A woman growing up in today’s society is likely to have body image issues. With the media, consumers are inundated with the definition that the media gives us for beauty. People can see up to 4000 images a day between advertisements, TV, Facebook, billboards, whereas in the 70’s it was 500 images. People are inundated with what women are supposed to look like but in reality, only 1% of the population actually has the “perfect” model body.
Jean, who works as a coach for Betrayal Trauma Recovery, says many clients she sees struggle with body image issues and shares how such problems become lifelong,
“It’s important to look at how beauty was defined for you in your formative years by family of origin, friends, from schoolmates. That’s really valuable and then to look at how you were wounded in those areas. Body image wounds tend to follow a theme and sometimes tend to follow us through life.”
Body Image Issues Are Personal
How is the experience of women who have experienced betrayal trauma different when it comes to issues of body image? As Jean explains, this can deepen childhood wounds of body image and reinforce them in adulthood,
“Anybody that’s been through betrayal, we all can say so intimately and personally what betrayal does to us but it’s really a complete and outright assault on who we are as women in every area of our lives. It’s a mental, it’s physical, it’s spiritual, it’s emotional and I believe it’s the most intimate betrayal of all but speaking of body images issues it’s actually a betrayal of our bodies. So, of course we take that personal. Of course, that’s going to affect our body image. It can drive those messages from our childhood, those wounds from our past, just so deep into the core of our being.”
Still, we cannot discount the experiences in which these body image wounds are intentionally inflicted by abusive partners as deflection, rationalization, and manipulation in the relationship itself. As Anne, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery, states,
“One of the most intense emotional abuse episodes that happened with me was when my ex told me very calmly that he had been lying to me every time he said I was beautiful. He said that I was not beautiful and that he couldn’t lie anymore. And I said to him: that’s not true. I am beautiful. He said: Well, I just mean your personality makes you ugly. That hurt me more than anything because it was like: wait a minute….you physically are attracted to me but now you’re saying that you really, genuinely, hate me? He was so unwilling to acknowledge in any way, shape, or form that he appreciates me as a human being.”
Body Image Issues Can Be Lifelong
Jean explains that for women who have felt trauma due to betrayal, issues of body image often come up because the betrayal feels closely tied to their bodies, though through healing work, it can be understood that it is not about them at all,
“The sad thing too is that I feel like before betrayal there might be somethings that we actually felt good about our body, that we felt confident about, and then betrayal actually attacks those as well. Old wounds are opened up and then we receive new wounds. Part of the healing process of working through betrayal trauma is really beginning to understand that sexual betrayal is not about us and it’s not about our bodies. At first that’s so hard for women to accept and believe but again that’s part of the healing process.”
Three Ways To Recover From Body Image Issues
How can body image issues be healed? There are three ways that can help:
- Becoming aware of negative body talk.
- Beginning to work on gaining body confidence.
- Cultivating an attitude of gratitude.
Jean shares her message for hope and healing in women who have these struggles with body image, she says,
“I believe that our true appearance which involves inside and outside, who we are, who we show up to be, actually can become more beautiful as we age. Think about our wisdom, our life experience and confidence, accepting ourselves, becoming less judgmental. Your life experience and how that changes us. I just believe that as we age we can become a more beautiful person.”
If you are struggling with issues related to the trauma of betrayal, check out Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group to help you explore issues of body image and self-esteem. As always, our Individual Sessions are also helpful in recovery and empowerment. If you have found the content helpful, please consider making a monthly donation. Each donation helps a women find safety and feel peace.
Until next time, stay safe out there.
Anne: Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery this is Anne. I am so excited for you to get to know Coach Jean. I will be interviewing her today on body image and this is a topic that is really close to Coach Jean’s heart and so I’m excited to hear what she has to say.
Coach Jean started coaching for Betrayal Trauma Recovery the fall of 2018 and so far, we have been so grateful to have her. She’s really helped bring peace to the women in Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group and also the women who work with her in individual sessions.
Coach Jean does individual sessions with women about body image and also talks with women in her group sessions. Welcome Coach Jean.
Jean: Thank you, I’m so excited to be here.
Anne: In general, why do you think that women struggle with body image issues?
