Body Talk – Stories from the Inner Critic
Looking in the mirror has for many, become one of the most uncomfortable things we do. Uncomfortable because the minute we do the inner critic hammers away. It’s universal. You’re not alone. Criticizing the physical form we each inhabit is a rampant and pervasive story no matter where you live or who you are. Keep listening for a discussion on body talk, recrafting body stories, and why we’re all in this together.
Stories are our lives in language. Welcome to the Love Your Story podcast. I’m Lori Lee, and I’m excited for our future together of telling stories, evaluating our own stories, and lifting ourselves and others to greater places because of our control over our stories. This podcast is about empowerment and giving you, the listener, ideas to work with in making your stories work for you. Story power serves you best when you know how to use it.
Now, I love my body – it’s taken me up mountains, down mountains, across lakes, across deserts, down canyons, across dance floors, into incredible intimacy, and anywhere I directed it to go. It’s strong and healthy and with the exception of accidents that left me broken, it always has been strong and healthy. I’ve been blessed beyond measure. I’ve been able to see the world, loved ones, trees, scenic views and blooming flowers in all their colors, sunsets and sunrises, the depth in another person’s eyes, and all the amazing things we take for granted every day. I’ve been able to hug people I care about. I’ve been able to feel the music and let my body respond, I’ve been able to hear people express ideas, teach, complain. I’ve heard dogs bark, music play. I’ve been able to taste and enjoy delicious foods, and smell pine needles and Christmas candles, cookies and a steak on the BBQ. Confession: There have been times when I’ve been down enough that the idea of leaving this life was something I toyed with. But during one of those times of considering the viability of living, I realized that if I left I’d have to leave my body behind and I couldn’t bear to do that.
Now, that being said, I have a nice little entourage of body critiques that play over and over when I’m around a mirror. Lots of them have to do with aging, there’s one about weight, that my eyes are beady, or my forehead is too big, or my nose is too long, or … a bunch of stuff that I get to learn how to recognize as body assault chatter, and then remember that it’s the love and energy that we put out into the world, not the details of our wonderful bodies that determine our beauty and attractive natures.
One of the difficulties of changing our body-image mindsets is that living in a culture of body perfection expectation there will always be negative feedback – real or felt that comes at us. We have to become so full of acceptance and love of our own bodies that the negative societal feedback or expectation that gets flung around has less chance of sticking. I KNOW. Easier said than done, but we are discussing the whole picture here. Let me share a personal story about negative body image feedback.
When I was in 7th grade, a very formative age of social awareness and self-awareness, I had a geography teacher who thought he was a funny fellow and liked to tease the girls in the class that were his class favorites. He was the coach for the boys’ basketball team, and my friend and I were starters on the girls’ basketball team, so we often received the brunt of his jokes. He teased us daily, but one day, in front of all our peers, he told us we had elephant noses. He thought that was awesome fun, and proceeded to throw that out. “Hey elephant nose,” he’d yell across the classroom when he wanted our attention. We were little girls who hadn’t grown into all our features, but having an adult, in front of all the peers for whom we hoped to be extremely cool, disparage how we looked was embarrassing. Humiliating, really. I’ve never forgotten it. We’ve all probably got a similar story of someone in our lives mocking or finding fault with something about the way we look. Too short, too fat, too skinny, too …people can often are very cruel to one another. And then you also have the movies and the magazines that show only the glamorous and set unrealistic photoshopped expectations. Body shaming is maybe one of the toughest and most pervasive of modern challenges because it attacks are very being, which quickly translates into self-worth, self-love, and how we interact with those around us. It’s a killer.
The relationships we have with our bodies are individual. Different for everyone, very personal. But this discussion, about body stories, is being opened today because we have been given a glorious gift. We have been given bodies that serve us and provide a vehicle for our spirits to experience incredible things, and yet we attack our selves constantly with complaints, comparisons, and criticisms instead of love.
First, let’s talk about some ideas of why that might be, then we’ll talk about ways to start seeing things – start seeing ourselves – differently.
