In this episode of Fearless Rebelle Radio, I’m talking about how to work through body shame.
We cover the difference between body esteem and self-worth, what we can learn from our bad body days and 5 questions to help you work through moments of body shame.
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Episode 96: How to Work Through Body Shame
INTRO: This is Fearless Rebelle Radio, a podcast about body positivity, self-worth, anti-dieting, and Feminism. I am your host, Summer Innanen, a professionally trained coach specialising in body image, self-worth, and confidence, and the best-selling author of Body Image Remix. If you’re ready to break free of societal standards and stop living behind the number on your scale, then you have come to the right place! Welcome to the show.
This is episode 96, and I am revisiting and redoing the very first episode of this podcast to talk about the difference between body esteem and self-worth, what we can learn from our bad body days, and five questions to help you work through moments of body shame.
You can find all the links and resources mentioned in this episode at summerinnanen.com/96. That’s 9-6.
First, big shout-outs to Delaveras who left this amazing review: “Summer is so real and has great guests. She has been one of the biggest helps on my self-love journey.”
Thank you so much, Delaveras! Shout-out to you. If you haven’t already done so, I would greatly appreciate it if you went to iTunes to leave a review for this show. Leaving a review helps others to find the information that you’re learning here, and I just love hearing from you. So you can do that by going to iTunes, searching for Fearless Rebelle Radio, then click “ratings and reviews” and click to leave a review or give it a rating. You can also just head to summerinannen.com/review to find a direct link to that. And while you’re there, make sure you pick up a copy of the free Ten Day Body Confidence Makeover. You can go to summerinnanen.com/freebies. See, I can’t even say my own name. How do I expect others to say my name properly? With ten steps to take now to feel better in your body.
Here’s a fun fact for you: My maiden name is Vallillee. So I’ve always had super confusing names that are incredibly hard to pronounce and spell and sometimes I joke around that I should’ve hyphenated my name to Summer Vallillee-Innanen when I got married just to fuck people up.
Anyways, go to summerinnanen.com, or just go to thebodyimagecoach.com if you can’t spell any of that, to get the Ten Day Body Confidence Makeover and to leave a review for this show.
Alright, let’s get started.
I wanted to redo the first episode of this show and most of the time, when popular shows rehash old material, it’s a sign that they couldn’t come up with anything new. And it’s a sign that they’re “jumping the shark,” kind of like in the recent season of Bloodline where they wasted an entire episode on a dream sequence. And so, hey, if you’re into Bloodline, just a little viewer hint for you, skip that episode, because there’s actually nothing that comes out of it, and it’s incredibly boring. Unless you like it, that’s cool, no judging, but if you’re a fan of Bloodline like I am, it was an hour that I’ll never get back in my life. So, okay, that segue’s done there.
Why I’m redoing this episode is not to rehash old material, but because the first episode of this podcast is shockingly the most listened-to episode of this show. And I did it over three years ago, and it’s been making me cringe quite a bit because there’s some tone-deaf language in it, and it wasn’t sitting well with me, and I also feel like I can add a lot more depth to that conversation now because I’ve learned so much, I’ve worked with, I don’t know, so many more people. Hundreds, potentially, more since I originally launched that episode of the podcast.
And I want to provide you with something that I feel is going to equip you to navigate this work even better. So I’m not deleting that episode, it’s actually just going to get edited with this audio, but I wanted to take this opportunity to provide you with episode 96 as a re-do of it. Because I think it’s such an important topic that deserves more context.
So let’s talk about what we’re even going to be talking about, in case you don’t remember the first episode, which I kind of hope you don’t. The first episode explored the difference between body-esteem and self-esteem. I talked about why your “I feel gross” days are a good thing. So the overall theme of today is going to stay the same, but I’m going to talk about the difference between self-esteem and self-worth, why I talk about self-worth now instead of self-esteem, the importance of self-compassion, why self-worth and body image are interconnected, what our bad body days are telling us, and how to detach our emotions from our body image, and five questions you can ask yourself to help you work through these moments.
