By Dr. Gia Marson
Are your thoughts about your body or weight too intense, personal, emotional and overwhelming? Do they interfere in your ability to live well? Does negative body image cause you to avoid social situations?¹ “From womb to tomb, what we look like is an important part of who we are—both to others, as well as ourselves... we experience our bodies through a collection of multidimensional constructs.”² When the internalized view of your body is strongly negative, you may be engaging in errors of thinking such as exaggerating, personalizing, emotional reasoning, and jumping to conclusions.
While negative body image thoughts are not helpful, suppressing them won’t work. Instead, you can exert positive control over how you respond to these thoughts. You can refuse to treat them as the only attributes that define you by connecting with your whole self in those moments. You can change the meaning you assign them.
Values-based, Positive Body Image Exercise
#1 Take out a sheet of paper. Draw a wheel with 12-24 spokes.
#2 Write a few words on each spoke that represent each of your current goals and values.
To spark your thinking, here is a brief list of some potential values & goals: family, geographic stability, financial security, body image, adventure, parenting, friendship, partner relationships, socializing, career, job, education, personal growth, learning, recreation, eating well, hobbies, creativity, arts, spirituality, leadership, volunteering, music, environmental activities, time with animals, spontaneity, community mindedness, authenticity, health, fitness, sports, relaxation, meditation, etc. Fill your wheel out fully. Take your time here. Make sure it represents what you like to do, who matters to you, and what brings meaning to your life. You get to choose your values.³
#3 Now, take a few minutes and reflect on this visual reminder of your whole self.
In this drawing, body image has been placed among your values. It is no longer a catastrophe if it is negative. It is no longer taking on exaggerated importance. It is no longer the only personal trait that defines you. You can use this exercise to zoom out from a negative body image thought spiral and become more grounded, realistic and positive.
Have you been unwittingly treating body image as the hub of your wheel? Can you see that body image has been distorted in your mind, taking up too much space? Notice you are not trying to talk yourself out of caring about body image, nor are you trying to suppress negative body image thoughts. Inevitably when you notice that you are not in a perfect body, the wheel will no longer be on the edge of collapse. Your sense of self will remain strong when it is made up of input from many sturdy spokes/goals/values/meanings.
In the future, you can rely on this conceptualization as a coping strategy. Even if one spoke collapses or gets damaged—if you don’t feel good in your body one day, a relationship ends, or a sports injury keeps you from your regular exercise routine—the wheel will remain fully functional. You are now revising how you interact with your body image thoughts by intentionally seeing them through the lens of your values. The more you practice this skill, the better you will be at it. When it comes to body image, you can become sustainably more positive and strong minded!
Click here for more on -- why suppressing thoughts doesn’t work and values based living.
 Wilhelm, S, Phillips, K & Steketee, G; Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Body Dysmorphic Disorder (2013), The Guilford Press, New York, NY.
 Cash, Thomas; Body Images: Development, Deviance and Change (1990). Guilford Press, New York, NY.
 Ciarrochi, J, Hayes, L & Bailey, A; Get Out of Your Mind & Into Your Life For Teens (2012). New Harbinger Publications, Oakland, CA.