Hal and Sidra Stone wrote a book called Embracing Your Inner Critic. Both clinical psychologists, they created the “Voice Dialogue” process, a therapy that gives a platform to the inner critic to talk out loud, bluntly, fiercely, and then they help their clients with tools that can transform it into an ally. Through their work, they have spoken with thousands of inner critics over the past 15 years and one of the universal things the inner critic criticizes – no matter the country, gender, age, race, you name it…is the body. In their book, they said, “The critique of the physical body is so all-pervasive, so powerful, and exerts such a negative and destructive influence on people’s lives that we want to devote a chapter specifically to this area…”
They talk about how the inner critic lives in mirrors, it attacks when we are shopping and trying on clothes. People say “I don’t like the shape of my face, or my hips are too big, or my neck is too short or my hair just lies there like a wet dishrag.” My toes are crooked, or my boobs are too small, or too big, or too flabby, or …
I’d like to point out a couple ideas – open some conversation here.
- We live in a culture, in America, with a body image that actually a very small part of the populace can live up to – whether you are male or female. And, for those who fit into that narrow slot of having the ideal body, they really only have it for a span of time when they are at their youthful best. So no one will always have it. Might I point out that that means we have created a monster – a beauty monster that a miniscule part of the population will ever actually emulate, and the rest of the human beings spend all sorts of time in self-criticism, criticism of others, and self-loathing because of a pervasive cultural creation that severely cripples the way we think about, love and accept ourselves. This makes NO sense. Can’t we agree to start to change this? I saw a post on FB the other day that said, “If steroids aren’t allowed for athletes then photoshop shouldn’t be allowed for models.” What if we all got real?
- For those of you who are LDS, you’ll understand this next theory: we believe that Satan, and those who followed him, were not given a body – he is just a spirit entity. Because of this he/they are quite envious of all who have bodies, for they will never have one. What do you think of the idea that the “devil on your shoulder” becomes a literal attack – an attempt to create self-loathing over one of the greatest gifts we have: our wonderful bodies that allow us to run, jump, dance, walk, smell, experience connection and climb mountains? The body attacks are one of the most pervasive of the inner critic and I can’t help but think that is generated from a space that is intent on the destruction of self-love and acceptance that did not originate with us. When we are children we are completely unbody conscious. Nakedness doesn’t matter in the slightest. Fat rolls don’t matter in the slightest. I’ve never seen a baby worrying about if his head is too big or if his ears poke out.
These judgments on ourselves begin to accumulate as criticisms, judgments, and cultural expectations are recognized. Then the inner critic or Satan or some misguided psychological protective device – whichever you think it is — have a heyday! It has been given all kinds of things to start throwing at us. The more we are given “supposed tos” the more fodder the critic has to throw at us. It’s a dangerous business, especially when you are unaware that it’s a critical construct, not a fact. Especially when those criticisms are believed, fostered, propagated and habitual neural pathways of self loathing are created. These attacks are particularly effective at incapacitating us because it is an attack on the very medium through which we interact with the world – our bodies. If we feel constant disgust or conflict about our physical appearance then already it is stopping us from living fully, engaging fully with others; and our self-consciousness stops us from experiencing the life we could have if we weren’t playing small in an attempt not to draw attention to what we feel insecure about. Have you ever lost a relationship because you were too self-conscious to allow it? Have you ever destroyed a relationship because you were too self-conscious and pulled back? The other day my teenage son confided that he’d felt so insecure all week because his face had broken out in acne and so he dreaded going to school and when he was there he held back from his friends and left their outings early because he was mortified about how he felt about the way he looked. Well, the result was that his girlfriend and he started hitting a rough patch because he wasn’t engaged and fun and all the usual things he is. He wasn’t himself because he was self-conscious over the way he looked. Let me know note here that it wasn’t that bad. His story about his acne was far more serious than the acne. But often times the thing we are most trying to avoid—losing love and acceptance from our peers—because of an internal story regarding some physical insecurity, actually creates the thing we are trying to avoid when those around us, or our loved one or friend couldn’t have cared less about it. Don’t be your own worst enemy.
