I see it everywhere.
The friend who sends a Christmas card every year with beautiful photos of her children, but never herself. The lady on the side of the pool who hasn’t been swimming with her kids for years because there is no way she is wearing a bathing suit. The neighbor who loves hearing about your vacation, but still needs to lose 30 pounds before she can go. The beautiful woman who has been hiding in her sweatpants and hoodie ever since she had her last baby. She’ll wear cute clothes once she loses the baby weight….really. The social media friend whose profile picture is never a photo of themselves, or it’s the one from ten years ago, back when she was worthy of showing her face.
This is a real problem, but one that is so common that we often discount its effects. Although it can’t be diagnosed with anything concrete, like a blood test, it is a real problem. And it has a name: Negative Body Obsession, or NBO. It is estimated that 80 to 90 percent of women (and a growing number of men) struggle to some degree with NBO. This condition is characterized by feelings of dissatisfaction, embarrassment, or inadequacy about one’s appearance.
With so many women struggling with this problem, we have come to accept it as normal. We don’t bat an eye when our friend makes a comment about how fat she is. We talk about how ugly our stretch marks are, right in front of our daughters. We make jokes about our “thunder thighs” and we argue with our husbands when they tell us we are beautiful. And for every good thing we notice about ourselves, we make sure to notice three things that we don’t like. To stay humble, right? (Or to stay stuck?)
But while it may be “normal” in the sense that it is definitely common, it is not natural. Does your baby or toddler despise the rolls on her thighs? Does she always wear pants to cover her big calves? Does she look in the mirror and grimace at her thin lips? Talk with disgust about her changing body? No. She stares at herself in the mirror, amazed at her smile. She moves her arms and legs with abandon, just because it feels good. She loves her body. Until we teach her not to.
But why does it matter? How does it really affect us? According to Sarah Maria, author of Love Your Body, Love Your Life, “Consciously or unconsciously, you suffer unnecessarily because you don’t think you are beautiful enough, thin enough, or good enough to live the life of your dreams, the life you deserve. You accept less, much less, than you truly want, need, or deserve, because you feel inadequate about your body and yourself.” Did you get that? Consciously or UNCONSCIOUSLY. We often develop these limiting thoughts and beliefs about ourselves without even consciously knowing it. And these thoughts and beliefs lead to all kinds of actions (and inaction) that hurt both our bodies and our spirits.
NBO has a huge impact on our relationship with food. We diet, we starve, we binge, we yo-yo, we develop a warped idea about food—the very fuel our body needs to function each day. We develop negative feelings about the number on the scale. If it is what we want it to be, we live in fear of it going back up. If it is too high, we criticize ourselves for our lack of control. We become desperate and turn to diet pills, powders, any formula promising fast results, regardless of the potential side effects. We use food as a drug, trying to quiet our negative emotions by consuming more of it. We become chronically exhausted, overfed, underfueled, and far from healthy.
Exercise becomes some sort of punishment we inflict on ourselves rather than a joyful way to move our bodies and improve our health. We ate too much, we are too fat, we need to change. Let’s whip ourselves into shape! And then when the changes don’t happen, when we don’t feel amazing about how we look with the exercise, we quit. Why bother? Any improvements made fade away. Or maybe we keep going, but frantically. Exercise becomes all about calories burned and we can never burn enough. We are running from ourselves, wasting away, and never content.
And what is NBO doing to our spirits? We begin to forget them. We spend so much time consumed in NBO that we begin to believe we are our bodies. We don’t take time to notice and develop our beauty within because all we can see is our flawed exterior.We don’t believe that we are capable of greatness. We begin to believe that IF I was (more beautiful, in better shape, thinner, stronger, sexier, more perfect) then I could (get that job, pursue that hobby, find the perfect man, have a better marriage, feel confident, have the life I want.) This “if-then” thinking keeps us stuck, feeling unworthy of everything that could be our reality, and missing out on the very feeling we were created to experience: JOY.
And we aren’t the only ones suffering. NBO affects our relationships with others. There’s that old friend who was in town and wanted to catch up over lunch, but you had an excuse because you didn’t want her to see you now. There’s that new friend that you would love to develop a relationship with, but you don’t because of what she might think of you. What about your kids who you never go swimming with? What about your husband who thinks you are beautiful, and although he is patient and loving, it hurts him to see you being so critical of yourself? And what about the next generation of women? Those little girls that are watching, listening, and believing everything we teach them about our bodies, about their bodies.
But there is good news! NBO, although many choose to live with it their entire lives, is NOT terminal. There is a cure. We can be healed. And NOTHING about our body or our appearance even has to change.
That is what this work is all about. We can learn how to cure ourselves of NBO, one thought at a time. Changing our thoughts will change our feelings. Those positive feelings will drive the exact actions we need to take to get the results we truly want in our lives. We can begin to recognize that we ARE beautiful, strong, sexy, and perfectly imperfect. And IF we realize that, THEN we will apply for that new job, pursue that hobby, develop new relationships, create a better marriage, feel more confident, and begin living the lives we are meant to live: lives full of JOY.
Let’s do it together. 80-90% of women dissatisfied with their appearance?? Let’s bring that number down. We do not have to continue to live this way. Let’s do it for ourselves, for our families, for our friends, and for the next generation of women. Let’s acquire the tools we need. Let’s help each other. Let’s get to work!
Love your body, and your body will love you. ♥