In the recent past, there has been a big increase in the body acceptance movement, which is awesome. But often, this only addresses one piece of the puzzle: body esteem or body confidence, you know, the way that we feel about our body. And having body esteem is great, but body esteem only touches on a fraction of the puzzle as it relates to the way that we feel about ourselves. One slice of the pizza, if you will. Because anytime I can bring a pizza metaphor into my work, I will do so.
So I want to unpack that today. I want to unpack why body esteem is only a fraction of the puzzle, and how we can expand to look at the whole pizza, and the pizza being self-worth. Before I do that, I highly recommend listening to episode 79, which is Body Image and Body Positivity 101, where I talk about what it means to have a good body image. I’m going to try to avoid repeating that content, so if you haven’t listened to it, I definitely think it’s one of the more important episodes to check out. So it’s number 79, and I’ll link to it in the show notes.
Let’s start by talking about the difference between self-esteem and self-worth. Because we often hear the words self-worth, self-esteem, self-love, and body confidence being thrown around in the same regard. And they’re different, so I want to decipher the difference between these, specifically self-worth and self-esteem.
Self-worth is often used as a synonym for self-esteem. And in fact, if you google self-worth, the dictionary definition just says “self-esteem.” However, as I dig more into that, or as I have dug more into that, and especially the work of Dr. Kristin Neff, who wrote the book Self-Compassion, she did a really good job talking about the differences between these two things in her work.
So as I’ve dug more into it, I’ve really been able to notice and see the difference between these things and notice how important it is to distinguish between these things. There’s a psychologist named Dr. Christina Hibert, and I’ll link to her article in the show notes. Her definition of self-worth is “self-worth is a deep knowing that I am of value, that I am loveable, necessary to this life, and of incomprehensible worth.”
I love that definition, because it really shows how self-worth is an intrinsic belief that we are valuable and we are worthy, and it is not dependent on our skills, our achievements, our traits, or what other people think of us, whereas self-esteem is often based on those external factors. For example, building a certain skill set or achieving something. ANd that’s why I think the hyper-focus on self-esteem doesn’t necessarily lead to self-worth.
Self-worth is not reliant on external factors. The way that I look at it in my work, in terms of helping women to realize their worth, is by helping them to know who they are and helping them to know that who they are is worthy and valuable. And I’m not going to go into the details around the different pieces to that, so take this as a very simplified definition of self-worth.
I could do an entire episode talking about the difference between self-worth and self-esteem, so I’m just trying to keep it really brief today. And the other thing that I’ll add here, which is really important, is that when we’re talking about self-worth, we have to talk about self-compassion. The practice of self-compassion is integral to building self-worth. So definitely check out Dr. Kristin Neff’s book, Self Compassion. If you haven’t, it’s absolutely one of my favorites. It was a game-changer for me. It’s been a game-changer for a lot of my clients. And she’s a very, very well-respected individual in that space.
The reason I bring this up is because you can have body confidence and body esteem, but it’s not going to stick if self-worth is lacking. It’s going to be dependent on external factors, like praise or your body size, and will ebb and flow with those. And we don’t want our worth to be dependent on our body confidence or our body esteem. We want to just know that we are valuable and worth from the inside, regardless of the way that we look.
And so that’s why, to truly feel comfortable in your body, you have to address self-worth, to really make it long-lasting and stick. And that doesn’t mean that you’re going to look in the mirror and think, “Oh my god, I’m so beautiful!” But it’s going to mean you look at yourself and you know, “I’m enough as I am.” And you’re not going to feel crushed if you don’t like the way that you look one day, and you’re not going to feel dependent on liking the way that you look.
So I hope that that clears it up. But let’s dive further into why self-worth and body image are interconnected, and why focusing strictly on body esteem or confidence misses a big chunk of the puzzle.
So when I first started doing this work, I was very much focused on understanding body image and body esteem, and helping clients specifically with that. What I’ve realized is that once women got to a place of feeling neutral in their bodies, there were still feelings of “I’m not good enough.”
