I was sitting at the dinner table one evening and as my partner gathered up the dishes to wash up, I caught a glimpse of myself in the sliding glass door next to the table.
It was a side view of me sitting at the table feeling full, relaxed, and satisfied after the meal we'd just finished.
Then it hit me. This sneaky little voice strolled into my brain nagging, "your stomach has gotten so round this past year."
Ugh, like anyone needs those reminders from the critical peanut gallery.
Side note, do you know where the term peanut gallery comes from?
It dates back to the Vaudeville days of the early 1900s when people sitting in the cheap seats at a theater would heckle the performers.
And that's exactly what those self-critical comments about your body are - cheap heckling. Definitely not worth a cent more than the cost of peanuts in the 1900's - especially at the risk of your mental and physical health.
If seeing a reflection or picture of yourself (body image) is a trigger for self-critical peanut gallery comments, your critical voice actually pulls the trigger. Firing off hurtful internalized comments about your body and a cascade of emotions including shame and self-loathing.
At first, this might seem motivating. You can get all fired up to jump back on the body-fixing- bandwagon. And maybe you start a new plan that's "sure to get your body back on track this time."
As your critical voice taunts you through every meal and workout, compliments from unassuming friends, family, and coworkers validate your efforts. These compliments reassure your critical voice that your body isn't good enough unless it's actively trying to fix its appearance.
Point blank, this is the foundation of eating disorders. All it takes is a trigger (seeing an image of yourself), a critical thought to pull the trigger (peanut gallery), and validation of the critical thought (unassuming compliments).
If this hits home for you, I get it. And that's exactly what would have happened for me if I'd caught my reflection in the sliding glass door by the dinner table about 20 years ago.
Let's dive deeper into self-critical body image by asking yourself this, what story are you telling yourself about your body today?
I've recently been inspired by Brianna Campos LPC of @bodyimagewithbri
as she's been mentoring me in the art of body image counseling.
Here's what I've learned so far.
The body-shaming thoughts from your critical voice have more to do with the story or narrative behind those thoughts. They're not a reflection of you as a person.
For example, getting dressed this morning you think,
"Damn, another pair of jeans don't fit. I've really let myself go. I feel so fat and disgusting. "
How do you move through the difficult emotions these peanut gallery comments dig up?
1. We acknowledge that critical voice with curiosity.
Your body size has changed.
And you're worried that when people see you, they'll think you're less of a professional, a bad influence on your kids, or that your ill-health will become a burden on our society.
There's always more to the story than feeling fat.
2. With some reflection, can we rewrite that story with an impactful reframe that traces the thought back to one of your core values.
Rather than replacing critical thoughts with affirmations as a pacifier, impactful reframes work with your neuroscience to actively shift your mental focus.
For example, you've worked really hard to get where you are in your career and you value being recognized for your achievements. You're afraid, because of the cultural beauty/health standards to which we're all measured, that your achievements will be overlooked now that you've gained weight. This goes against your core value of being valued.
You want to be a great Mom and help your kids have a healthier relationship with food and body than you had growing up (thanks to your Mom). But you're afraid that your kids won't see you as a role model or worse be ashamed of you now that you've gained weight. This goes against your core value of being accountable as a mother.
You've always taken your health seriously - to the point of chronic dieting and excessive exercise. You're afraid that if people see your recent weight gain you'll lose your sense of identity as being the healthy one that friends came to for support on their health goals. This goes against your core beliefs of being a leader in a community and being a helper/supporter.
Do you see what we did there? The story behind your critical voice is so important.
Knowing the back story is what allows you to trace those negative thoughts to a core belief by creating an impactful reframe first. This practice will eventually stop those critical thoughts before they get too loud.
This practice takes time because as middle-aged women, we tend to do our very best to conceal our critical voice. And typically, we don't have time or energy to go through the process of pausing, reflecting, and rewiring thoughts of body shame. We're too exhausted from putting out everyone else's fires and boosting everyone else's positive self-talk.
This is why eating disorders are on the rise among us middle-aged gals.
Learn to see the warning signs in your bestie. When she starts body bashing, check-in with her by asking, "when was the first time your critical voice said that your body wasn't ok? What was that experience like?"
When you're in a group of other women, be aware of body-comparing and food shaming comments and do your best to redirect the conversations. By stoping the peanut gallery comments about all bodies or what gals are eating or not eating, we can all live vibrant middle-aged lives without body shame'n blame.
If these body image tips were helpful and you want to learn how to create a lifestyle you've always dreamed of and a body you feel good in, download the FREE SAVOR Food & Body Guide.
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