Whether or not you realize it, you likely have a picture of the “ideal body” living in the back of your mind. Even if we would never hold others to the same standard, we typically have a preconceived notion of what we think our bodies “should” look like.
But how often have you questioned this body ideal? If you have not spent much time reflecting on its origins, you may not realize how heavily this ideal was influenced by others around you rather than your own personal convictions. It’s worth considering whether this ideal is actually true to your values and whether you want to continue to hold it for yourself. Here’s how to start challenging your body ideals and learning to love the body you have in eating disorder recovery!
What is the “Ideal Body?”
While we often imagine the “ideal body” as a fixed set of proportions, the fascinating truth is that beauty standards have evolved drastically throughout history. What's considered "in" now is considered "out" tomorrow. Trust me, my body type was always critiqued as a fashion model, and it seemed like I could never quite be "in" at the right time. But hear me out: our bodies are not meant to be trends! All bodies are different and are supposed to be. Whatever size your body comes to rest at when you grow to have food freedom is where you are meant to be. Changing your body with unhealthy diets is not where you are meant to be. Your mind will constantly be focused on food, deprivation, or some other unhealthy behavior, and you will not have mental peace.
Over the years, our society has idealized many different shapes and sizes. For example, in ancient Greece, goddesses were often portrayed as busty and plump, as body fat was seen as a sign of wealth and fertility. Later, in the 1920s, our ideal body swayed to the exact opposite, with flappers favoring a straight, boyish silhouette.
All of this is to say that the “ideal body” is a subjective concept – one that is greatly shaped by time, place, and cultural context. Even today, different countries idealize different body shapes and sizes, and beauty standards vary widely around the world. Regardless of where you live, however, you probably received cultural messages from a young age about what your body was “supposed” to look like.
These messages may have been direct, such as body- or food-focused comments from family members, or indirect, such as seeing retouched photos on magazine covers or Instagram posts… but they affect our growing brains just the same.
Research shows that excessive consumption of entertainment media causes children and adolescents to internalize fatphobic beauty standards, which in turn leads to worsened body image and self-esteem.The results are often so detrimental that we are willing to go to extreme, dangerous lengths to obtain what others have defined as the “ideal body.”
How to Begin Loving the Body You Have
While we’re fed many messages about body ideals, I believe your “ideal body” is always one you can maintain naturally, while eating intuitively and without resorting to disordered habits! But if we want to learn to love our bodies as they are in this very moment, then we have to learn to challenge the unrealistic beauty standards imposed on us by external forces.
We can start by questioning our beliefs around body ideals and exploring where these ideas may have come from. Here are some questions you can use, drawn from the EDIT Method, to start puzzling together how and why your body ideals developed as they did:
● What does your “ideal body” look like? How long have you had this ideal, and how has it changed over time (if at all)?
● Is there a specific person who represents your ideal body? Are there particular pieces of media that may have shaped your idea of the “perfect” body?
● How has striving for this body ideal influenced you? Do you ever feel good enough?
● How do you or others in your life compare to your body ideal? Does this ideal seem realistic to you?
● What would it feel like to look at yourself in the mirror, free from this body ideal? How might the way you see yourself change without this ideal body in mind?
Don’t worry if you aren’t sure where to start: these questions are tricky, and the answers can take time to uncover! If this task seems particularly daunting to you, it may help to discuss your thoughts on these questions with a supportive person in your life, such as a therapist or an EDIT-certified recovery coach… and, as always, if you’d like to learn more about my approach to recovery coaching or seek my support, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.