And my personal experience was very similar to this too. I worked really hard on body acceptance, but then these beliefs of “I’m not good enough” kept popping up in other areas of my life. They transferred from my body into other aspects, whether it was doubting myself in terms of my relationships with friends, or doubting the work that I was putting out into the world. And it was kind of like a whack-a-mole. It kept popping up in other areas. And that was all hidden before, because I was so fixated on my body.
So it was very powerful for me to peel back that initial layer of body shame and start to feel more neutral in my body, because it allowed me to kind of see the stuff that was looming underneath. But now when I work with clients, I like to help them see the stuff that’s looming underneath from the get-go, so we can work from the inside out. And in my own personal experience, that underlying feeling of not feeling good enough was always deflected onto my body.
But like I said, once I had done the initial body image work, that started to become really clear, and that’s when I knew I really needed to work on identifying who I was outside of my appearance and really identifying my values and what’s important to me, and reinforcing a belief that I’m valuable and worthy, through both my own self-talk, compassionate self-talk, as well as behaviors in my life. And that’s pretty much what I do with women when I work with them.
Okay, back to the topic at hand. I’ve noticed the correlation between hating your body and generally feeling inadequate or unimportant to this world, which is why, in a lot of cases, even when people have lost weight, they still don’t feel good about themselves, because those beliefs aren’t changing. So what’s happening is that in a lot of circumstances, when we’re fixated on our body, it’s because we’ve been using this as a way to measure our worthiness, which is no surprise, given our beauty-obsessed society in which women are told that their worth comes from their appearance.
In our culture, having a more desirable appearance is a way to alleviate feelings of inadequacy and inferiority, so it’s no surprise that we’ve been conditioned to believe that if we look a certain way, we’re going to feel more adequate, we’re going to feel more superior. So it’s not your fault if you think that way. That’s what we’ve been conditioned to believe. We’ve been conditioned to believe that our desirability dictates our destiny. And again, this is all stuff I talked about in episode 83, so check that out if you haven’t.
But what happens after that initial layer of body hate gets peeled off is that we’re still left with these feelings of inferiority and inadequacy if we haven’t dealt with them. And that’s what I want to kind of dive into a little bit further today, is how to help you to get to that deeper layer to identify some of those thoughts and feelings that you have about yourself.
So let’s put this into a context to illustrate how these things tie together. You can probably relate to this kind of an experience. You look in the mirror, or see a picture of yourself, and you feel a pang of shame, sadness, or panic. And I’m strictly talking about emotional discomfort in this moment. Physical discomfort in your body, whether that is from chronic illness or pain, or because you’re wearing clothes that are too small, is different, and that’s important to acknowledge. We’re strictly talking about emotional discomfort here. I’m talking about the moments of shame, frustration, panic, sadness that you feel when you’ve seen your body and you have negative self-talk about your body.
These feelings, and particularly those feelings of shame, are born out of beliefs about ourself that there is something wrong with us, and we assume that it’s our body that’s the problem. So what we’re going to get to in a second is how to start to decode that, and how to start to identify some of the beliefs that we’re holding onto that are causing us to project it onto our body.
But first, I just want to do a segue into the language that we use to talk about our feelings. Often, I’ll hear people say, “I feel fat.” And I want to address this right off the bat. I don’t even like saying it in the context of an example here. First of all, fat is not a feeling. Ugly, big, gross… not feelings, either. It’s really important to start to question the language that you’re using, and specifically language around body size to describe feelings. We need to stop using that kind of language to describe how we feel, because it’s not going to help you change your body image. It’s reinforcing fatphobic beliefs.
So anytime you say something like “I feel big,” you’re reinforcing that big is bad. Any other synonym of ‘big’ will apply here too. And so take away from this that you have to eliminate that kind of association in order to heal your body image. You won’t be able to heal your body image if you’re continuing to reinforce fatphobic beliefs. You’re just going to stay on a hamster wheel.
So in a world where fat was just fat, and thin was just thin, and they were simply neutral descriptors, how would you think that would impact the way that you feel about your weight and body? It would probably make a big difference, right? That’s why I’m always on my clients to change their language, and to speak about how they’re really feeling.
