Body image suffering always starts on the somatic level

One of the significant u-turns on the path to peace with self and peace with food is turning towards our inner world and intimately getting to know it.

This process begins after decades of putting the spotlight on our body image and how we are perceived – being consumed with how we look, perform, fit in and compare to others.

We look in the mirror daily and judge – not thin enough, beautiful enough, accomplished enough, ambitious enough.

Body image suffering always starts on the somatic level. In order to assess and compare, we need to vacate the body, and stand outside of it. We become a harsh critic – always unhappy, always pushing, always asking for more, never satisfied.

This process of being preoccupied with our image causes tremendous, unspeakable pain. My students share experiencing that their lives are being stolen. Their feelings of unworthiness and lack can completely take over their existence.

Yet, no matter how much agony rejecting yourself and dedicating yourself to perfection causes, it’s only a fraction of the actual well of suffering that lives inside of you.

There is a reason for all of this

You might wonder what all of this serves. One place we can look for an explanation is in the way we developed. Growing up, many of us experienced overwhelming emotions, emotions that we had no capacity to cope with. In order to survive how bad it felt inside, we had to move our attention and focus outside.

This way, years later, we walk around both carrying the repressed emotional and somatic memories that live on the inside, and the habits, ideas, beliefs, identities and ways of relating to the world that we conjured up in order to survive.

The burden of survival strategies

That’s why so many of us who struggle with body image and perfectionism feel tired, heavy and burdened – you are not only dragging the unprocessed past, but all the ways you are still using your energy to cope with it in the “best” way you can.

That’s why many of us can’t rest.

If we stop doing and coping, we might feel something. Anything, but this internal reality. Anything, but this.

We have become so good at externalizing what is internally painful that we are using all of our life force serving this mirror reality – at the same time keeping what actually happened to us, and the depth and seriousness of our wounding at bay.

We want to make it tangible, so we feel at least a little bit in control

If I can name the issue I can fix it. Give an image to this pain and I can cure it. As long as I can point my finger at the cause of my suffering I can eventually make it go away.

It’s my body. Thighs. Belly. Skin. Lips. Hair. Eyebrows. Muscle. Health. My youth.

It’s me.

I am flawed, and I can fix that, I can change that, I can mend that, I can, I can, I can…

Making the u-turn

Initially giving up the strategy of blaming yourself, your body, your looks, for how you feel, sounds like an impossible task – we are so identified with the ways we’ve survived that we almost don’t believe anything else is possible.

The invitation to turn in and explore our inner world full of sensations, feelings, emotions, urges, drives, impulses, memories and shadows sounds like a terrible idea.

Yet, truth always calls us home. At one point or another, the suffering outside is overpowered by the voice inside, the voice that says: turn inwards, come home.

I sit with people every day, hours and hours and hours each day, doing exactly that – hearing that call home and treading gently – turning towards the inner world – first remembering the body as a place of rest, care and compassion and then little by little making space for the truth of repressed memories and feelings to emerge.

What was once unthinkable or scary is now possible, what we organized our whole lives running away from is now safely and tenderly held in the presence and light of our being.

How about just accepting your body?

In recent years we have seen so many movements rallying around the idea that all bodies are beautiful, that we can accept, love and embrace ourselves regardless of how we look.

While these movements are a life giving breath of fresh air in our culture that has poisoned how we see the body, it can also be another way to “not look in” (“don’t look in! or if you look in look for all the ways you are awesome that are not your body…”).

By naming how we see our bodies as the problem, we risk to continue to enforce the idea that we see our bodies in some way that is not right.

“Just see your body the right way. Then all will be well.”

This whole approach fails to see that we are unconsciously choosing body image suffering over what was once unbearable to experience inside.

And we are choosing body image fixing as a way to stay outside.

By naming what we endured inside as the cause, and by exploring both the legacy of trauma and the ways we live with it, we can slowly and bravely start naming the whole truth, knowing that our inner world is a process, and unlike our culture, not interested in making things better, but making things seen.

To all of you who turn inwards and walk the long winding path to peace with self and peace with food, know you are not walking alone.

I am right there with you. I hear your steps.