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“The Runner…”

The body image avatar who uses their body to COPE and feel SAFE.

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Hi friend,


I’m in Los Angeles for the week! I haven’t been back here since I lived here before the pandemic, and I’m so excited to see friends, eat food, and return to my old stomping grounds.


Today I want to talk about one of the four body image avatarsthe Runner.


The Runner Body Image Avatar

If you’re not familiar with the body image avatars yet, they’re a part of the step-by-step system I created (and talk about in my book BODY NEUTRAL and my self-study program The Body Neutrality Blueprint), to help people access body neutrality.


The idea behind my system is that body image suffering occurs when our body/appearance have taken on an inappropriate amount of power and significance in our minds, and that we give our bodies/appearance that kind of power and significance by unconsciously assigning our bodies impossible “jobs,” like protecting us, getting our emotional needs met, or solving our problems.


Each of the four body image avatars represents one of the major patterns for how and why a person might be doing this, and I created them to help you quickly and effectively identify yourself on the map of body image issues. By taking the self-assessment (available in both my book, and the digital course mentioned above) and identifying your dominant avatar(s), you can immediately gain insight into how and why your body/appearance has so much power over you, and where to start digging on the journey to body neutrality.


It’s interesting though, that over the years, I’ve created far more content about the other three body image avatars…

  1. The Self-Objectifier, who is focused on getting what they want and need by looking attractive

  2. The High Achiever, who seeks self-worth through external validation for being good, and

  3. The Outsider, who imagines their body to be the key to connection and social safety–

…than about the Runner, who is focused on using their body (as well as their body image and body-control behaviors) to cope, escape, and feel safe in the world.


This is because the ways and reasons we cope with life are vast and complex, and it can be difficult to talk about (or give specific examples) in a way that’s helpful for some people, without alienating or erasing the experiences of others.


So to help you understand the Runner, I want to give you a few examples from my coaching practice (with names changed), of people who identify with this particular avatar:

  1. Casey grew up with a narcissistic and alcoholic mother, and learned that she could never rely on anyone else to meet her needs, so she developed a pattern of hyper-independence (i.e.: needing to do everything herself), and an aversion to vulnerability or letting people in. Relying on others for comfort and regulation never felt like a safe option for Casey, so as a teenager, she developed an eating disorder, and came to rely on her own strength, willpower, and self-control instead. This coping strategy was painful but effective, and she made it to adulthood. But in her thirties, Casey found herself constantly stressing and obsessing over food, exercise, and her body, and it was exhausting. Casey worked on her body image for years, and had learned and healed a lot before we met, but she still couldn’t seem to stop obsessing, or trying to control her body. Why? Because obsession and control were distracting and protecting Casey from the intense grief she felt about not being “good enough” for people to be there for her, and the terror of making herself vulnerable, or of relying on someone else and getting hurt. While her food and body image issues were making Casey miserable, they were also keeping her safe from feelings and experiences that she didn’t believe she could survive facing.

  2. Terra experienced sexual abuse as a child, and wasn’t believed when she spoke up about it, which led to her developing a drug and alcohol addiction that took her nearly a decade to get sober from. When she got sober however, Terra started rapidly gaining weight, and developed intense feelings of shame about (and hatred for) her body. These feelings only got stronger over the years as Terra tried to lose the weight, and went through a roller coaster of dieting and binging; losing and gaining. But while she reported feeling “better” about herself in a smaller body, losing weight never actually erased the shame or hatred Terra felt, because those feelings weren’t really about her weight. Why? Because in order to make sense of her trauma (and protect her abuser from accountability that would have ruptured the relationship), Terra held herself and her body responsible for her abuse, and imagined that by getting her body “perfect,” she could keep bad things from happening to her in the future, and would finally feel safe.

  3. Curtis grew up with the message that “boys don’t cry,” and “men are men.” He learned from a young age that his emotions were shameful and disgusting. After discovering fitness as a teenager, Curtis became obsessed with getting muscular, and developed severe body dysmorphia, along with feelings of disgust and anxiety about his body. Intellectually, Curtis understood that he was notably fit and lean, but it was never enough, and the thought of easing up on his rigid workout and diet regimen gave him panic attacks. Dieting and working out had become a key part of Curtis’s strategy for numbing and repressing his feelings, and looking strong and powerful had become Curtis’s biggest source of protection against being seen as soft or weak. In other words, Curtis had come to rely on his strict diet and fitness plan to feel safe in the world, and even though he knew his habits were too extreme, he was terrified to imagine life without them.

Can you see how each of these clients are using their body, body image, and/or body-control behaviors to cope, escape, and feel safe? The reasons and strategies are unique to the individual, but the underlying purpose of their body image issues is the same.


This purpose is the calling card of the Runner: they use their bodies (and body image-related behaviors) to protect themselves from something they don’t believe they can cope with, handle, or survive otherwise.


And this is the key point: whenever we unconsciously rely on something this way—essentially for survival, since these things feel life-or-death to us—our brains will not let us give it up, no matter how hard our conscious brains want to.


This is why Runners in search of body neutrality will need to learn how to acknowledge, face, feel, and tolerate whatever it is they’ve been using their bodies and body behaviors to numb, avoid, escape, or cope with.


Because for the Runner, body image suffering has become a survival and coping strategy.


The Runner Body Image Avatar

This is easier said than done, of course. The process of acknowledging, facing, feeling, and tolerating these things tends to require a shit-ton of courage, patience, and dedication. It often requires learning to connect to (and trust) your body again, slowly increasing your capacity for discomfort, accepting and integrating your shame-riddled shadow side, and cultivating a variety of new (healthy!) coping skills.


Put another way, if you struggle with body image issues and identify with the Runner avatar, you have your work cut out for you. But as a (healed and healing) Runner myself, I promise you that it is possible.


Each of the clients I mentioned above have finally found their way out of body obsession, hatred, dysmorphia, and disgust…. and you can too.

Note: if you want support and guidance getting there, apply for coaching with me here! I currently have a few private client spots available starting in August, and I would love to help you.


Also– if you resonate with the Runner, you’re definitely going to want to listen to today’s episode of my podcast This Is (Not) About Your Body: Facing the Underlying Anxiety.


My guest is Mindset, Embodiment, and Intuitive Eating Coach Saskia Carr, and in the episode we talk about what happens when food and body image issues function as a distraction and coping strategy for dealing with chronic underlying fear and anxiety… and how to deal with that!


Listen to the episode here, or watch the full video on my YouTube channel here— and if you love my podcast, be sure to subscribe and leave a rating/review!


Sending you a big hug from California,

Jessi


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