Body Image Issues Effect Many Women
Jean: I heard someone say the other day that a woman growing up in today’s society is going to have body image issues. It’s just almost synonymous and I think there is several reasons for that. One is so obvious it’s our media. We’re so inundated with the definition that the media gives us for beauty. I’ve read that we can see up to 4000 images a day between advertisements, TV, Facebook, billboards, and like back in the 70’s it was 500 images and even 500 images seems like a lot. So, we can just see that we’re inundated with what we’re supposed to look like and in reality, only 1% of the population actually has the perfect model body. As we all know, those are then airbrushed before they even reach the media for our eyes to consume. So, that’s a huge part of it.
I also think that it’s important to look at how beauty was defined for you in your formative years by family of origin, friends, from schoolmates. That’s really valuable and then to look at how you were wounded in those areas. Body image wounds tend to follow a theme and sometimes tend to follow us through life. If there is one other area I would say I believe that God has created women to have a deep desire to be seen as beautiful and that’s not just an outward beauty it’s just the beauty of who we are as wives, as mothers. The beauty that only a woman can bring to the world, but evil has just so distorted that and abused that and just made it all about outward beauty and I just feel like we as women are so under attack today.
Anne: Yeah, I’ve definitely felt that in my life. Comparing myself to media images that I see and other people around me is difficult and I know that you want to talk about that a little bit later. There’s also this betrayal piece that is really intense. That really harms women’s body image. What is it about betrayal that drives these messages so much deeper and how did it affect you personally?
Body Image Is Important For Confidence
Jean: Anybody that’s been through betrayal, which is much of our listening audience, we all can say so intimately and personally what betrayal does to us but it’s really a complete and outright assault on who we are as women in every area of our lives. It’s a mental, it’s physical, it’s spiritual, it’s emotional and I believe it’s the most intimate betrayal of all but speaking of body images issues it’s actually a betrayal of our bodies. So, of course we take that personal. Of course, that’s going to affect our body image. It can drive those messages from our childhood, those wounds from our past, just so deep into the core of our being.
The sad thing too is that I feel like before betrayal there might be somethings that we actually felt good about our body, that we felt confident about, and then betrayal actually attacks those as well. Old wounds are opened up and then we receive new wounds. Part of the healing process of working through betrayal trauma is really beginning to understand that sexual betrayal is not about us and it’s not about our bodies. At first that’s so hard for women to accept and believe but again that’s part of the healing process.
Now, you mentioned that comparison has been a problem for you and boy can I ever agree with that in my own life. Comparison has been something I’ve struggled with. For a while it was difficult for me to be in public either with my husband or without him. So, yeah, when I would see attractive women in public I felt incredibly traumatized by that. I literally felt like my husband had just 5 minutes before that had had sex with that women and then the next one and the next one. It really was difficult for me to go out into public for a while and watch TV because I just felt like I did not measure up.
Body Image Issues Can Be Reinforced After Trauma
Then another area that it affected me as far as body image is after moving through a little bit of recovery process, once my husband and I began to become intimate again, it literally took me six months Anne before I could completely participate in intimacy unclothed because I was just so traumatized and felt so negative about my body.
Anne: It’s really difficult. With that, what are some of the common message’s women believe after betrayal and do you think these messages that they either tell themselves or they hear from other people are contributing to their trauma?
Jean: Yeah, the messages that they tell themselves, I think they fall into two different categories, and they are either that I’m too much or I’m not enough. Like I’m too big, too small, too flabby, too old, too much cellulite, too tall, too short, I’m not sexy enough, I’m not pretty enough, I’m not thin enough. It just falls into too much or not enough and I think it also goes back and dredges up those wounds, those body image wounds, that we’ve had early on in our life. As well as I said before, it creates brand new wounds. Areas in our life that we felt confident in are now attacked and absolutely the things that people say to us, our husbands or other people, then just is an additional wound on top of that.
Betrayal Trauma Compounds Issues of Body Image
Anne: I’m in the two much category but I’ve had more about my personality than my body image. Like, my personality is too much, you know. So, what are some ways that you personally have begun to change your body image issues?
