Mental Wellness: Body Image: Making Peace With Our Inner Critic

by Cara Herring, LCSW

Here we are at the beginning of the summer. What does that mean for you? For some it may mean exciting times including travel, nurturing a garden or visits with family. For others, it can be daunting- the dreaded swimsuit season. The inner critic wakes up and yells at you for not losing the weight you planned to lose over the winter or for not exercising as much as you promised yourself you would last year. That inner critic, the inner voice, whom you know so well, though try to ignore when it shames you about your body, can be loud. 

We learn what body image is early on in childhood. What do our friends look like? What do the movie stars, models and athletes look like? Why do I not look like them? I SHOULD look like them, you tell yourself. Maybe you were teased as a child for being heavier or smaller that your peers. Think back about what you learned from your parents, grandparents, peers and media regarding body sizes and what should and shouldn’t be. These ideas become beliefs and are carried with us throughout our lives. We view others and ourselves based on these beliefs. How do you view someone who is, in your mind, heavier or too thin? Do you think of a certain size person as healthy or unhealthy? 

It is important to understand your own perception of body image. All bodies are different shapes and sizes, and that’s okay. The size of a person’s body does not necessarily indicate health. Consider shifting your perspective in how you may think of your body: “I’m too heavy.” “I’m too thin.” “I don’t have enough muscle.” “I wish my stomach was flatter.” I encourage you to take some time and think what your body has done for you, how it has protected you; how it has healed from accidents; how it is managing medical conditions; how it has birthed your children; or how it has allowed you to have some wonderful experiences. 

We need to look at our overall health- not just our body size. Considering lab results, well balanced nutritional intake, hydration, moderate exercise, emotional health, social/family support and connections are all inclusive when it comes to our health. 

Listening to your body is key. Your body is the only one you have so getting to know it, no matter your age, is vital. Having awareness of what your body looks like is healthy as long as there is a balance in how you view your body. What does listening to your body mean? Your body gives you physical cues when you feel hungry, full, tired or when you have enjoyed a nice walk. 

Educating ourselves in order to shift perceptions and making friends with that inner voice will create empathy and move us towards acceptance and a positive attitude towards the only body that we have. 

Cara Herring, LCSW, is a Health Coach and Counselor at Pinehurst Medical Clinic, Inc in Pinehurst. She can be reached at 910-235-3347 or cherring@pinehurstmedical.com.