today’s favorite post. Speaking of grateful, please don’t forget about our series, Self-Discovery, Word by Word. Yesterday, Christie of Honoring Health, a fantastic health and intuitive eating blog, published a stunning post on gratitude.
How did you develop a healthier body image? What are some of your favorite body positive tips?