Are You Addicted to Controlling Your Image? (And What Happens If You Stop?)
A long time ago, I read an article about how the opposite of addiction is connection, and something clicked.
(You can go here or here to get the same gist.)
Obviously I don’t work with substance addiction, but I do work with people who have addictive relationships with shopping, social media, netflix, and of course… food, dieting, exercise, and body control.
It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.
We call it “self-consciousness” when you worry about how you look, but that’s a misnomer. It would more accurately be called “others consciousness,” since concern about how you look is actually concern about how other people will perceive and treat you.
Thinking about the way we look is the direct effect of thinking about how other people see us; if there were no other people, we wouldn’t think about how we looked. (Well at this point actually we might, because it’s so deeply ingrained, but you know what I mean.)
Think about it: if you were deserted alone on an island for years, it seems unlikely that (even if you had the ability to do so) you would wear makeup, shave your legs, paint your nails, blow your hair out, wear a push-up bra, heels, or spanx, or suck your belly in.
Despite how many of us say we do those things “for ourselves” and because they’re fun (which can totally be true!) they get their real value from their interaction with others.
These visual aids help us control how people see us. They help us send off signals that establish who we are, with whom we belong, and how we’re doing culturally, financially, and health-wise.
The unconscious point of all these signals is to create connections with the “right” people. To share something about ourselves, to earn approval and acceptance, and hopefully to send signals to the “right” people that we belong together, so that we may bask in the glorious rays of positive human connection.
Because that’s what we crave more than anything else on earth: human connection. Sadly, this need is often deeply unmet in people who obsessively monitor and control their bodies.
The opposite of addiction is connection, right? I think the opposite of body negativity is connection, too.
This need for connection is wired into our DNA, by the way. Despite the stoic “I am a rock, I am an island” cultural values, we are actually wired to need, crave, seek, and thrive on, human connection.
Unsurprisingly, given how badly we all crave connection (and how sorely lacking genuine and intimate connections are in our culture) we will all naturally be drawn to whatever brings us more of it.
Which means, as women in our culture, that we have to engage in a never-ending quest to fix, tighten, change, hide, flatter, lose, lift, sculpt, smooth, tone, whiten, boost, and otherwise do anything possible to become as attractive as possible.
This quest has a naturally addictive quality, both because there is never an “end” to the quest for perfection, and because there is that underlying current of disconnection.
You can never finish fixing yourself– there is always more to be done– and the quest itself reflects a belief that connection is something you must earn, rather than something that should be freely given.
All of this explains why suggesting that a person STOP controlling her body is so absolutely terrifying. Many people believe if they “pull the plug” on their quest for physical perfection, they will lose the already-too-scarce attention, approval, and belonging that they’re earning, and they will feel even more isolated and alone.
(Does this sound familiar at all?) In reality however, the opposite is true. Connection becomes more and more abundant as you give up the task of controlling your image to “earn” it.
It works like this:
Body Control & Image Monitoring:
At a young age, you notice the positive attention you get when you look “better” and it feels good, so you continue trying to look “better” through various control techniques: dieting, exercise, hair and makeup, fashion and social media, people-pleasing, trying to meet expectations, and making people comfortable.
All the work you do creates an avatar of yourself; an avatar that you know isn’t you.
You’re proud of the work you do to be attractive and “likeable” however, and you see how this avatar allows you to connect with people. To think about not being your avatar anymore (and showing up just as yourself) is terrifying and painful.
You already struggle with a deep ache of loneliness and isolation, and you’re aware that the attention, approval, love, and belonging would likely disappear in an instant if anyone found out you’re not really your avatar. Then you’d be even more alone and disconnected, and you couldn’t handle that, so you must simply persist in your avatar. You’re not thriving, but you’re stuck with what you can get.
Now let’s look at what happens for those who actually manage to break free.
Letting Go of Body Control & Image Monitoring
(aka giving up the quest of physical perfection and making people like you.)
Initially, yes, you might lose some attention and approval. After all, the people who tend to be drawn to an avatar are not usually the same people who will be drawn to an authentic Self. But you’ll also lose the shame and fear that comes from knowing your avatar is hiding a big secret, or that people might find out the truth.
Over time you’ll enjoy increased health (less stress), an increased sensitivity to your body’s signals to you, and even natural weight management as you settle into your natural set point instead of trying to constantly control your food and weight.
This boosts self-trust, tunes you in to your real desires, and makes you happier and more fulfilled. Your jealousy and comparison to others will disappear, making it easier to connect to people, and since you’re no longer hiding anything, they find it easier to connect to you.
Eventually, your authentic Self begins to draw different people to you– people who genuinely like, accept, and celebrate the parts of yourself that your avatar used to hide. People who reinforce that you are worthy of connection without pretense.
Through those relationships and experiences (which will heighten all the time as you spend your newly freed up time and mental energy to cultivate your authentic self rather than cultivate your avatar) the deep ache of loneliness fades away and in its place blooms a deep sense of being real, of mattering and being loved, and of belonging here on earth.
Sounds pretty fucking great, right? It is. And it’s possible.
All you have to do is give up your avatar, stop controlling your image, and quit your quest for physical perfection.
Easy, right? (Ha.)
Giving up your avatar and your obsession with becoming as “attractive” as possible is NOT easy. You’ll need support, education, resources, and of course… human connection. (Because after all, the opposite of addiction is connection.)
I’m not saying that has to come from me, of course. There are many ways to get educated, supported, and experience genuine connection. Think: therapy, support groups, coaching, workshops, books, talks, or gatherings.
That having been said, this happens to be the exact reason I created Authentic Body Confidence.
ABC is a 12 week online group coaching program, designed to help people (of any gender other than cis-male) get the education, guidance, and support that they need to give up their image-controlling habits and drop their avatar, so they can finally experience the joy and relief of genuine connection, worthiness, and a sense of true belonging.
Enrollment is open for another week and a half, and the program starts February 19th, so grab your spot now (or to book a free call with me to ask questions, if you’re not sure it’s the right fit for you) by heading to the website here:
Authentic Body Confidence: How to feel safe, free and sexy AF in you own skin.
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