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Body Image Booster: Spot Your “Shoulds”

Every Monday features a tip, activity, inspiring quote or some other tidbit that helps boost your body image, whether directly or indirectly — and hopefully kick-starts the week on a positive note!

Got a tip for improving body image? Email me at mtartakovsky at gmail dot com, and I’ll be happy to feature it. I’d love to hear from you!

Shoulds are often the foundation of a negative body image. I should fit into a size 6. I should be able to wear skinny jeans. I should lose weight in time for that vacation. I should look flawless every day.

I should avoid dessert. I should count calories. I should have muscle there. I should have thinner thighs.

I should exercise after having a big meal. I should feel guilty after eating certain foods.

I should eat differently. I should look differently. I should be different.

These shoulds are detrimental to our body image — and ourselves as a whole. They keep us shackled to rigidity and rob us of joy, calm and self-love.

In her powerful book Food: The Good Girl’s Drug, author Sunny Sea Gold features a valuable exercise to recognize and begin releasing our shoulds.

For many of us our shoulds are so deeply entrenched that we don’t even realize that we can change them.

We just assume they’re indisputable facts. But the great news is that they’re not.

They’re unrealistic expectations that we’ve created — and ones that we have the power to erase, as well.

This exercise can help you start the process. In her book Sunny quotes eating disorder expert Cynthia Bulik, Ph.D, who says that relinquishing unrealistic expectations includes pinpointing and examining our shoulds.

For this exercise, you’ll need a pen, piece of paper or your journal.

  • Make a list of the things you think you “should look like, be like and be able to do.”
  • For each statement, write down where you learned that this should was important. Maybe it came from your parents, friends, teachers or a certain TV show. “Do these ‘shoulds’ come from your voice? Do they come from someone else’s voice that you have internalized?”
  • Ask yourself why you think each should is important. What will these shoulds give you? Is it friends, success, love, acceptance, approval?
  • What would happen if you didn’t achieve these shoulds? According to Sunny, “This last step is where many of us stumble upon some real core issues — for me, many of my ‘shoulds’ boiled down to fear of being abandoned, rejected or not being loved.”

Sunny further explains:

…The emotional consequences of these beliefs is unhealthy guilt and eroded self-worth. But things can change, with awareness and conscious effort. When I make a mistake now — whether it has to do with food, work, or relationships with friends and family — I no longer angrily (and abusively!) tell myself I should’ve done something different. I accept it, forgive myself if necessary, then think about how I might be able to deal with the next situation more healthfully or effectively.

What shoulds do you believe in? What shoulds did you believe in before, but have finally dismantled? 

Body Image Booster: Spot Your “Shoulds”

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2012). Body Image Booster: Spot Your “Shoulds”. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 10, 2018, from


Last updated: 15 Oct 2012
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 15 Oct 2012
Published on All rights reserved.