I noticed something interesting, as I sorted through all my private coaching applications over the last few weeks. (My summer spots are all booked by the way, but you can still apply here to get on a waiting list.)
Many of the women who applied for coaching weren’t actually looking for help with body image.
Not directly, anyway. Often, they were looking for help with areas in their lives in which they were feeling stuck, trapped, lost, or just kind of… bleh. Areas in which they were holding themselves back, doing what was expected of them, or trying not to make anyone uncomfortable.
Which brought up the interesting question of what success for my clients actually looks like. What kinds of transformations do they go through when they work with me, and how do we know if they’ve succeeded at their goals?
In short: what does it look like when someone learns how to love and accept her body and herself?
The thing is, body image issues are a symptom, not a cause. Treating the symptoms won’t treat the root cause– that’s why repeating affirmations like “I love my thighs” isn’t usually enough.
I call myself a “body image coach,” only because it’s easier to understand than saying “I coach women to feel free and unafraid as they trust and express their most authentic selves in every area of their lives.”
Or “I help women feel safe to be themselves, and feel empowered to create a life that reflects that.”
So. “Success” for my clients doesn’t always look like much.
In the beginning, most of my clients want to talk about their bodies and their relationship with their bodies, and tell me all about how they struggle with this body part or that. I take careful notes, and assure them that this is an important inventory, but that we’ll need to dive deeper in order to get anywhere.
For the next few months, we uncover areas of fear and shame and disconnection, and these areas almost never have anything to do with the body.
The thing is, body image issues represent a major threat to connection, love, and belonging.
The fear a woman feels when thinking about wearing a bikini without losing some weight first is the same fear she might feel when thinking about telling her husband that she wants more sex and conversation, or telling her boss that she deserves a raise. It all comes down to feeling unworthy of love and connection without “earning” it in some way.
So we go digging into the beliefs a woman holds about her “role” in each relationship, her “job” as a person and a woman, and all the tiny things she does because people expect her to, or because it feels like she has to in order to be accepted and liked.
Then, one by one, we set those areas free. Through re-writing narratives and beliefs, doing challenges to face her fears, interrupting the old patterns with something new, tuning into her internal self, and expanding the amount of time and attention that goes into following her authentic desires, shit starts to change.
I deeply cherish the call, weeks or months into working together, when my client says to me– her voice filled with wonder and amazement– “I can just… do… whatever I want!”
It’s so simple, you’d hardly think this could be considered a breakthrough at all.
As women, we have been taught that in order to maintain connections with people– that is, in order to be worthy of acceptance and love and belonging– we must do and be certain things to earn it.
Now, what each woman believes she must do and be to earn her worthiness varies dramatically, based on subculture nuance, core family values, and experiences. For me, it was that I must always look perfect, be effortlessly sexy, and super low-maintainance. I felt like I had to constantly control how other people perceived me, so that they would believe I was all the things I pretended to be.
This became a full-time job.
I was constantly sucking in my belly, pushing my tits out, posing, smiling, hiding my BIG feelings, pretending to be laid-back, trying not to burden anyone with my inner mess, and generally putting on a show as someone who “deserved” love and connection.
The full-time job of “earning your worthiness” is the root of most body image issues, yes.
But it’s also the root of anxiety, depression, isolation, resentment, stagnation, frustration, and pain. This full-time job keeps women from following their desires, expressing their truth, getting their needs met, and ironically, experiencing meaningful connections.
Body image coaching is about helping women recognize that it’s not her job to make other people happy, make them like her, or even control how they perceive her. It’s about offering freedom from her own self-enforced limitations.
So what does success look like at the end?
Well, bearing in mind that this is the work of a lifetime and it never really “ends,” success often looks something like this:
This work is about freeing up the mental and emotional space that used to go toward trying to earn your worthiness, and spend it on something more worthy of your time and attention.
For some women, the manifestation of this problem is cellulite or weight or body shape.
For others, it’s feeling like you have to put on an inauthentic “professional boss” air at work, because you’re the only woman in your position. Or a fear that if you show your partner how needy you really are, he’ll leave you.
The goal, in the end, is to be more unapologetically YOU, in every area of yourself.
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