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Yeah…Immaeatthat

May 15

On seeing a photo of yourself and not liking how you look.

All the photos I used in this post are ones that caused some judgement to pop up in my head when I saw them.

One of the biggest aha moments I had when getting away from disordered eating was that taking care of myself doesn’t guarantee thinness.  In this past post I talked about how since fat isn’t valued in the culture we live in, I don’t think I’ll ever look in the mirror and think, “omgsh I love that fat on my arm.”  Or, “I love the way there is cellulite on that part of my thigh.”

That said, I believe that you (and me) deserve to have a positive opinion of yourself that does not change when you see a photo of yourself.  Seeing yourself in a photo or in the mirror and mainly only seeing your body size is likely a sign your body size is over-identified as who you are.

Seeing a photo of myself that I don’t love doesn’t change anything.  For a second my brain might say something judgemental but then I remind myself I’m gonna keep taking care of myself and I know that doesn’t guarantee I’ll end up in x sized body, but it does allow me to be free of wasting my time trying to become smaller when I’m not meant to be smaller.   And it’s worth saying that being content with the body you have, doesn’t mean you are being complacent and not taking care of your body.

I feel like so many women don’t do the work they need to, to feel comfortable in their bodies.  Day after day they just keep going to the comfort of criticizing their bodies. Something I heard Jennifer Rollin say one time is that, “body-bashing is like that pair of comfortable yoga pants you put on at the end of a long day, it’s a coping mechanism.”  Instead of going to body bashing, I challenge you to unearth what else is bothering you or stressing you out that you are blaming your body for.

Blaming and hating your body is a way to cope with being in a broken world who values thinness more than they value health.  But you and your body are not the problem.  We live in a broken world that doesn’t want you to accept fat on your body.  A society who wants you striving for thinness, but thin isn’t what all of us are called to be.  It can be nearly impossible to treat yourself well when you are told your body is not okay.  And if you are the one telling yourself your body is not okay…your brain might be a tiring place to live.

3 takeaways:

  1. You deserve to have an opinion of yourself that doesn’t involve your body size. 
  2. Seeing a photo of yourself/reflection you don’t like is an opportunity to choose to be kind to yourself. 
  3. Photos or mirrors should be viewed as tools of acceptance and an opportunity to practice kindness, not tools of change. 

The question I have for you to reflect on or comment on below is: There is emotion, meaning, and function attached to disordered behaviors that makes behavior change so difficult.  What is the emotion/meaning/function behind criticizing your body size?

45 comments on “On seeing a photo of yourself and not liking how you look.”

  1. I have been a reader since last year and you have been one of the main reason’s for my recovery from orthorexia. This post really struck me hard because photos of my body that I didn’t like were the start of my ED. Growing up, I was surrounded by many women and not one moment did I ever here “I love my body.” It was always complaining about or shaming their imperfections. In no way do I blame them as it is a societal teaching which is very hard to undo. It’s a long journey but people like you really give me hope that we will be able to escape the trap of diet culture and body shame.

  2. I absolutely love the way you write. Your posts have inspired me ever since I have been trying to move away from the disordered eating that consumed my life for the past 2 years. That last picture definitely made me smile, because I can just tell that you two will have a lovely mother-daughter relationship. :)
    To answer the question, criticizing my body has been “stress relief” in a very distorted way. If I feel anxious about something, I criticized my body way more than usual, and that would feel like a way for me to distract me from actually paying attention to how I was feeling. For a moment it felt cathartic because it felt like I could control my body size my restrictive eating behaviors or over-exercise. While I am still in the middle of trying to figure out my feelings towards my body, I am learning that the negative feelings have nothing to do with my body, but just the uncertainty and confusion that I feel about the changes my body is undergoing as I gain weight. Especially because my disordered eating stemmed from negative body image, it has been quite the journey learning to accept the weight gain, and understand that self compassion doesn’t look like thinness. Taking care of myself doesn’t look like thinness. And my body deserves the same level of care whether I feel anxiety, stress, or any other feelings that actually have nothing to do with my body.
    Thanks again for your posts. <3

  3. Whew. I cried the whole way through this post. I couldn’t relate more to this post and I felt it deep. Criticizing my body makes me feel like a hurricane. Like, I’m so wound up in anger or shock (I really looked like that when this photo was taken?!). It takes soooo much work to calm the hurricanes that is me.

