Developing healthy body image is a bit of a concoction… 1 part acceptance, 2 parts forgiveness, 10 parts self-compassion and so on.
To date, I have not met anyone who has never had periods of poor body image. I’m not saying they don’t exist, I just think it’s a human thing to experience at some point in life. And, unfortunately, for many, this experience is more than just a “period” in their life, versus what they have always known or experience day to day.
Often, we get caught up in what our body looks like… or perhaps, what it doesn't look like. The negative voices that dominate our thoughts telling us: I’m too bald, I’m not bald enough. I’m too short, I’m too tall. I’m too fat, skinny, wrinkly, pimply, and so on and so on. It’s exhausting. So, for today, I want to shift away from what our bodies look like and focus on what they do for us. Thanks to Eve Tesluk, a professional art therapist in Guelph, for introducing me to this exercise to do with my clients.
Thanks to my colleague Megan Callon for supplying me with the drawn figure you will see below to demonstrate an exercise I often do with my clients. As always, please note this drawing is just one of the many different shapes, sizes and forms bodies come in and is not meant to represent an 'ideal' (remember, health at every size!!). Also, the individual described below is fictitious.
Here’s a picture of what you will need.
I get clients to think about what they like to do and how their body experiences these things. Through colours and symbols, I get them to draw/colour where on/in their bodies they experience these activities. By doing so, we are moving away from appearance, and more on its function.
This individual below, appreciates their feet as it allows them to skate, their fingernails as they often get painted funky colours and their hair that allows them to express themselves in various colours and lengths. They enjoy watching movies, smelling nature and feeling the warmth of the sun on their shoulders and body. They appreciate their fingers and toes that help give them balance as well as to wear rings.They appreciate their ears and the ability to listen to sounds, especially laughing or the deep quiet the night can bring. When they feel empowered, they see it in orange, both in their mind and their heart. They enjoy their tongue/mouth as it enables them to eat ice cream.
They acknowledge the struggle they have with their thighs and stomach, however know without the strength that comes from these areas, they would be unable to do so much of what they love. They symbolized this to remind them these areas are their powerhouse that gets them through their day.
Often, the drawer will neglect symbolizing or colouring certain areas of their figure. More times than not, it is these areas that they need help with reframing or finding its purpose. Everyone will have a different reason for why they struggle with a particular area. Some feel betrayed by their body. Sometimes it’s finding the little things, like the fact skin helps contain our bits, blood and guts, protecting us from the world, that helps start developing a different narrative. It’s function doesn’t have to be mind blowing. It just has to be something that helps reframe how they think or see their body. Perhaps, it’s being thankful that one of their two ears can hear, or one of their two eyes doesn’t cause them pain.
And as always, developing a healthier or more tolerable relationship with one's body is a process. This exercise is just another way of exploring a different aspect of what are bodies can do, and in turn, part of who we are. Give it a try and talk it over with your therapist or trusted support. As always, practice compassion and think outside the box society likes to put us in! And, if you liked processing thoughts, emotions and issues through art, check out Eve Tesluk in Guelph, ON, or another professional art therapists in your area.