It breaks my heart. Too frequently I talk to beautiful, intelligent, hard-working, compassionate women whose body image drags behind them on the floor.
Why? The reasons are many. Cruel classmates who mocked her because she outgrew her clothes and couldn’t afford to buy more. Insensitive family members who regularly compare her to siblings and demand to know why “you can’t slim down like her.” Or men (okay, boys) who won’t make eye contact or ignore her when they walk in the room. In some cases, she may have an distorted perception and obsession due to a chemical imbalance (see body dysmorphic disorder aka BDD).
It’s no secret that women are highly sensitive to feedback about their appearance. While these actions might not be considered “bullying” per se, they certainly leave the same scars and self-esteem issues. This type of negative feedback can influence the brain’s image of what we look like or are capable of, affecting all aspects of social behaviors. Just like a child who’s told she’s “stupid,” she eventually believes she’s stupid and starts behaving as such.
The brain can also retain self images that are no longer accurate. For example, a friend mentioned that her mother (82 with osteoperosis) tells the doctor she’s 5’6 and weighs 140 pounds. That’s what she was 30 years ago– now she’s about 5’2 and weighs about 110 due to her age and health status. Her brain has “imprinted” a particular image and has a hard time changing that imprint. Tom Hussey documents this beautifully in his photographic series entitled “Reflections.”
I routinely ask new clients what is their favorite physical feature. About 95% say “my eyes” or “my smile” without any consideration to the many other physical features from which to choose. She may have killer legs, an hourglass figure or porcelain skin, but she is too self-critical to go there.
Dove’s “Real Beauty” ad campaign illustrates how hard we are on ourselves through the eyes of a sketch artist. In every case, a stranger described the subject woman in more beautiful terms than the woman described herself.
Add to it a fashion industry gone insane on malnourished body ideals (don’t tell me they are all naturally emaciated women), and you end up with not only a population of self-loathing ladies but clothing lines that don’t translate well for bodies with curves even if you’re a size six. So it’s twice as hard for a woman (especially over 40) to find body-friendly clothing — affirming the notion that she’s abnormal or not good enough.
Sadly, designers aren’t motivated to switch strategies because designing for curves is harder and can be more expensive. The print, fabric and silhouette choices become strategic, not just creative, and designers fear it. Just watch Project Runway’s “real women” challenges. The designers lose it and typically design their poorest work.
It’s time for women to take the body image bull by the horns. Deprogram that negative self image and build self-esteem, starting with these five steps. Should you be suffering to the point where you’re harming yourself or feel depressed, contact a therapist immediately. If you want a little extra help with style strategies that boost body image, contact me!
#1 Every morning, look in a full-length mirror and name one thing you love about your face or body. Name something different every day. Thank Mother Nature for her gift throughout the day.
#2 When getting dressed, think about highlighting a feature versus trying to hide everything (which results in an unremarkable outfit). By doing so, you’re forcing people to look where you WANT them to look, giving you more control over your image.
#3 Remove all clothes from your wardrobe that don’t fit right now. Why torture yourself with “I can wear that when I lose 10 lbs”? If you lose 10, the first thing you’ll do is buy new clothes. You’ll do a lot more good for yourself and the world by donating the clothes to a worthy cause like the Salvation Army.
#4 When someone pays you a compliment, graciously say “thank you” and leave it at that. Quit with the “this old thing?” or “it’s the only one that fits my butt” or any other self-deprecating comment. Accept the praise and delight in it!
#5 Stop comparing yourself to other women. After talking to hundreds of ladies, I’m here to tell you *everyone* has their own self image challenges and insecurities. What works for you may not work for her and vice versa. Choose trends that look good on you instead of forcing yourself into the season’s “must-haves” (a marketing term I loathe, btw) or what’s on the mannequin.
And please always to remember excellent posture and a smile. Signature styling isn’t about perfection, which is a subjective and therefore unattainable notion. It’s about sending a visual message about who you are and where you’re going.
If you’re searching for your own Signature Style, I can help. Check out my Services Page and let’s work together to create a look that says who you are and where you’re going.Thea Wood Austin’s Signature Stylist 512.217.9869 firstname.lastname@example.org “Because You’re Going Places” keywords: bad body image, self image, negative self image, signature style, bad body image, body dysmorphic disorder, BDD, Tom Hussey, Dove, Real Beauty, over 40, project runway, signature style,