I had an interesting experience at one of the weekend coaching retreats I attended a few years back – this weekend was a weekend out in the woods, but we were interacting with people in which we wanted to look our best and there was a lot of vulnerability going on, and in my book it’s always best to feel comfortable with how you look when you are making yourself emotionally and mentally vulnerable. Well, once I got there I realized I hadn’t brought the things I needed to do my hair. No one else had the right size curling iron, I was stuck with really having nothing to work with on this front. I was not happy about it, who likes to look bedraggled? Well it was SOOO not ideal and I was very disappointed, but I couldn’t do anything about it, so I made a conscious decision to not be self-conscious – to not focus on myself. I simply would banish any thoughts of my own looks and focus on others and being present to the work we were doing. Well, I did it. There were times I actively had to redirect my focus, but I did it and two interesting things happened.
- I noticed that the less I thought about myself the happier I was. I was brighter and more loving and less self involved. That was a fun feeling. I can do that just fine when I feel like I look good, but to do it when you know you look bedraggled is a whole different game. But it was a really cool feeling.
- A few weeks later my coach, who was at this retreat, made a comment about how absolutely beautiful I was that weekend. Now, I had not mentioned anything to her about my predicament, my self-consciousness, my decision to focus outward. She didn’t know anything about it, so when she made this comment to me later I was forcefully struck. Is it possible that the light that comes from us when we are less concerned about ourselves and any critical analysis of our bodies we might make, and more tuned in to joy, and light and self-acceptance, that we actually become more beautiful? Hmmmmm.
No matter how we look, even the most “beautiful” people have these critical voices. And no matter how many “imperfections” we might fix, there will always be another way that we fall short of some culturally created expectation that erroneously has created some meter for measuring the physical ideal and what gets equated as being worthy of love, acceptance, and success. Even if someone is perfectly satisfied with their appearance at age 20, age will eventually catch up with them and generate discontent. Everyone is going to have to face this particular story and decide how they are going to handle it.
Let me also point out a fact about cultural body-image expectations. In the middle ages, the women who were considered most beautiful were those who were plump, well rounded, curvaceous. You can see this in the paintings and the sculptures. This was the preferred body form because to be fat meant that you were well-to-do, you could afford food. You were of the desired class. In the 1920’s the rage was that all the prettiest women were flappers, like Twiggy the model. Very thin, very flat chested, very boy-like. Twiggy was given her name because she looked like a stick. Depending upon when you were born, even where you were born, the beauty gauge was and is different. I have a friend who points out that if she were born in the middle ages she would have been a goddess. She focuses on her beauty, not on criticisms or self-consciousness.
My friend Liz who is doing amazing body-love work around her weight said, “I think the trick is finding some way to be at peace with our physical selves regardless of how acceptable or well matched we are to whatever a person’s societal idea is. That way we can embrace physical imperfections and the inevitable changes that come with age as simply another part of ourselves that we appreciate, admire and love. We can appreciate our bodies as a magnificent or imperfect extension of our best inner selves. Now, of course, this is much easier said than done, in large part because of those internal insecurities we’ve grappled with our whole lives, and in part, because external forces are constantly reinforcing unhealthy expectations. But I think the secret to overcoming the influence of external negativity and expectation is learning to manage and refute unhealthy internal thoughts or stories, from that critical voice.” She goes on to point out that when we get or create negative feedback about ourselves and we hear them day after day, year after year they cause deep and defining damage.
In Oprah Winfrey’s book What I Know For Sure, she has a chapter on her experience with body hate and love. Tune in to the audio for my reading of her thoughts
So what is the secret to being at peace with ourselves as we are?
