I was once talking to a woman about Fitness Unraveled, and my purpose and motivation for creating the program.
“Like, 95% of women struggle with body image issues,” I told her. “It affects us in so many places in our lives, and I want to help women figure that out so they can really do the things they want to do in life, no holding back.”
“So, you’re saying I have body image issues?” she replied.
Well, I thought to myself, seeing as you just told me about the broccoli soup you made this weekend and the 45-minute yoga class you did because you’re feeling so fat, I’d go with yes.
“Well,” I said. “It can be complicated and frustrating, but as I said, it’s super common to struggle with this. There are a few things we’ve talked about that indicate to me a potential err toward negative body image. It’s not a criticism or a bad thing, but it is something to think about.”
Whew, that was a tough and eye-opening conversation. As it turns out, the more I talked about FU over the past year or so, the more I saw just how difficult it was to talk about for way more women than just this one. I learned quickly that the words “body image” seemed to throw up a barrier, be it a big wall of “NOT ME!” or a tilted head in confusion or a flick of oh, my body image is fine because I work out.
Really though, not fine. And we’re not as clear as we could be on how and why that’s the case.
I think the important first step is to get clearer on what body image actually is, what it means. According to The Encyclopedia of Body Image and Human Appearance:
Body image refers to how we think about, feel and act towards our body. It is a multifaceted construct, consisting of perceptual, attitudinal, and behavioral components.
Expanding on that a bit, the National Eating Disorders Association describes body image this way:
Body image is how you see yourself when you look in the mirror or when you picture yourself in your mind. It encompasses:
- What you believe about your own appearance (including your memories, assumptions, and generalizations).
- How you feel about your body, including your height, shape, and weight.
- How you sense and control your body as you move. How you physically experience or feel in your body.
Many of us internalize messages starting at a young age that can lead to either positive or negative body image. Having a healthy body image is an important part of mental wellbeing and eating disorders prevention.
So body image in itself isn’t something to shy away from. It’s information.
Given all the stuff that contributes to it, I’d say it’s something to pay attention to, actually. With this information, we can begin to affect how our body image skews positively or negatively, which affects our work, our relationships, and our lives in big, big ways.
For instance, let’s walk through just one specific example, and connect body image directly with career aspirations.
A 2017 study of millennial health revealed that one in four millennials (aka grown ass adults) cares more about their body than their career. In fact, two-thirds of the study participants confessed they’d be prepared to take a 20% pay cut in exchange for a better body.
Most disturbingly, millennials say they would take a 20% pay cut to achieve:
- A thigh gap (27%)
- A flat/toned stomach (42%)
- A smaller waist (34%)
- Larger breasts (27%)
Young women are seven times more likely to worry about their weight/body than their career, and fourteen times more likely to worry about weight/body than their personality.
This study found that body image is the number one insecurity across all age groups and genders. Do you think that doesn’t affect how we show up to do business? An insecurity that prominent is going to affect our self-image, thus our self-confidence, thus our bottom line. That much time spent worrying in this department takes a whole lot of time away from more meaningful work.
I mean, if we’re going to stress, let’s stress about what matters.
Going back to the original comment in my conversation about why I created Fitness Unraveled, I wasn’t exaggerating about how much this affects how many women. Depending on what research you look at, studies and surveys show that anywhere between 86% and 97% of adult women are dissatisfied with their bodies. Body dissatisfaction is the number one contributor to body image, negative body image, in this case. (Other factors you might be familiar with: body checking, body preoccupation, feeling fat, fear of weight gain, overvaluation of weight or shape, thin-ideal internalization.)
That’s such a large number. It’s too large a number. And that is why body image matters and why FU exists.
God, I don’t even like talking about numbers, so what’s the point of talking about studies and data? It’s not real world, and most of us tune out to it anyway.
The point is that the conditioning that leads to 90% of women having a negative body image, which can not only distract us from what matters, can also lead to mental health challenges, depression, even eating disorders. The point is, beliefs and standards and expectations that are so deeply ingrained for the vast majority of us, affect nearly everything we do, every decision we make, every thought that flits through our heads. And the point is that it’s not just you who struggles.
The distinctive issue here – the biggest reason why body image matters – is that this negative association between self-worth and size takes away our energy for other things. It blinds us to the sources where our true self-worth lies, and with that – it holds us back, even if it’s ever so slightly, from what we want, what we’re meant to do, and who we’re meant to be in this life.
The truth is, we don’t have body image figured out. Yet. Many of us disproportionately let negative body image lead, whether we’re conscious of it or not. But we can figure this out. And we do a lot of figuring things out, shifting toward positive body image, in Fitness Unraveled.
To be clear, what I mean when I say positive body image is this:
Having an objectively clear view of one’s body, being able to appreciate one’s body, and having no connection between one’s body and one’s worth.
Moreover, according to a 2015 paper, positive body image is:
- Accepting and appreciating the whole of one’s body, including how it looks and what it can do.
- Having a broad concept of beauty.
- Having a body image that is stable, and malleable.
- A holistic and multifaceted picture.
- Having inner positivity.
I’m sure we can agree that those are far more desirable conditions for leading a rich and meaningful life. (I especially love the power of “protective.”) If we can bring our attention away from counting calories and worrying about sizing up in jeans, and apply it toward cultivating tools and behaviors that support positive body image, we can break a whole lot of barriers – both within ourselves, and out in the world.
I honestly do not think it’s an understatement to say that if we could cut by even half the number of women who are dissatisfied with their bodies as a baseline, we could completely change the world.
I’m ready to do that. Are you?
Listen, I know this stuff feels scary. Because admitting we’re struggling with body image issues feels like yet another way we’re screwing up or not good enough. (Not true.) Because doing real, deep self-discovery work feels different, and more difficult than going on a diet or hiring a personal trainer. (Possibly true, but still better than burpees.) Because we’ve never known anything else, and this is fine (Not fine though.), and what if the unknown of Fitness Unraveled doesn’t work?
But, y’know, what if it does work? And if ever there was a time to go ahead and embrace the unknown, isn’t it now? Really, what do we have to lose by learning to love and accept ourselves more?
What if you decided to figure it out? Do it in Fitness Unraveled. This matters.
Remember you can schedule some time to chat with me about FU here. Happy to talk through questions about the program or how I and the group can help you on your body image journey. Also, more FAQs here and here.