How Do We Develop Negative Body Image?

How Do We Develop Negative Body Image?


I’ve thought a lot about how we get to the point where we feel so unhappy and have such negative body image that we will do anything to ‘fix’ our poor flawed bodies, and so far away from being in bliss with the body we have.

Read and check out where on the scale you are:


confident carly negative body image

Confident Carly

We certainly weren’t born with negative body image! Think of any little baby you know, and how they delight in their fingers and their toes, in discovering their lips, their noses, their eyes, their knees, their bellies, and their bottoms. We squeal with delight when we learn to walk, and the only thing better than being alive in the body we’re in, is putting food into that body, splashing in the bath in that body, and having that body hugged by someone we love.

On every level, being in a body is just bliss when we’re a baby.

And then as you start to realise that you’re not your mother, not your father but you’re *you*, and also start to notice that when we are enjoying an icecream, our beloved mother says if she has one she’ll get fat. Or she and her friends, also ladies you love, are comparing the size of their breasts or butts or thighs, and saying mean things about themselves. Or they comment about others passing by who “shouldn’t be wearing that, she’s too fat”, and other similarly nasty things – look at her cankles, her breasts are so flat, my god look at the size of her butt will you??

You don’t know this is negative body image, you just start to understand that this is what women do…

sensitive Suzie negative body image

Sensitive Suzie

And so, because you now know you are *other* as well, you notice your own butt, you own thighs, your own nose. Perhaps people are saying things like “oh you look just like your mother…” and that worries you, because you know your mother doesn’t like her own body. So you start to wonder about this body you’re in, you look at others and you start to compare your own body… and you’re feeling kinda sensitive and unsure….

A few more comparing years pass and  by now you start to doubt that your body is a place of bliss because clearly, it is not perfect either.

Negative Body Image is ongoing…

You notice that on television and in the movies, the people you like also talk about needing to lose weight, to get their teeth fixed, to have a nose job, to “get into shape”. Still you don’t know this is an issue that is choking our society, called negative body image. You just think it’s normal.

And one day your father says to you “don’t eat that,  you’ll get fat”. And you’re shocked.

So you pay closer attention to the things the women around you are doing: they do a lot of exercise or talk about doing it, they work out how many calories or carbs are in their food and they carefully count them, making sure they don’t go over some limit defined by their latest book or magazine or weight loss group. When they meet for coffee or dinner, they debate whether they’ve been too ‘bad’ to have the muffin or the full-fat milk, and then they lament about their latest diet disaster.

frustrated fran negative body image

Frustrated Fran

And you learn that’s what women do, women have to pay attention to controlling their bodies, it’s normal for them to have negative body image, that’s how they measure their worthiness, their attractiveness, and their success. That’s how they relate to other another. It’s frustrating, but there it is…

You’re in the controlling parent ego state, where everything must be managed and ordered and controlled.

But, your body is also growing. It is demanding that you eat, and it needs bigger clothes all the time. By the time you’re 12  years old you’ve already been on your first diet, and you worry all the time about how much you weigh, if your breasts are growing fast enough, too fast, and if you fill your bathing suit in the ‘right’ way.

And when you’re with your friends, you compare your thighs to theirs, and they compare theirs to yours. And you bond in this body-snarking language of women, cementing your own negative body image.

The older you get, the harder it is to maintain that control. You feed your body ‘healthy’ low calorie foods when you’re feeling ‘good’ and in control, and any kind of junk when you feel like you’re out of control

desolate debbie negative body image

Desolate Debbie

You might even feel like you’re completely in control and that three hours of exercise per day, fuelled by a cup of coffee, 8 glasses of water, and one cup of no-skin chicken salad with low-fat dressing, is normal. But your body is starving, and all you can think about is food. You beat up on yourself for being so weak willed and the next day, you get up again, and fuelled by negative body image, you hate what you see in the mirror…

You spend the next fifteen years on a diet – off a diet – on a diet – off a diet, in a desperate attempt to control your body. No one told you that your bones and your organs will not stop growing until you’re about 22 years old, and so you have no idea what your ‘normal’ size, weight, or shape is.

You want to succeed in life and you know that you must have the right body to do that.

And your friends are doing it too, many of them are even purging their food to control their bodies, and sometimes you might try it too.

Or maybe nothing you seem to do makes any difference, so you’ll have an extra slice of pizza and half a tub of icecream after dinner. All that exercise you’ve tried because they told you that you would lose weight if you did it hasn’t worked either, so you sit with your icecream and watch television, hating that body, soaked in that negative body image, and feeling like there’s not a thing you can do to change it anyway….

There you have it – negative body image…..

One day, maybe you’re 25, 35, or 40, 45, or 60 – you finally just … get a feeling that there’s more to you as a woman than the size and shape of the body you’re in.

frustrated fran negative body image

Frustrated Fran

You try to understand how this can be, so you read some books, learn the truth about dieting and bingeing, talk to some people, become aware of this nasty condition called negative body image, and you notice there are other women who are also questioning what they’ve spent their energy, their money and their time doing… and you like what you see.

This is where your ego state is changing to being a conscious adult, stepping away from your early programming that you didn’t choose, and into making conscious choices about your body and your wellbeing.

For the first time you can remember, you are “okay” with the body you have, you start to shed that negative body image conditioning. Your body is what it is and you can acknowledge that maybe it’s not perfect….

sensitive Suzie negative body image

Sensitive Suzie

but it is okay anyway.

Then comes the day when you really start to feel that the body you have has been able to do many amazing things for you – maybe it’s brought a child into your life, maybe you’ve thrilled at skiing over water, maybe you’ve lost yourself in joy at the top of the Eiffel Tower, maybe you’ve held the hand of a loved one as they passed from this life.

On that day you feel real appreciation of your body for the first time.

confident carly negative body image

Confident Carly

It’s a very short step to taking a new look at that body, and starting to nurture it – feeding it truly health-giving foods, nourishing its skin with gorgeous non-toxic creams and lotions because it feels good, not because it will give you “younger looking skin”, hearing that it wants water instead of a donut, or icecream instead of a curry.

You move your body every day, walking, dancing, running, cycling, yoga, whatever you like because it feels good.

And that’s okay with you!

For the first time, you’re starting to feel like you live INSIDE your body, and not alongside it….

Then one day, you happen to catch a glimpse of your reflection, and you smile gently at yourself because now you see that self with eyes of love, and you realise that being in a body is just bliss!

And that’s the day you know you’ve kissed goodbye to negative body image forever!

And as you read this today you might have no idea how that will ever happen for you.

So you have a choice – go back to Google and look for a new miracle diet pill, powder, potion or lotion – or read more here, and maybe even take an ecourse…. It’s your body lovely lady. It’s also your choice.

This page is part of the Negative Body Image Primer – more to read here.

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