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Breaking Free: Confronting Our Obsession with Thinness and Cultivating Body Acceptance

Updated: Apr 12

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Did you know that about half of teenage girls and more than 75% of women struggle with poor body image? Relatedly, at least 15% of young women struggle with disordered eating, and more than 20 million women will struggle with an eating disorder at some point in their lives. 


If these numbers are upsetting but not surprising, you're not alone in feeling that way. Many of us understand our daily lives are influenced by culturally pervasive, unrealistic beauty and body ideals—particularly from the message that thinness is the ultimate goal representing beauty, health, success, sexual appeal, and societal acceptance. 


And while people of all genders are affected by unrealistic beauty standards, it is particularly severe for women and girls, who are not only at risk of struggling with poor self-esteem due to these unattainable standards—but also can suffer severe physical and mental health consequences as a result of these internalized messages that our bodies aren’t good enough as they are.


It’s important to understand the connections between where these ideas come from, what we can do about it, and when to seek specialized help. It’s time for society to start confronting our obsession with thinness and move toward accepting and normalizing body diversity for the physical, mental, and emotional wellness of women and girls everywhere.


Where Do These Messages Come From?

From pervasive media messages promoting unattainable beauty standards to familial influences and personal experiences, numerous forces shape our perceptions of self-worth and body image. Let’s explore these connections below.


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Media

Women and girls are constantly confronted with unrealistic media depictions of what

"normal" bodies look like each time they pick up a magazine, watch a movie, or scroll social media. Being continuously exposed to manipulated content and images of celebrities and models who appear to have deficient body fat ratios and somehow zero cellulite further feeds self-criticism and questioning of why we can't seem to look the same way despite restricting our caloric intake or exhausting ourselves with multiple days of working out each week. The inability to reach such unattainable, false ideals can impact our self-esteem and diminish our ability to love and accept ourselves.


Link to Violence Against Women

These unbalanced media depictions of women contribute to the objectification and sexualization of our bodies, which can be directly linked to higher rates of violence against women. When the world is told our value lies solely in our appearance, it becomes easier for our humanity to be siloed from our bodies, making them a commodity to be used and abused often without repercussion. We must increase awareness of the connection between gender-based violence and the constant barrage of reminders that women need to be thinner, more beautiful, and increasingly sexy to be valued in our society.


Other Forces

Many women are exposed to these beliefs within their homes, schools, and communities by others entrenched in diet culture or through participation in sports, modeling, pageants, and other pursuits emphasizing aesthetics as marks of success. The goal of pursuing thinness in these realms keeps us on the hamster wheel of wellness blogs, fad diets, and rigorous fitness regimens.


Our Role in Upholding These Messages

In our day-to-day lives, we often comment on the appearances of others or make self-deprecating comments about our own. This normalization of critiquing bodies adds fuel to the fire and perpetuates harmful ideas about what a healthy body should look like. While this harm may be challenging to quantify, many of us can feel the pangs of sadness and anger that are attached to someone commenting on our bodies, and that's the only measure we need to know that it's an unhealthy practice that we need to break away from.


Again, you are not alone in feeling held back by harmful beauty and body standards—but there is hope for cultivating a more balanced and nurturing relationship with your body and eating.


Confronting Our Obsession with Thinness

Now that we've identified a clear need to break free from this unhealthy obsession with thinness, you may be asking yourself how to move forward. Here are some ideas:


Replace Unhealthy Messages with Empowering Messages and Images

For many of us, a primary source of consuming unhealthy information about health and wellness is social media. Curating your social media feeds to include more body diversity while also unfollowing accounts that promote diet culture or unrealistic body ideals is an excellent first step. Sarah Nicole Landry—popularly known as the Birds Papaya—and Mik Zazon are just two examples of content creators who focus on healing from disordered eating and cultivating body acceptance in a world still obsessed with thinness. So many other voices in this space may resonate with you as you embark on your healing journey.


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Evaluate Your Values

Another supportive step in your journey to reimagining your relationship with yourself is to evaluate your values regarding this topic. Do you cringe when you hear someone saying negative things about their appearance or see social media influencers peddling diet culture repackaged as wellness practices? Do you believe that all bodies are beautiful and we all deserve to show up just as we are without feeling like we need to fit into a tiny box that doesn't fit us? Whatever your values and beliefs are about health and wellness, it's paramount that you connect with what you genuinely believe and mirror that in the way you live your life. If you wouldn't recommend the latest fad diet that you know is highly restrictive and unhealthy to a friend, why would you try it out for yourself?


Reframe Your Beliefs

Next, it's imperative to reframe our beliefs about beauty and what an ideal body looks like. To reimagine your relationship with your body, identify the narratives you tell yourself so you can restructure them to align with your actual values and beliefs. For example, if you experience a negative thought like, "My body isn't good enough the way it is currently," you can restructure this thought by taking the following steps:


  • Identify the situation that triggered this thought

    • Example: A coworker has commented on how she needs to lose weight before swimsuit season arrives.

  • Connect with what you're feeling when you have this thought

    • You feel the urge to compare. If your coworker thinks she needs to lose weight, maybe that means you do, too. You start to feel inadequate as you are currently and want to change your body so that feeling goes away.

  • Identify any other automatic thoughts that arise with this triggering event

    • In addition to thinking your body isn't good enough the way it is currently, you may also have thoughts about how others perceive you and generate false narratives of their perceptions of you.

  • Find objective, supportive evidence

    • Example: "Everybody is different, and I know my outward appearance does not measure my health."