Jean: I will admit that that it is definitely still a struggle for me. It’s kind of an ongoing battle but I’ve also made a lot of progress in a lot of areas and there is a couple of different things. One is becoming aware of our negative body talk. Often, it’s just this dialog that goes on in our head that we’re not even aware of. Really beginning to work on gaining what I like to call body confidence. One of the ways for me personally that that really helped is, I’m going to say this, and people are going to go oh yeah isn’t that just the answer to everything, but for me this made a huge difference and it truly was gratitude.
When we’re really grateful that helps us really squelch that comparison trap that we can get into. Also, as I said before, understanding the wounds of our past through body image because much of the time those follow a theme and if I could just share a little personal story of something that happened to me as a middle schooler, I can illustrate this. When I was in middle school I was not in the popular crowd, right. I was shy and reserved and quiet, and I just didn’t quite fit in. One of the popular boys who had this little entourage of cronies that followed him around, he decided one day that he needed a new girlfriend and so he sent one of his little cronies to me and another girl separately saying that this popular boy was going to decide between the two of us in choosing a girlfriend.
Body Image Issues Can Be Helped
It’s so funny because he didn’t ask me if I wanted to be, he just assumed that I would just willing love this great honor right. So, this crony told me: I’ll come back to you in a couple of days after he’s made his decision. So honestly, I truly did not want to be his girlfriend because I was quiet and shy, and that just freaked me out, but I was just so flattered that somebody had noticed me and oh my goodness somebody noticed me. So, about 2 days later he came back, and he said: well, he’s made a decision. He’s chosen her over you. Part of me was just so relived because I didn’t want to be his girlfriend but the next thing he said to me was: he chose her because she has bigger boobs. Right there in that moment I made a mental agreement with that and I saw her as more valuable than me and then the sad thing that I did Anne is I actually said out loud to him: that’s okay, I understand.
I made this agreement that she was more valuable because of her breast size than I was, and one of the ways that gratitude helped me work through that is I carried that wound for years and years and years. Later in my adulthood one of my really good friends had a mastectomy from breast cancer and she was very open about her procedure and I was visiting her one day and she asked me if I wanted to see her scars. That was a real holy moment for me. First of all, that my friend would invite me into that pain, to see those scars, but in that moment of seeing that, oh my goodness I was like: oh! I need to be so grateful. Not just for that part of my body but for all of my body.
So, that had a profound impact on me. So, I really began that grateful journey of being thankful for my body and one of the ways though that really propelled that healing forward for me was I had for years bought that add-a-cup size bras, right. I’m not condemning those bras for anyone out there but for me personally, my own personal journey, I got to a point where I threw those all away. That was a huge step of healing to realize that I am not going to use these for me personally. That was a real confirmation that I had made progress in that area and that I was really was truly being grateful for the body that I have.
Positive Body Image Is Essential For Well-Being
Anne: Absolutely, that’s an awesome story. I love that you threw your bras away. That makes me really happy. I don’t wear a bra most the time as you guys heard. If you listeners haven’t heard my bra fitting episode it may or may not be triggery, but I wore the bra that I got in that bra fitting episode for, I don’t know, like a week maybe and I haven’t checked back in. I’m back to not wearing a bra.
Jean: Well, and just if I could add too, another area that I worked through is I started saying some believable affirmations to myself. For example, another area of body image that I struggled with is my legs and I’m a runner. I love to go for a run in the morning, but I was so critical of these legs that took me for a run and then one day, another little short story, is I was getting out of my car in the parking lot and I see a women and 3 or 4 kids getting out of a car and they’re helping her with a wheelchair. She gets out and slides into the wheelchair and she has only one leg. Oh! And again, I’m standing there thinking: you know what, I just went running this week and I’m so critical of my legs. This woman would just love to have my legs that have cellulite.
So, another step of realizing to be grateful, and then would you Anne like probably a year and a half later I’m at the same parking lot, it was Target, I get out of my car, I see that same women getting out of her car again and this time both of her legs are gone. Oh! My goodness, I’m like: how can I ever complain about my legs again? So, I began, I would get out of the shower and I would see my legs in the mirror. I appreciate my legs. They have served me well. I just went for a run this morning. So, believable affirmations and being aware of that negative body talk and really affirming those parts of the body that we’ve been attacking.
