Modeling Good Body Image, Even When You Don’t Feel It

Picture above is of Tamara (author) and her 2 kids hiking in Camas. 

Picture above is of Tamara (author) and her 2 kids hiking in Camas. 

It’s surprising and exciting how often mothers ask about how to not pass on their bad self-image to their daughters. It’s surprising because I don’t always feel that I share how much of a passion this particular topic is to me, and yet women ask. It’s exciting because I really think that my generation of women are getting sick and tired of the negativity that was perhaps passed to us, and we want to make a change for the next generation.

That being said it’s not as easy as flipping a switch. Most people don’t wake up one day thinking, “I’m tired of hating myself and battling with food. I don’t want my daughter to be trapped like this”, and then POOF all negative thoughts and feelings related to their body are gone… <cue unicorns and puppies falling from the sky, and rainbow Skittles coloring the earth>.

It takes time and practice and because we are all human, it will come with mistakes. Here are some tips for those days when you just feel like crap.

1. Remember, It’ll Pass

Negative body image is not a constant. For most people they have times when they feel comfortable in their skin and times when they don’t.

The problem with felling like shit is it feels like it may never pass, but it will eventually.

The trick is to notice the negative self-talk and the struggle, but not to get swept up in it or try to fight it. In DBT training they use the analogy of imagining yourself sitting beside a stream and the negative body image thoughts and feelings are leaves floating on the water. Your job is to sit and watch the leaves float downstream, but not to chase after them or pick them up. Eventually each leaf will pass out of sight and you can focus on the next thought or emotion.

Practice noticing your thoughts and feelings like leaves on a stream, what do you think? It takes a lot of practice. If you have a counselor you are working with they will be able to give you more tools to help you further.

2. Model Imperfection in a Healthy Way

Repeat after me: I’m human and I’m not perfect.

Now this one: It’s okay to have a bad day

Now, imagine the power of being able to model that for your daughter. The truth is that some days you may not love your body; you may not even like your body! That’s okay! There’s no shame in it.

Modeling good self-image for our daughters sometimes means treating our body with kindness and respect, even when we are struggling in it.

The world is cruel to women’s bodies and it makes sense that you will be affected by that cruelty from time to time.

3. Stop the Trash Talk

On the days that I struggle the most with my body image I find it close to impossible at times to think about anything else. I have had days where I have awful thoughts like: I am so fat and no one wants to be around me; I am so ugly; I should definitely work out today because YUCK.

On those days, when my head is swimming in trash talk, I remind myself over and over again to get out of my head. Every time I start to drift back into the negative self-talk I take a deep breath and say to myself, “This will pass (remember point #1) and GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD!”

It’s a therapeutic tool used in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help people drowning in negative thoughts. Guess what? It really works! Try it, next time your head is full of trash talk and then come back to the comments section and let me know how it worked.

4. Focus On the Important Things

As an extension of #3, it is so important on the tough days to re-focus the mind on things that are actually important. On these days I spend even more time and energy talking to my kids and myself about strengths, talents, interests, and accolades that have nothing to do with body shape or size.

In a world that spends so much time focusing on the body proportions of talented, accomplished women, I find it so important to emphasize everything but!

Our house is pretty much a body neutral zone. We don't describe people based on their size, shape, or attractiveness. When we do see something in the media that is body focused we talk about it, A LOT. You can read about an example of that here.

Modeling Good Self-Image Wrap-up

So, how do you model a healthy body image even when you aren’t feeling it? You acknowledge that you are struggling and give yourself some grace because hey, you’re only human; don’t get caught up in it because it won’t last forever; get out of your head; and, focus on things about yourself or in the world that have nothing to do with the size, shape, or texture of your body.

If you are in the Pacific Northwest and this is an area you would like to dig into even deeper, maybe we could work together in my Vancouver office. You can fill out a form to start the process of scheduling a free 15-minute consultation, here.

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Tamara Werner

Tamara Werner is a counselor, author, speaker, and activist. Her private practice, Get Centered Counseling in Vancouver WA, helps women with food and body issues learn to love themselves, their body, their life, and their relationships. Her life’s work is steeped in personal experience, having fifteen years in recovery for anorexia, in addition to being a breast cancer survivor. An up and coming force in the counseling community, Tamara has been published in a textbook called Treatment Strategies for Substance and Process Addictions, and has sat on a panel at the American Counseling Association Conference, where she spoke to her peers on strategies and tools to use with clients struggling with eating disorders. Having a deep, personal understanding of what it takes to recover from this condition, she seeks to be an example to those she treats, to let them know that recovery is possible.