Eating Mindfully

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Love Your Self, Hate Your Self

How the “body positive” messages that we receive aren’t always so positive

Coinciding with National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, The Today Show hosted Love Your Selfie Week, an event seemingly designed to promote positive body image. Today Show anchor, Savannah Gunthrie, set the tone during a promo for the event: “And, to kick off Love Your Selfie Week, all of us will forgo make-up on Monday. So be warned, it might be a scary morning.” Whatever optimism I had naively experienced quickly faded. The weeklong event turned out to be filled with superficially body positive messages accompanied by an underlying sense of self-hatred.

These contradictory messages pray on our insecurities and sucker punch us when we are least expecting it. While being encouraged to love ourselves, we also hear that we are not good enough as we currently are. On the topic of cellulite, Savannah says “I try not to wear a bathing suit in public. That’s my gift to America.” When it comes time to say her weight to the world (apparently this is supposed to be a body loving activity?), she hems and haws before she finally discloses (the range) of her weight and nervously jokes about her height, as if to excuse her weight. Other anchors describe their body as “subpar” and 2 female anchors express their dissatisfaction with their stomachs after giving birth. Yes, most of us have hang-ups about our body image. In fact, research conducted by The Today Show revealed that 67% of women worry regularly about their appearance. But even in the promotion of loving ourselves, the media can’t seem to help but also promote body hating.

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No sooner had The Today Show wrapped up Love Your Selfie week, than they started encouraging viewers to change their selfies, in the form of the 30 Days to a Better You Challenge. This event featured anchor and personal trainer Jenna Wolfe working with viewers to improve “health.” Not surprisingly, this program was more focused on weight loss than health. In a threatening tone that was perhaps intended to be motivating, Jenna told the viewer “If getting fit and eating healthy were easy, everyone would be doing it. So starting today I’m putting forth a challenge. 30 days and 30 tips to a better you. You put effort into your job, you put effort into raising your kids, put a little effort into your health and fitness!” So, we are too fat because we are lazy and unmotivated?? If only we had thought of putting effort into our health, then we would be thin! *Note sarcasm* The torment that most people go through in the pursuit of weight loss is anything but lazy and unmotivated.

Jenna’s first tips of the program were to start keeping a food diary and recruit a partner to participate in the challenge with you. These two tips are linked since we are supposed to write down everything that we eat every day and then once per week email the diary to our partner to keep us “accountable” through the shame that we would presumably feel if we disclosed our failures to stick to the eating plan.

If only hating ourselves made us thin, we would be a nation underweight. The conflicting messages of love yourself-hate yourself reinforce the myth that we are not good enough as we currently are and only if we lose weight will we be acceptable. If anyone believes that these stigmatizing messages lead people to lose weight, please read my post “The Ironic Effects of Weight Stigma.” Body image dissatisfaction leads not only to disordered eating, but also to an overall sense of dissatisfaction with your self. Let’s work towards a model of acceptance and wellbeing in which we can truly Love Our Selfies at any shape and size! 

Alexis Conason, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in practice in New York City and a researcher at the New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital.

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