Healthy Body Image Can Be Cultivated
Anne: Uh huh. Now, that story reminds me of my son. So, he’s 9 now and we get a pass to an amusement park and a water park that are right near our home. It’s like 5 minutes away from where we live. He said to me one day: Mom, I don’t like going to this waterpark because so many of the women are in swimming suites, right, in bikinis specifically. He’s like: they’re in bikinis and I have to look at them and I feel uncomfortable. I said, because I don’t want to stop doing things with my kids, right, because there’s people there. So, I want my kids to be able to go places and do things and enjoy things.
He specifically said: they wear these bikinis that show their stomachs and I said: you know, what do you think their stomachs are for? He was like what do you mean? I said: why does a woman have a stomach and then I said: what would happen if a woman didn’t have a stomach? He was like: oh, well she wouldn’t be able to eat, and I said: yeah. What are her legs for? He was like: oh. What would a woman be without legs? He’s like: oh, they couldn’t walk, and I said yeah. I took him through every, basically every body part. What about their arms? What are their arms for? Oh, yeah, they need to move it around. So, I said: when you see a woman in a swim suit I don’t want you to think that the reason they have a stomach is for you to look at it. The reason they have a stomach is so that they can eat and move and so they have a torso, right.
He just turned on a dime. He was like: Mom, that makes so much sense. I said: even their breasts have a purpose, you know, babies eat, that’s how babies eat, right. I taught him that and then also that we need to give people who aren’t dressed their privacy. So, it’s his responsibility to turn his eyes away if someone isn’t properly dressed and give them their privacy, But I thought: this is a good lesson that we need to teach our sons. That the reason women have body parts is for the woman. You have legs so that you can walk, so that you can run, so that you can go to the grocery store, so that you can be a wonderful person. That’s why you have arms and legs. That’s why you have a stomach. That’s why you have a head. You do not have a body just so people can look at it. Your body is for you.
Body Image Issues Hurt
Jean: That is so powerful, and I think that really helps us to not objectify women. We as women can sometimes objectify other women as well and that’s just, that’s powerful.
Anne: Yeah. So, this question follows that idea. How can we begin to see ourselves as more than just our outward appearance?
Jean: That really does hold the key to our stories because as we age there is a battle over our appearance. It’s just going to get worse because our beauty is going to decline, or is it? Because I believe that our true appearance which involves inside and outside, who we are, who we show up to be, actually can become more beautiful as we age. Think about our wisdom, our life experience and confidence, accepting ourselves, becoming less judgmental. Your life experience and how that changes us. I just believe that as we age we can become a more beautiful person.
Anne, you had your mom on the podcast a couple weeks ago, and I’ve never seen your mom or met your mother, but what a beautiful person she came across as in the podcast. Just full of wisdom and kindness and compassion. That’s what real true beauty is. It’s a combination of who we are, and it comes out in our appearance and that’s what really people see.
Negative Body Image Issues Can Be Healed
Anne: Absolutely. One of the most intense emotional abuse episodes that happened with me was when my ex told me very calmly that he had been lying to me every time he said I was beautiful. That I was not beautiful and that he couldn’t lie anymore. And I said to him: that’s not true. I am beautiful. You’re full of crap. He said: well, I just mean your personality makes you ugly. That hurt more than anything because it was like: wait a minute. So, you physically think I’m cute or whatever but now you’re saying that you really, genuinely, hate me? You know, that’s basically what he was saying. That was a few months before his arrest, but things really took a turn after that. It was like: if he’s willing to just not acknowledge in any way shape or form that he appreciates me as a humane being, because that’s basically what it’s saying to a woman if you tell her: no, you’re not beautiful, right?
It’s saying: your personality, your wisdom, your strength, I don’t like anything about you. I think he said it on purpose to really, really hurt me and never took it back, never really acknowledged that it happened. Then, when I told other people he had said that he gaslit me and said: no, that’s not what happened. That’s not what I said, that’s not what I meant. I was like: that’s exactly what you said and exactly what you meant and never took accountability for it or did anything about it. Then, eventually, you know, now we have no contact, but I think about that and how I fought him basically and said: that’s not true, I am beautiful and if you don’t think I’m beautiful then that’s your problem. Like, you’ve got a serious problem that you hate your wife apparently.