  4. Thank you for this post. Though I have come a long way in my disordered eating recovery, there is more work to do.

    For me, the emotion/feeling behind my body bashing is anxiety and the anxiety around not being perfect. I never considered myself an anxious person until my therapist (LOVE therapy!!) named my anxiety. My lifetime of disordered eating and then orthorexia stemmed from a need to control my body as a coping mechanism for my anxiety. Now when I start thinking those old thoughts and body bashing, I try to stop and ask myself what I’m feeling anxious about. Then I try to cope with that anxiety in a way that is loving to my body.

  5. Thank you for this post – and for all the work you do. This is so important because we are all our own biggest critics. We are never _______ enough and that is what diet culture thrives on. That is what robs our self-acceptance, self-appreciation, self-worth, & self-love. Criticizing myself often is ED jumping into the picture – alerting me that this (how I look) is not okay and can be changed. I have learned like you also kindly reminded us that our self-reflection cannot be measure our value and worth. I am at a point in my life and recovery where this is where my body has to be and when I am criticizing my body I question – what function is this serving? Am I stressed, angry, upset? What emotions am I trying to numb? I often refer to the body image stuff as a work in progress, because it is and I think it always will be. I have learned to be vulnerable, be kind, and be gentle with myself (and that is not as easy as it sounds) but thank you for showing us that same vulnerability, gentleness, and kindness – you daughter is very lucky to have a strong, smart, and beautiful mom like you! 

  6. Criticizing myself makes me feel safe because I am not vulnerable to the criticism of others. I’ve already admitted I’m not —- enough. Damage done. No one can hurt me with that judgment any more than I’ve already hurt myself. I stay in control.

    • Wow. You put into words exactly what my answer would be. I struggle with pictures so much because I worry about what other people will think or say. So, I beat myself up more than anyone else ever could about it. 

      It’s also a huge stressor for me when any event, wedding, or vacation happens. I know pictures will be a big part of this events and I want to document the memories. So many trips have been ruined for at least a few minutes where I almost shut down with how upset I am about how a picture looks. It’s frustrating and something I continue working on. 

      • The truth At 62 years young, I understanding that beauty is on the inside. No matter what you weigh, if you have negative feeling about yourself it shows in everything about.. what has become most important is eating to be healthy and have energy. The posts here are great this lady is beautiful and her posts are encouraging..For my body build, top heave, broad shoulders and bone structure. I’m not designed to be 120 lbs. I’m short but can be perfect at 160 lbs and have energy to do what I have to do and have energy left over for doing what I love, helping others. In a family of petite women I could feel bad about myself but I don’t, lol. God made me what and how I’m supposed to be. IT GIVES ME JOY TO SEE THAT THE GENERATIONS BEHIND MINE ARE BEGINNING TO SEE THE EXCELENCE OF BEING YOURSELF. LOVE, KINDNESS ACCEPTING, AND NON JUDGEMENTAL OF OTHERS, I wanna be that girl. Thanks for sharing.

    • Most of the pictures I’vs seen when I’ve liked my body most are when my life was actually falling apart, and the physical effects of anxiety were the reasons behind my weight loss.  Then there’s the thought, well, everything in life seems like chaos, but at least I know how to control something … my weight.  Sadly, there has been solace in that, even though I’ve known it’s unhealthy.

    • This is EXACTLY my life. You described so perfectly one of the (many) ways I try to maintain control. I’m glad I’m not alone. Sending you lots of compassion Emily!

  7. Everything about this is so so helpful. I feel like this can often be the last step in recovery or one that comes later. You start to eat intuitively, workout intuitively but still don’t accept that truly healthy eating and moving habits (healthy for your mental/emotional/physical health) don’t necessarily equate to a smaller body, and that’s ok!

  8. I think it’s fear more than anything. Fear that I won’t be happy in my body, fear that I will never be found attractive or loavable in my body.