As I said, fat, big, they’re just neutral descriptors. Another segue here, we’re going segue to segue here, often I’ll see the meme that says, “You aren’t fat, you have fat, just like you have fingernails,” or whatever it says. This is a problem, because, again, it feeds this belief that fat is bad and should be avoided, and that it’s shameful to be fat.
Fat activists have worked really hard to reclaim the word ‘fat’ as a descriptor, similar to ‘short’ or ‘tall.’ And if you’ve been listening to this podcast, you’ll see that ‘fat’ gets used in this way. To deny the use of this word as a descriptor denies the work that’s been put into reclaiming it, and also reinforces the shameful charge that it has in our fatphobic society.
So I will always encourage you to either neutralize that word for yourself, or if you identify as a fat individual, to reclaim it. So, that segue is complete. I hope I explained that. I just needed to address that meme that always comes up about comparing fat to fingernails.
I’m going to come back to the reason why I don’t like words like ‘gross’ or ‘ugly’ to be used as feelings, is because they’re not feelings either. There’s always a deeper meaning there. And when we can get to that deeper meaning, it gives us more power to be able to change the way we talk to ourselves and offer ourselves compassion.
So if you’re using words such as ‘gross’ or ‘ugly,’ it’s probably because you might be feeling shameful because you’re feeling unattractive, you’re feeling rejected, you’re feeling scared because your life feels uncertain. There’s a ton of other things that that’s a metaphor for, and so what we’re going to do in this podcast is help you to try to identify what the real meaning is, when you’re using words like that.
But step number one, I would say, is like, catch yourself, and don’t use those words. And start to really ask yourself, what meaning am I attaching to those words? And change the language that you use. So two questions to help you dig into this further, that you can ask yourself, are:
1.) What am I really feeling? So, label the emotion. And this is really important to helping you process feelings and detach it from your weight. There’s a really good illustration from the Instagram account, meandmyed.art. She makes really cool illustrations depicting just emotional intelligence as it relates to eating disorder recovery and things of that nature. But she’s got one that has, it’s like a wheel of emotions, and it’s to help you to identify what you’re really feeling when you say something like, I feel “fat,” which I hate using in this context, so please know, I’m just using it as an example, and that I would never want anyone to say that to themselves. So I will link to that in the show notes, because it’s really cool and helpful. So that’s question number one: identify what am I really feeling?
And 2.) What does my body represent to me in this moment? And that can be really helpful to start getting your wheels turning. It’s like, what am I making my body out to mean? You know, our bodies have been made out to mean so many different things in this culture. And being able to start to identify what meaning we’ve attached to it is going to give you so much more power to change the way you feel about yourself.
So when I ask my clients this, when I ask them “What does your body represent in this moment?” they’ll say things like “I’m a failure,” or “I’m lazy,” or “I’m unhealthy,” or “I’m unattractive.” And these are all horrible things that our body has become a metaphor for. I think it’s really important to question where these associations come from. This is a little bit of another segues. There’s a lot of segues in this episode. Hopefully you can follow along! Here’s another segue:
It’s really important to question where these associations come from, because you weren’t born thinking this way. So get a little angry and question it. Who fucking says that your body represents failure or that laziness, or unhealthy, or unattractive? Like, who? Diet culture? The beauty industry? Fucking Dr. Oz?! Like, fuck all those people! Allow yourself to get a little angry to question where these messages have come from, in order to fire up the little rebel in you to say, “Screw that! I want to create new beliefs for myself. I want to buck the system. I want to break free of this oppressive system that I’ve been participating in, unknowingly, for most of my life.”
Okay. That segue is complete, and we’re back from commercial break. So when I ask my clients things like, “Okay, what are you making your body to represent in this moment?” I’ll just kind of keep digging into what that really means for them. And often, underneath, it’s some kind of fear. For example, a fear of being rejected, some manifestation of a belief that they’re not good enough. And so buried underneath our body image is often a deeper belief about ourselves that we’ve attached to our appearance. And it’s really important to understand that, because it’s going to be easier for you to offer yourself compassion.