Jean: So, I want to add something too. Something that I read about seeing your body as a container. A container in a vehicle. So, reframing our thoughts that our bodies are really a container for our EQ (our emotional intelligence), our IQ (which is our intelligence), our DQ (which is our gut and our intuition), which as betrayed women has been so damaged, right. As we go through this journey and gain that back and we become empowered and we speak our truth, find our voice. That can be such a powerful thing.
Body Image Issues Come From Unhealed Wounds
As were seeing our bodies as vehicles that takes us for a run, right. All of our gifts are expressed through our bodies. So, if we play the piano or we are an artist, an athlete, our bodies are how we express our gifts. It’s our container, and then for women of faith to realize that bodies are actually our container for God’s spirit, and if we can begin to believe how valuable He says we are, that he calls our body his temple and he dwells in us. Wow! That to me is just so, so powerful. So, if we can begin to stop viewing our bodies as the enemy and start viewing our bodies with love and respect, how would we show up differently if we truly believed that if who we are is actually what truly makes us beautiful.
Anne: Uh huh, yeah. Absolutely. So, Jean you have so much wisdom about body image. If a woman chooses to do a 1-on-1 session with you on body image what can she expect.
Jean: Well, one of the things that we want to look at is out thoughts. As I said, that negative body talk, what’s that dialogue, that silent dialogue that’s going on in your head that you’re not even aware of? Because if we can change our thoughts about our body it’s going to begin to change how we feel about it. It’s going to change our actions. Then it’s going to lead to the results and we’re going to show up differently. We’re definitely going to work on the gratitude and the how does God see us piece, but that sounds all really great, how are you going to do that?
Healthy Body Image Can Be Learned
Well, one of the things is to, as we’re becoming aware of that negative body talk, we’re not going to try and change that right off the bat. We’re going to just kind of do a brain dump and write down the negative things that we say that we’re not even aware of as we’re getting ready in the morning. Just becoming aware of those and writing them. So, we’re going to look at how beauty was defined for you as a child and how you were wounded and what agreements you made with those wounds. Grieve those and then make a timeline about our wounds because often what you will see is our wounding has a theme. Then take it right into your betrayal story because not only are your old wounds torn open again, you’re receiving brand new ones and really look at that and grieve that.
Then, we’re going to think about how we can reframe that. How can we come up with a new vision? We’re going to look at a women’s if-then’s. The if-then’s are this: if only I was thin then my husband would love me or if only I looked like that porn star then he would stop looking at porn. We’re going to look at our if-then’s and we’re going to change them to I am. Like, I am grateful for my legs because they have served me well. We’re going to cross out those old messages that we have written down and we’re going to come up with new believable affirmations.
Then I think again back to the gratitude thing. The gratitude is just so important to help us not only squelch the comparison but really begin to accept our bodies as they are. Then another thing if we are women of faith I just think scripture is so powerful to look at scripture to see how God thinks we are. Like Psalm 139. It’s a beautiful passage that talks about how we are beautifully and wonderfully made. Other scripture talks about that we’re the apple of His eye, that He sings over us, that we’re His beloved. So, that’s a huge piece of it as well.
Body Image Issues Are Painful
If we can ask: if I was truly grateful for my body and believed about who I am and who I’m becoming is what really makes me beautiful, how would I show up differently? What would I do differently? What would that give me the courage to accomplish? Really develop that body confidence and have that vision of how would I be different if I felt differently about my body and who I am?
There is a journal out there called One Line A Day. It gives you a couple of lines for each day of the year where you can just write things that you’re grateful about. I think that could be super powerful and another book that I’m currently reading is called 1000 gifts by Ann Voskamp and it’s not about body image but it’s about being grateful. It is written from a Christian perspective so if people are interested that is a really powerful book.
One last quote to leave you with. It’s a quote by Dr. Seuss that I actually printed out and put on my wall and it’s: “Today you are you, that is truer then true.”