  9. I wish every female in the entire world would read the worlds you so eloquently write. I have learned so much. I am more balanced with food +exercise because of you and what you stand for. One thing regarding pictures, I have never ever liked a photo of myself and become anxious when a camera comes out around me. I like to be the one taking the picture to ensure I’m not in it. I recently went to a funeral where there was a long slideshow of pictures and memories of this persons life. I’m pretty sure not one single person in the room was casting judgement on the persons size, or how perfect or imperfect he or anyone else in the picture looked. Everyone was smiling reflecting on the particular memory and/or how much love they had for the person. It made me realize (in a big way) how I want my family to have those memories of me. I want to be in the pictures too. I want them to be seen and passed down. And what I look like TO ME is selfish and doesn’t matter. It does not hold value because those around us who love us WANT to see us for who we are.

    Sorry for the lengthy response. But I have had 3 pictures taken of me ( by my husband)playing with our little boy outside since that funeral. I love to look at them. I have such a fresh perspective and the best part… I didn’t even cast any judgement on myself.

    Thanks for what you do!

  10. Kylie, I adore all of your blog posts. However, photos of myself were the MOST challenging acceptance piece in recovery, and you talk about it so perfectly. I have tried to appreciate photos for the experience being captured and tried not to criticize how I look. Your perspective is spot on. Thank you thank you 

  11. This is such a great post! I love this quote : “being content with the body you have, doesn’t mean you are being complacent and not taking care of your body.” I feel like that’s one criticism of IE/HAES that I always read. People think that loving yourself and accepting your body and taking care of your health aren’t connected which is so backwards!

  12. Thank you so much for this post.

  13. Brilliant post, thank you Kylie

  14. Thank you for writing this post!! I needed this encouragement today.

  15. I think everyone can relate to this feeling at some point in their lives. I get really caught off guard by it when I feel like I’m happy with how I look, and how I see myself in the mirror, then I’ll see a tagged photo and think “woahh is that how others see me?” and it ignites a lot of self-criticism and doubt. With social media and picture-perfect people being almost unavoidable, it can be HARD to see yourself unfiltered, unedited, etc. Thanks for writing this post, it serves as a great reminder of what’s important :)

  16. My body has changed a lot in pregnancy. The emotion I attach to it is a feeling of being out of control. However, the little guy in the driver’s seat is SUPER cute, so I remind myself of that.

  17. This blog post was the first thing I read after I woke up this morning. After a really tough few days ( filled with insecurity and self loathing), this has really lifted my spirits and given me hope! Thank you :) 

  18. I’ve been struggling with photos of myself so badly recently. It takes constant effort and reminders in order to NOT fall into the trap. I needed to read this. Thank you so much for your reminder today :)

  19. Hi Kylie! I am a fairly new registered dietitian just coming in to this world of intuitive eating and disordered eating. I love what you are doing and I am shifting my career focus to these areas because I think they are so important and are so relevant now more than ever. Sometimes I even think about all that school I went through to be a dietitian and I get frustrated that I spent two semesters in medical nutrition therapy classes but never once heard the term intuitive eating (insert mild eye roll). Body dissatisfaction and disordered eating are in my opinion are the hidden “obesity epidemic.” We are so focused on fighting fat rather than promoting self care that we are creating more and more eating disorders. Ugh sigh it makes me sad and I could go on forever but you are wonderful and I look to you as a virtual mentor.

    I definitely have those pictures I hate and I am still working on loving my own body. TBH I think my body and weight dissatisfaction comes from doctors visits where I was told I was close to being “overweight” according to their growth chart and I needed to watch what I was eating…at like the age of 10. I mean….it’s insane and so sad but that’s where my anxiety about scales and my weight stemmed from for so many years and there is definitely still some of that anxiety and dissatisfaction inside me that I think about when looking at some pictures.

    • YES. I’m about to finish my dietetic internship, but I almost left the field when I felt like I was drowning in learning about diets and the focus on the “perfect diet”. So glad I found blogs like this to teach me about the entirely other side of dietetics.. and the fact that a “perfect” diet doesn’t exist! I can’t wait to implement more intuitive eating in wherever I end up!

  20. I think, for me, as an almost-33 year old single, I’m looking for meaning behind why I am still single (“I’m too fat”). I use it as an excuse or a crutch not to pursue relationships – romantic or otherwise – out of fear of rejection.
    While I know deep down that my identity and worth is not rooted in my body size, it is still deeply ingrained in me. I’d like to say it’s something I feel I can control, but honestly, it feels often out of my control.
    There is one picture I remember looking at a couple years ago that still stands out in my mind. “That’s what I look like?! They must really think I’ve let myself go…” It really shook me, but I’ve since asked myself “So? Why does it matter? Am I any less capable of doing my job/being a friend/pursuing my dreams?”
    I am a work in progress, as are we all, but I’m so glad to be on this journey!