The truth is that that is going to be an individual journey for each of us. I could not guarantee one method that would solve all the body shame in the world, but let’s start with one of the biggies – the most powerful: the stories we tell ourselves determine how we feel about ourselves. Be careful with the stories and complaints you allow that inner critic to play on rewind. Like any reprogramming of our internal stories, we must first become aware that the long-held belief that you see as fact, that negative criticism you have about your body can be seen in a different way: being short doesn’t have to mean you are less, being fat isn’t a moral failure, having a long neck can be considered an asset. What if you accept that the social stereotypes are NOT a fact? No cultural declaration of beauty has anything to do with fact. While you may not be able to change a cultural view, you can certainly change your own acceptance and view of yourself and find your own peace. Being open to reframing those internal stories means that as you are aware of the biting comments as they assault you, you replace them with new stories that serve and celebrate you. Stories of acceptance. “I am beautiful just the way I am.” “I love and accept myself and embrace my personal beauty.” “I release my self-judgments and replace them with loving appreciation.” “Thank you body for taking me where I want to go; for helping me to experience life.” “I grow more and more beautiful every day.” With this repetition, your views and acceptance levels shift. They really do, but it takes time. For me it also helps to realize that beauty is so individual – I don’t mean to be rude, but most people aren’t that good looking anyway. We’re all just a mix of features and we are going to connect with people of all shapes and sizes differently. Why feel bad about who we are, or make others feel bad about who they are. Most people are just pretty average looking and the thing that really sets us apart in the most meaningful way is the way we carry ourselves, our spirit and energy – I truly believe these create the real beauty in a person. You’ve seen it – when someone carries themselves with confidence and pride, when they are focused on others and filled with joy rather than self-consciousness – they emanate a spirit and energy that attracts others, that makes you want to be around them.
Recognizing and giving credence to these facts are the basis for a foundation of shifting. Recognizing and allowing for our self-worth and self-love beyond pervasive and dangerous weavings of a destructive cultural construct is the first step to self-acceptance.
My friend Liz, who has felt the social and cultural judgments about her weight since she was young said, “It’s not intuitive for a lot of people, and it comes easily to no one to make these adjustments in self-judgment. Up until very recently the idea of accepting my body as it is, rather than holding on hope I could change it, felt impossible. Blasphemous. Radical. It made me angry because the very suggestion seemed to imply a failing of moral and emotional strength. An unforgivable physical shame. It implied that I could never ever be hopeful or beautiful again. That my life would never really start. Which isn’t true, but to understand that, I had to read and read and read content in which really smart women insisted, ‘You’re fine the way you are. The majority of society may never see you that way, so you need to let that go. To let go of a lifetime’s worth of negative feedback. To love yourself. And when you really manage to do that, it’s gonna be enough. You’ll find that your own good opinion is good opinion enough.’ Loving ourselves means truly, deeply, letting go of what society thinks of us. So long as our worth is tied to their perceptions and opinions, we will ALWAYS be found wanting.”
I love both Liz’s declaration, as well as Oprah’s – we must make a loving and grateful peace with our bodies. We must love and cherish the gift they are – regardless of any message otherwise from any source. Always return to gratitude that you have a body and that it allows you to jump and touch, smell and see, love and dance. Honor your body by caring for it and treating it with respect. Lindy West, author of the book Shrill said, “Loving yourself is not antithetical to health, it is intrinsic to health. You can’t take good care of a thing you hate.”
Your challenge for this week is to start to notice the complaints and criticisms – the inner stories about your body not as fact, but as imposed judgments that can be replaced with acceptance and love if you’re open to it. You must accept you. Please note that when body critical stories have been playing over and over in your mind for as long as you can remember, they have actually created neural pathways that will have to be actively reprogrammed. Choose other thoughts of acceptance and love and gratitude to replace the mean and critical ones that that inner critic throws out at you. Love Yourself. Love Your story. And, for more on self and body love check out episode 26 for my interview with Natalie Kristine, the self-love body coach. She’s a rockstar.
Thanks for tuning in. Just a quick reminder. Don’t forget to sign up for the free audio/ebook: The Key to Your Super Self – How your Stories Unlock your Super Power. My free gift to you – just head to the website to grab it. A pop-up box will allow you to sign up when you visit the site. And, of course, if you haven’t hopped on the 21-Day Challenge bandwagon – head to the website and sign up for a fun, productive and guided way to create more love, peace, and possibility in your story. These challenges are things like do a RAK or get rid of something in your space that you no longer need, or give someone the benefit of the doubt today. They are simple but profound things that help you create your best life story. And this guided challenge is set up so that every day you will log in to get your new challenge and find out what adventure lies ahead for that day. Everyone who is involved is having a great time and it will create some powerful changes and insights in your life. This is the next step for testing out some great life-hacks to help you create your best life story moving forward. See you next week.