So let’s take a step back and look at a really simplified version of how this chain of events works. You are not born into this world hating your body. You are born into this world as a badass. You know you’re good enough. Look at babies. Babies know that they are good enough. What happens is, we start to get messages that our most important asset is our appearance, that this is our currency to receive praise and love, in order to fit in, or order to protect ourselves from emotional discomfort, we have to look a certain way. And that we always need to be striving to fix ourselves in order to meet that ideal. So you’ve most likely been indoctrinated with that from the media, and possibly other experiences that you’ve had with family, friends, and others that reinforced this in you.
So over time, our worth gets chipped away, and our body becomes a metaphor for this belief that we’re not good enough. And we think that if we can just fix our body, everything will be fine. So our emotions become enmeshed with our body image, and everywhere we look, that’s normalized and reinforced in our culture.
So to unpack that, and detach our emotions from our body, and really start to believe in ourselves, and know that our worth doesn’t come from the way that we look, we have to get to the root of what our beliefs are. And what our fears are. And that’s a really individual thing that I explore when I’m working with clients, and so, if you’re feeling stuck around it, I encourage you to work with someone, especially if you feel like you understand this stuff intellectually, but you’re not actually seeing things shift by doing this work on your own.
So ultimately, I want you to be able to look in the mirror and not have an emotional reaction to the way that you look. Because if your appearance wasn’t connected to your worth, if you believed that you were worthy and valuable just as you are, what do you think would be different about your reaction to your reflection? If you knew you were good enough just as you are, you’d most likely be able to look in the mirror and be pretty neutral about your body. You might like parts of it, or you might not, but it wouldn’t be so emotionally charged.
The last thing I want to cover here is that our bad body days are signs that we need to tune in versus check out with dieting or thoughts about dieting. So if you take anything away from this, it’s to question the negative thoughts that you have about your body, and dig into them a little deeper. More often than not, when we are feeling shame or disdain about our body, we are actually experiencing some other kind of emotional discomfort. Perhaps in our life, or just about ourselves.
But we divert this onto our body, and our bodies become metaphors for our feelings. Smaller = positive, larger = bad, and, like I said, that’s reinforced by societal standards. It takes a lot of practice to slow down, identify your emotions, and get to the root of what you’re really feeling and what you really need to feel better. Because dieting is not what you really need to feel better. It is so much easier to say, “My body is a problem and if I can just get it under control this week, everything will be okay,” which is bullshit. We need to look at what’s really going on in ourselves, in our bodies, in our minds.
Dieting might make us feel better in the short term, it might give us that little hit of feeling like we’re in control, that little hit of dopamine, of, like, “Everything’s going to be better soon!” But it doesn’t address the root of the problem, and all this shit is going to be kicking around underneath the surface if you’re ignoring it.
So it’s really important to start to tag and decode the moments where you feel bad about your appearance, because it’s a red flag that there’s some other area of your life that needs attention. So questioning what you’re really thinking and feeling, and what you’re making your body to represent, can be a helpful place to start. Because what we really need is to offer ourselves compassion, and to reinforce that we are good enough. But that’s hard to do when you’re convinced that your body is the problem. You put yourself in a much more empowering place when you can see that your body is not a problem and that you don’t need to be fixed. You need to give yourself some love and attention.
Think of your bad body days or moments like a kid coming to you and tugging on your arm, and saying, “I’m really hurting today!” What would you say to that kid? You wouldn’t tell the kid to go and starve, or shut up. Unless you really just don’t like children, which is totally a personal decision, but in that case, maybe substitute, I don’t know, a puppy or something.
But you’d want the kid to talk about it. And then you’d offer them love and comfort, right? Right? That’s what I want you to do to yourself. So I want you to think about a bad body moment as a little kid inside of you coming to you and tugging on your arm and saying, “Hey, I’m feeling a certain way! I need some attention here! Something’s popped up.”
So we want to be tuning in to that, instead of diverting our attention away to thinking our body is the problem, and thinking that dieting is going to fix it. Because your body is not a problem, you do not need to be fixed. Say that with me: “My body is not a problem. I do not need to be fixed.”