    • I’m also struggling with being single and never having had a boy even like me. If I’m not careful it can cause me to become bitter and blame the way my body looks as an outlet for my frustration. But in all honesty I know that the way I look has very little to do with my relationship status because I’ve observed that people of all different shapes and sizes can have someone fall in love with them and be happily married.

  21. Kylie – thank you so much for writing this post. There is so much wisdom contained here. There have been times when I was genuinely happy and then I see a picture of that moment and the happy memories are pushed aside for judgement of my body, but thankfully that happens less and less. Conversely there are many photos (mostly displayed at my parents) when I was much thinner and I look good and have to remind myself how incredibly miserable I was spending every ounce of energy obsessing about my weight and food. I am happy that these lessons are sinking in – and I only wish I could explain the above to my parents who unfortunately still harbor the hope of me being thinner 

  22. You do such a good job of showing so many people, including me, a better way to live!!  It seems like the struggles you have gone through have happened to make you into someone who does so much good in helping others. 

  23. I love your honesty here, Kylie! I remember awhile ago you mentioning that takeaway #2 about how every photo is an opportunity to be kind to yourself and I have used that motto ever since <3

  24. Thank you for being so genuine about your 100% commitment to IE/HAES. I think having an unflattering photo trigger a spiral of negative self-talk is something that a lot of people struggle to cope with (myself included). In the blog/internet world it seems that every photo has been edited, ‘touched up’, or retaken 1000x to make the subject of the photos look ‘perfect’. So thank you for reminding me that everyone has unflattering photos and that you probably are a much harsher critic of yourself than anybody else. Being able to acknowledge the photo, and move on with out it impacting you is an inspiration!.

    P.S. I love the last photo, it captures a wonderful moment between you and Jojo, I can almost hear the baby giggles!

  25. I needed this so much right now, thank you! I’ve been struggling with this one, but no one really talks about it. I’ve recovered from BED, gotten over orthorexia, learned to exercise regularly in a way that feels good to me, and to have self-compassion through all of it….but the one thing I’m struggling to overcome is seeing myself in pictures! It shocks me almost every time, and sends me right back to wondering if I should actively try and lose weight again. That’s the easier route, right? Since it would protect me from judgment. But it’s not the most fulfilling right. So every time I feel that way, I go deeper into the work.

  26. Omg yes I totally know that experience of seeing yourself in a photo and disliking the way you look! I think for me it’s rooted in fear i’m not good/pretty/thin (etc) enough.. So happy you wrote this, it’s good knowing i’m not the only one who doesn’t always like how they look in pictures. 

  27. I am so thankful for this post! I have struggled most of my life with looking at myself in pictures. I grew up in a family where my mom always criticized her body, the way she looked in pictures, etc. As an adult, I am always behind the camera. I guess it’s a good way for me to avoid being in the pictures. My ED voice kicks in loud and clear when I do look at myself in a photo. In my recovery work I have unraveled that my anxiety plays heavily on this, coupled with society and comparison. I now realize I’m missing out. When looking back there are very few pictures of me and my kids or me and my husband and that saddens me. Thank you for the courage to be vulnerable. I am setting a goal for myself around this! I want my kids to have pictures of their mother!

  28. Cried my way through this post too. EXACTLY what my heart needed to hear and I know for certain it was a God thing. We are in Europe right now and have been having the best time on vacation and after seeing a picture of myself where I hated how I looked that is all I have been thinking of when taking other pictures, getting dressed for the day, sitting on the subway, really anything. It’s so overwhelming and awful and I went to Instagram on a short rest break we had and saw your story and my eyes welled up with tears. THANK YOU FOR THIS ❤️

  29. I needed this post SO MUCH today. I put on some capris from last summer and they were too tight. I think that thoughts about my body distract me from worrying about other things in my life: will we have enough money to pay the bills? Are my husband and I doing okay? etc.

  30. Wow.  It’s so true that we don’t live in a culture that values something other than ‘thinness.’  I was never meant to be thin, and I think having myself surrounded by/soaked in people who promote that acceptance of your body no matter what size is REALLY helpful.  