  • Find objective, contradictory evidence

    • Example: "While it may be true that healthy movement and foods can support and nourish my body, it's also true that those aren't always in reach, and I'm doing my best to care for myself amid all my other life responsibilities."

  • Identify fair and balanced thoughts

    • Example: "My ability to show up authentically as myself inspires others to do the same."

  • Monitor your current mood and how it may have shifted

    • Hopefully, after restructuring your original, negative self-talk, you're now feeling calmer and more at ease in your body. Self-acceptance and peace of mind may also feel more attainable.


For more detailed guidance on cognitive restructuring, check out this blog post that offers a similar step-by-step guide.


Seek Out Inspiration

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The sentiments above are reminiscent of the groundbreaking work of Sonya Renee Taylor,

creator of the movement The Body is Not An Apology. According to her website, her mission is to "lay out her radical self-love vision, arguing that all people arrive on this planet in a state of self-love before internalizing messages of shame and injustice from systems of oppression." Her work is an essential reminder of how intertwined fatphobia and diet culture are with oppressive systems that detract from our humanity and disconnect us from one another, a necessary piece of the puzzle in reimagining what it means to love ourselves and those around us. When viewed through this lens, it feels more obvious how truly harmful our culture's obsession with thinness is.


Recognize Your Power of Your Choices

Although your struggles with body image and disordered eating may not fully dissolve overnight, you do have the choice to confront and interrogate where you've ingested patriarchal, misogynistic, and racist beauty ideals and extract them from your belief system. You can begin to live more in alignment with your values of being happy and healthy instead of trying to fit into a mold designed to keep you hating yourself and competing with other women to ascend to a higher echelon of thinness and beauty.


When to Seek Help: Exploring Body Image and Disordered Eating

Poor body image and disordered eating patterns do not always meet the criteria for a formal diagnosis. When eating disorder symptoms become acute and significantly impair an individual's physical health or pose immediate risks, higher level care such as inpatient or intensive outpatient treatment may be necessary. For instance, if someone with anorexia nervosa experiences severe dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, or dangerously low body weight, inpatient care with medical monitoring becomes crucial to stabilize their condition and prevent life-threatening complications. 


Similarly, individuals with bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder may require intensive outpatient programs if their binge-purge cycles or binge eating episodes lead to severe nutritional deficiencies, electrolyte imbalances, or other medical complications that cannot be managed in a lower level of care. In these cases, higher-level care provides:


  • Round-the-clock medical supervision

  • Intensive therapeutic support

  • Structured meal plans to address both the physical and psychological aspects of the eating disorder


If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder and in need of higher-level care, a helpful first step in connecting with the support you need may be utilizing one of several eating disorder helplines


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Another supportive resource for eating disorder care in Colorado is EDCare, an eating disorder care center offering a variety of adult and adolescent programs and services. Importantly, if the concern you or your loved one is facing related to disordered eating is at a crisis level, seeking care at your local emergency room may be the best first step. Help is available, and it's brave to seek healing no matter where you are.


Finally, even mild symptoms, such as frequent bouts of poor self-esteem or changes in eating patterns related to body image, do warrant an eating disorder evaluation and counseling support from a licensed therapist


Healing is a Journey

The glorification of thinness is a big topic to confront, and the wounds that so many women carry related to body image and disordered eating take time to heal and change. Take a deep breath and then consider these inspiring words from Teri Hofford, an authenticity coach and body image educator:


"For so long, we've been reduced down to parts.

 Believing that our happiness will finally be fulfilled upon the perfection of our parts

 This is why when we "fix" one, we simply move on to another.

 But, my dears,

 We are WHOLE

 Whole humans with

 Whole hearts and

 Whole spirits.

 So, instead of complimenting each other on our parts

 Let's compliment each other on our wholeness

 And build ourselves back together."


For further inspiration, visit Teri's blog for 100 Non-Body Focused Compliments that you can begin to utilize in your day-to-day. Remember that healing is often a journey that isn't linear. It's brave to want to reimagine your relationship with eating, movement, beauty, and, most importantly, yourself. You've got this! 


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Not sure where to start? Her Time Therapy is an integrative group counseling practice comprised of licensed therapists in Colorado who specialize in providing convenient and empowering online therapy for women. You can feel confident working with a Her Time therapist because we recognize that women like you experience a unique set of biological, environmental, economic, and social challenges that have a real impact on your mental health that is deserving of specialized support to help you explore your relationship to your body and food (please note we do not provide higher-level eating disorder care).


If you're on the path to nurturing a positive body image, transforming your relationship with food, and elevating your self-esteem, we invite you to contact us to get matched with a therapist dedicated to guiding you through practical strategies for self-acceptance and building confidence. Reach out for a free consultation today!


Call/Text (720) 255-1667 | info@hertimetherapy.com | www.hertimetherapy.com


Lesley Fulton (she/her), is a Clinical Mental Health Graduate Student Intern offering affordable counseling services to Her Time Therapy Clients under the supervision of Julie Noyes, MA LPC NCC and Adams State University professors. Lesley is passionate about helping clients with trauma, LGBTQ+ identity, attachment issues, codependence, chronic illness, and disordered eating/body image.


*Disclaimer: This blog does not provide medical advice and the information contained herein is for informational purposes only. This blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a licensed health provider before undertaking a new treatment or health care regimen. 


*Affiliate Disclosure: This post may contain ads and affiliate links that Her Time Therapy, LLC earns a small commission from when you make a purchase by clicking links on our site at no additional cost to you. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualified purchases. Rest assured, we only recommend products we've used ourselves and would feel comfortable recommending to clients to improve their physical, mental, and emotional well-being.



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