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-Leigh Ann Jones, age fifty-four

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Articles: Body Talk

Body Talk

By Sarah Maria

Do you love your body?  No really, do you?

If you're a woman, chances are you don't.  Studies show that 80-90% of adult women dislike their bodies.  In fact, many of them truly hate their own bodies.

15% of women say they would sacrifice more than five years of their lives, and 24% of women say they would give up more than three years of their life.  Approximately 50% of women said that they smoked to control their body weight.[i]

81% of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat, 78% of 18-year-old girls are unhappy with their bodies, and the number one wish of girls 11-17 years old is to lose weight.  51% of 9 and 10 year-old girls feel better about themselves when dieting, and 9% of 9-year-olds have vomited to lose weight.[ii]

Eating disorders are the third most common chronic illness in adolescent girls, and have the highest death rate of any mental illness.[iii] Research suggests that approximately 1% of female adolescents have anorexia, while 4% of college-age women have bulimia.  50% of people who have been anorexic develop bulimia or bulimic patterns.

Disordered eating often begins as a simple diet.  More than half of teenage girls are, or think they should be, on a diet.  91% of women surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight through dieting.  Unfortunately, studies show unequivocally that most diets don't work.  95% of dieters will regain their lost weight in 1-5 years.

35% of "normal dieters" progress to pathological dieting.  Of these, 20-25% progress to partial of full-syndrome eating disorders.[vi]

Intense body dissatisfaction and disordered eating have been steadily increasing over time, with anorexia increasing each decade since 1930, and the incidence of bulimia tripling between 1988 and 1993.

This body loathing is often aimed at a particular body part.  A study in Psychology Today shows that "there's more discontent with the shape of our bodies than ever before...the negative focus remains on our visible attributes, the ones that display fat..."The article states that "Looking at your stomach in the mirror is an extreme downer for 44 percent of women..."  Most body dissatisfaction focuses on the hips, thighs, and stomach, with most women feeling there is too much fat and flab.

Body dissatisfaction both creates and is created by the way women talk about their bodies and other people's bodies.

Do you ever look in the mirror and think:

  • "I am so fat!"
  • "My butt is way too big."
  • "My thighs are flabby; I definitely should not be seen in a bathing suit."
  • "My hair is flat; why can't I have hair like hers?"
  • "My nose is too large.  I wonder how much plastic surgery costs?"

Many times these thoughts are accompanied by feelings of inadequacy, failure, and worthlessness.

Every time you think these Negative Body Thoughts, you reinforce a sense of not being good enough.

Negative Body Thoughts can also be aimed at other people.  When you meet other people, do you ever think:

  • "She's thinner than I am, so she is more successful and more beautiful"
  • "She should exercise more; I bet she doesn't belong to a gym"
  • "I have a smaller waist-line than she does, so I am slightly better"

We constantly and chronically compare ourselves to other women, sizing up our self-worth by our relative body size.

This Negative Body Talk is particularly cruel and hurtful among children, teens, and adolescents.  Young women grow up learning that their self-worth is directly related to their clothing size.

As long as women continue to engage in Negative Body Dialogue, they will continue to feel deficient with their bodies.

In order to change how we feel about ourselves, we need to change how we talk to ourselves.  If we want to feel vibrant, energetic, and creative, we need to view ourselves with love, compassion, acceptance, and understanding.  If we want our daughters to grow up feeling strong, confident, and worthwhile, we need to teach them how to talk to themselves in positive ways.

Here are some tips for changing your body-talk:

  • Become aware of your habitual thought patterns.  Most of us don't even realize what we are thinking most of the time.  Train yourself to observe your thoughts and their influence on your wellbeing.
  • Once you become aware of your thoughts, take steps to change them.  Whenever you notice a negative body thought, gently redirect your attention to a positive body thought instead.   When you notice yourself criticizing your body or other people's bodies, replace the criticism with something positive.
  • Learn to meditate.  During the process of meditation you turn your attention inward and focus on your breath on a mantra.  Through meditation you will learn to witness your thoughts.  Over time you will be able to replace your negative thoughts processes with more positive ones.
  • Refuse to participate in negative body talk!  If you notice your friends talking negatively about their bodies or anyone else's, refuse to participate!  Instead, talk about what is beautiful, meaningful, and worthwhile in everyone you know.
  • If you are a parent, teach your child positive self-talk.  Teach her how to affirm her body and herself with her thoughts, words, and actions.  She will reap the benefit for her entire lifetime!

When you learn to talk about your body and yourself in a positive light, you will slowly cultivate a relationship with yourself that is full of love, joy, enthusiasm, and vitality.

[i]Psychology Today, 1997

[ii]Body Wars: Making Peace with Women's Bodies, Margo Maine, PhD, Gurze Books, 2000

[iii] Adolescent Medicine Committee, Canadian Paediatric Society. Eating Disorders in adolescents: principles of diagnosis and treatment. Paediatrics and Child Health 1998; 3(3) 189-92. Reaffirmed January 2001.

[iv] Anred: Eating Disorders Statistics: http://www.anred.com/stats.html

[v] Grodstein, F., Levine, R., Spencer, T. Colditz, G.A., Stampfer, M.J. (1996). Three-year follow-up of participants in a commercial weight-loss program: can you keep it off? Archives of Internal Medicine. 156 (12), 1302.

[vi] Shisslak, C.M., Crago, M., & Estes, L.S., (1995). The spectrum of eating disturbances. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 18 (3), 209-219.

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