  31. This is a really interesting question. I’ve never thought to identify the feeling(s) behind my self-criticisms. I guess I’m just blaming my body for not being “right”, and I think criticizing it sort of makes me feel productive. Like at least I’m aware of the things I need to “fix”. Sometimes I’ll do things that combat disordered eating habits (like eating white bread/any bread), but then I’ll feel bad about it later and it’ll just weigh on me for the rest of the day or until I work out. Then I’ll think that at least feeling bad encouraged me to work out and now I’ve made up for it.

    Thanks for a great post. 

  32. Well this is beautiful! I used to (for the most part) criticize my body imagine in front of others to beat them to the punch. Turn it into a joke where I still feel safe. Body imagine is so interesting. I can see these beautiful pictures of you and not have a second thought past “this mama loves her girl” but yet you can criticize your pictures, and same for me. I’ve hiked deep into a Puerto Rican rainforest to see a beautiful waterfall for my 5 year anniversary and deleted the one picture immediately after someone took it because I didn’t like the way I looked. I can realize now how big of a low that was. Thank you for you’re work, we are both beautiful. ❤️❤️❤️

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  34. I love this. I felt so encouraged last summer when I saw a picture of myself with my boys and the first thing I noticed was the look I was giving my son, not my body size. I still struggle when I see pictures I don’t like, but I try to reserve judgement. I need to get better at asking people to take pictures of me with my kids because I want to remember that I was there for their lives, not that I was busy criticizing my body. I definitely still struggle, but after battling through chronic illness and PPD and doing a TON of therapy, I find that micromanaging my body size isn’t as helpful of a coping strategy as it used to be, now I just know that those thoughts are my little “alert” for something else going on. Ain’t nobody got time for counting calories – I’ve got more important things to do (but seriously, how did so much of my brain space used to be numbers??)

  35. I was ecstatic when I saw your email regarding this blog post. I feel like I so deeply resonate with it and actually keep a certain photo out constantly that I actually remember crying when I saw at first (because of how fat I thought my face looked). What is sad to me is how beautiful I happen to think I look in the photo today; how smiley and in love I seem with life and my significant other in the photo. It pains me to remember the time I cried Arby’s that photo and wanted to delete it from my life. But that’s why I must keep it out in plain sight to remember how I have changed from my ED life and disordered ways of thinking and try to remind myself to embrace every moment and not let me get bogged down with those behaviors again. Thank you so much for your post. it really meant a lot to read. I also love how you attached your photos that you didn’t like to the post. It made it that much more immersive and really demonstrates how nitpicky we are of ourselves as if we can’t ever not look 100% perfect constantly. 

  36. Oh my gosh. I LOVE this and it really couldn’t have come at a better time for me. Over the weekend, I went on a hike with a friend. My body was actually in good enough shape for the hike (shape meaning physically I could complete the hike). However, my friend was considerably thinner than me AND I haven’t actually attempted a hike like this since vowing to never diet again. We took lots of photos during the day and I won’t lie… looking at the photos prompted me to have negative thoughts. HOWEVER, through much of the recovery work I’ve done, I was able to identify these thoughts as just thoughts. They don’t mean anything about my body or about me. I also can acknowledge that I had a great day and a great time on the hike and society’s view of what my body “should” look like shouldn’t take away from my experience. I look at those photos and even though I see a bigger body than I’ve been used to in the past, I also know how much work and emotional drain it was taking for me to be in a smaller body. Thanks for this reminder!

    • Thanks for commenting, Amber<3 I already posted about this on Stories today, but Marci Evans (http://marcird.com/) sent out a great email where she said that having negative body image thoughts will happen and it’s okay. Here’s exactly what she said because I thought it was SO GREAT.

      “While we would all like to never feel badly about our bodies ever again, that goal is problematic and not at all possible. Our bodies don’t conform to beauty standards – they get sick or injured, and they change with age. Getting “rid of” negative body image is sort of like setting the goal to never feel sad, disappointed, grief stricken, or angry every again. It’s a nice fantasy but not at all reality. Instead, this process is really about developing skills to support yourself through moments that feel painful. But as it turns out, cultivating things like insight, mindfulness, self-compassion, critical thinking skills, and a values-driven life typically helps to turn the volume down on the feelings of body hatred.”

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