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What To Do When The Thin Ideal Sneaks In

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Recently I’ve started branching out and doing other types of workouts (aside from Pilates), which I’m really enjoying.

You see, I need exercise in my life on a regular basis. Without it, the negativity and nervousness snake through my body and the result is a moody, anxious, neurotic mess. (I’m only slightly exaggerating.)

But what I’ve noticed is that the more I exercise, the more the thin ideal starts sneaking in. And the longer I spend looking in the mirror, examining the presence of physical differences.

Am I getting more muscular? Is my belly getting smaller? Hmm, what about my hips or my legs? Do I look thin or muscular enough in this outfit? Shouldn’t I be losing some weight?

Oh, crap.

As a body image blogger, I honestly feel ashamed writing the above words. Like I should know better. Like I’m setting a terrible example. Like I shouldn’t be in this place anymore. In this place where the thin ideal still lingers.

It’s an odd place to be, because I waver between a calm and content comfort in my own skin and an insecure yearning to see my body change. I waver between eschewing our standards and wanting to fulfill them.

I’m not sure why these thoughts arise so easily. Is it the thin-obsessed media? My own deeply entrenched insecurities?

Either way, it makes me feel like a hypocrite. And it’s a slippery slope from internalizing the thin ideal to watching what I eat to welcoming the diet mentality with open arms.

So I’ve decided to make a conscious effort to deal with the thin-saturated thoughts and prevent them from affecting my behavior.

I also think that the path to a positive body image (and letting go of the unrealistic and ridiculous thin ideal) is paved with ups and downs.

It’s OK to struggle — and when we do struggle and start reverting back to potentially unhealthy ways, we can notice the signs and then actually take action.

Here are a few suggestions that might help you, if you’re in a similar situation.

1. Accept your thoughts, and be kind. I could spend many hours beating myself up for thinking this way. But that’s not helpful, and it puts me back in the past when I’ve used myself as a punishing bag. The reality is that our culture is saturated with thin images and I also have some leftover insecurities. Many of us do. So I’m going to accept my thoughts — and extend some kindness and understanding my way. Instead of a self-critical perspective, I’m going to take a self-compassionate one.

2. Realize that thoughts don’t dictate actions.  Just because I’m thinking thin doesn’t mean that I need to act on my thoughts. Like I said above, I can accept my thoughts, and just let them pass. I can still eat intuitively, check in with my body and eat dessert if I want. (And I do!) I can still listen to my body to make sure I’m not overdoing it on my workouts — and taking much-needed breaks. I can still take good care of myself.

3. Examine what else is going on. I can dig deeper into why the thin ideal seems particularly appealing to me right now. Am I extra stressed? What am I stressed out about? Is it being around other people who focus on the physical? Is it a worry of being judged? Is it the heat, the idea of wearing less clothing during the summer? Checking in and identifying what might be fueling the thin thoughts is important. It also gives us a core concern to work through. So what we’re truly going through might have very little to do with weight in the first place.

4. Remind yourself of the bigger picture. Our lives do not revolve around our appearance or our weight. So I remind myself that I’m a whole person with passions and good qualities — and getting preoccupied with my weight wastes my time. Participating in Pilates and other physical activities is one of my passions. Moving my body is important to me; however, my weight is negligible in that equation.

The thin ideal is demoralizing. It sinks our spirits and takes the focus away from what’s important in our lives. It’s surrounded by negativity.

It gives us nothing, but takes everything.

I want to engage in activities that challenge and empower me, that nourish my body, mind and soul. And in that space, there’s no place for the thin ideal.

I’ll keep reminding myself of that, and I hope you will, too.

Do you sometimes struggle with yearning for thinness? What helps you when these thoughts or worries arise? 

What To Do When The Thin Ideal Sneaks In

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. (2013). What To Do When The Thin Ideal Sneaks In. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 8 Nov 2013
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