Let me just backtrack for a moment, for those of you that perhaps took that comment about not liking kids seriously. I was being really sarcastic there. Okay. Just wanted to point that out, in case anyone’s taking that literally and starting to write scathing reviews about me.
One other thing I want to mention here is, I wrote this post awhile ago called “Let’s Stop Talking about Emotional Eating and Start Talking about Emotional Dieting,” I think that’s what it was called. I’ll link to it in the show notes. And really it was about this idea of emotional dieting and emotional weight fixation, and how we’re so concerned about “emotional eating,” but what I see more often than not is emotional dieting, stemming from emotional weight fixation. So, dieting and hating our bodies are so normalized and widely encouraged in our culture, that we don’t even recognize that these are things we turn to for comfort, and to soothe our emotions. Emotional weight fixation is when we become preoccupied with our weight to comfort ourselves. And same thing: emotional dieting is when we’re using dieting or the idea of dieting or planning dieting or the fantasy of dieting to soothe ourselves and to fix our feelings.
And it’s another reason why dieting is so addictive. So I wanted to just pull that into this episode, because I think, again, it’s easier for us to think that our weight is a problem, than for us to face difficult emotions like rejection, loneliness, anxiety, hurt, shame, and fear of the unknown.
For me, personally, and what I’ve seen a lot in working with women is that we use dieting as an emotional soothing tactic. We use weight fixation as an emotional soothing tactic, because addressing some of the more difficult feelings or things that are going on in our life are icky, are hard. Who wants to feel hard feelings? It’s much easier to think that your body is the problem and that cutting carbs is going to fix it.
So I encourage you to look at your fixation on weight and your fixation on dieting as potential emotional avoidance.
So, wrapping things up here, how can we use this information to improve our body image and self-worth? How can you use this information? I’d be curious to know, actually. but I’ll tell you what I think.
First, this is all about awareness. So, just starting to notice our bad bdy moments as red flags that something in us needs attention, and starting to decode our feelings about our body, to address what we’re really thinking about ourselves, or what we’re really experiencing that’s causing us to fixate on our body and our seight.
And I’ve created a worksheet with five questions that you can ask yourself in moments of body shame, to help you work through the things that we talked about here. Those five questions are:
* What am I really feeling?
* What is my body representing to me in this moment?
* What am I believing about myself?
* What words of compassion and comfort can I offer myself?
* What can I do to show myself that I matter?
Those last two questions are key, because they’re all about offering yourself compassion. Because to have the awareness of what’s really going on is one thing, but to offer yourself compassion, that’s where change really happens. That’s where we’re making deposits into our self-worth, by actively and intentionally starting to change the way that we talk to ourselves and comfort ourselves and showing ourselves that we matter.
So whether that’s by using positive– or compassionate self-talk, I should say– I don’t like positive self-talk. I think compassionate self-talk is better. Talking to someone you trust. Reaching out for help. Doing some form of self-care. Any of those things in there, and obviously, we could have a whole other conversation on what are things that you can do to comfort yourself, and what are things you can say to yourself to comfort yourself.
But I’m going to leave that question with you, for you to come up with some ideas for yourself. So, definitely head to summerinnanen.com/96, where you can download that free worksheet with those questions to go along with this episode and to help you work through this.
OUTRO: Alright, so, that’s a redo in the book. This is replacing episode one. Yay! I’d love to know your thoughts on this, what you take away from this, how you’re going to use this information. So you can head on into my Facebook group and join the conversation there and just leave me a comment and let me know, or tag me on Instagram, or Tweet me, or any of those things. I always respond. Thank you so much for listening.
There’s so much more that I could talk about as it relates to this, and that’s why I wrote a course on it. But I’ll save some more of this stuff for upcoming podcasts. If you want to take this further yourself, definitely check out different ways that we can work together, and specifically the Rock Your Body program, which you can get more details about at rockyourbodynow.com. But in the meantime, go download the worksheet at summerinnanen.com/96. Thank you so much for listening. I will see you next time. Rock on.
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