As summer quickly approaches, casual conversations focus on the excitement of no school, vacations planned, and time spent outdoors, often at beaches and pools. As an eating disorder therapist, my ears sharpen to focus when I hear people say, more often than not, “I can’t go to the beach/pool yet…” quickly followed by a list of things about their bodies that need to be changed. And while I know that most of these people making negative comments about themselves do not struggle with eating disorders, my concern and sadness does not waiver. What I hear in those statements so strongly parallels the negative voices of the eating disorders my clients struggle with. “You can’t eat that…” it whispers. “Everybody will judge you…” it convinces. “You can’t go there…” it commands.
Negative body image is pervasive in our society. It is not uncommon for both men and women, young and old, to think or say something negative about their physical appearance on a daily basis. And while it may be somewhat “normal” to have both positive and negative qualities we perceive about ourselves, when exactly does negative body image become problematic? My answer is twofold: (1) When negative body image significantly impacts one’s self worth, and (2) When negative body image consistently controls what you do (wear, eat, go, etc.). More simply put, negative body image can be a sneaky thief, stealing your confidence and pride in yourself and your presence in the joyful activities of life.
When we are overly focused on our body image (our form), we overlook what our bodies can do (our function). Our bodies were not made to be merely looked at; our bodies were made to do. No matter our weight, height, and composition, we can laugh, sing, cry, and love. There are no universal truths or laws that say we cannot wear that bathing suit or those clothes, and that we cannot eat that food in front of those people. If we waited for our bodies to be “perfect” to experience life, I’m afraid we would never truly live.
Don’t let negative body image steal a summer away from you. Don’t let it keep you from hearing the ocean and feeling the sand on your feet. Why should your negative body image dis-invite you those cook-outs and trips to the ice cream shop? Wear those shorts if it’s hot…or because you like them. Take the plunge and swim in the cool water with your friends/children/partner/spouse. Don’t be consumed by negative body image; be present in the moment of now. The joys you experience today will become cherished memories for tomorrow.
About the Author: Dr. Jeter earned her Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Drexel University, and her Doctoral degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Florida State University. She has two main passions with her work, including individual and family therapy with clients recovering from an eating disorder, and couples/marital therapy. Dr. Jeter has worked as a therapist at various agencies in the Tallahassee community, and has over 10 years of experience in the mental health profession. Dr. Jeter has also served as a Partial Hospitalization Program coordinator at an established eating disorder treatment facility for male and female clients of all ages. She strongly believes that family relationships are one of the greatest joys in life. Therefore, family support is critical through the learning and healing process of treatment.