Why Women Struggle with Negative Body Image and How to Support Them in Recovery

Body image is all about self-perception. It has nothing to do with external sources and all about how a woman sees herself from within herself. A distorted body image (negative) refers to how a woman believes others see her. With conditions like eating disorders, women can feel they are not looking good enough for certain reasons, or are not at the weight or height they want, or they desire a more fit body so they exercise more to achieve a perfect physique. Women struggle more than men with negative body images (though men also have their challenges) and some of it goes back to trauma from childhood and violence committed against them.  

Distorted Body Image Signs

A distorted body image is easy to spot for people who are looking for it. Unhealthy signs and symptoms of a negative body image can include some of the following:

  • Self-scrutiny
  • Watching themselves in mirrors or wherever their image appears like in windows
  • Thinking or speaking negative comments about the body and comparing themselves to others
  • Envy or self-shaming of their own body and desiring someone else’s (attainable or not)

The causes of negative body image can come from anywhere. Sometimes it happens through someone who is mentoring or offering support through athletics, performance-based activities, or group activities that require coaching. If negative comments and feedback are given enough, the woman may believe it and begin self-shaming.  

Body Weight and Image

A healthy weight for someone may be taken in a different way by someone else. Distorted body images change how a person views their bodies. In comparison to others, they may be too overweight or too skinny or too this or that, but it is not a realistic view of who they are. It is not uncommon for people who are considered obese to explain they did not realize they were that large and had perceived their body as much smaller until they saw themselves and felt shame about how they looked. Eating disorders are another way body image gets distorted. Often, it is early dissatisfaction with how they look that leads them to conclude losing weight would help how they look and make them feel better. Restrictive eating and over-exercising are often next, leading to patterns of weight obsession that turn into compulsive eating conditions that negatively impact their lives.  

Treatment and Recovery

Finding help for body image issues has to start with addressing multiple areas of the mind and body at once. A woman who has body images may have experienced trauma, may have mental health issues underlying the eating disorder, and may also have an addiction to deal with on top of the eating disorder or body image distortions. Recognizing and acknowledging how a woman feels will help them begin the journey of healing that is required to move forward. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be very helpful in identifying where thoughts are coming from, look at them, then turn them around into positive statements. Inside a woman’s head are many arguments, disagreements, and challenging statements that make her think she is not worthy or capable of being loved as she is. CBT can help turn off the negative messaging tapes and begin to reroute those messages to healthier thoughts and statements, which can turn her body image issues around over time.  

Holistic Therapy

One of the other ways to help a woman with negative body image issues is to provide holistic therapies like dance and movement therapy. They support building greater trust and appreciation of their body, rather than evaluating their body on looks. Some of the ways a woman can become aware of her body are to externalize her thoughts through creativity like music, journaling, painting, and things that get her outside if her head and body. Theatre and improv are also great ways to improve in this way of being in the world. A key component of healing in recovery is to find the pathway that works, although many methods may be used to help get there. Women who are struggling with self-image need a multitude of approaches to support them in finding the best way forward from addiction to hope.  

Community and Family Support

What is often missing in the dialogue around a woman’s recovery is family and community support. Women are more likely to recover well from addiction and co-occurring issues if they have family and loved ones supporting them. Where family is dysfunctional, they may have to recreate the community that is sober and clean to keep them from relapsing. They may need additional support in aftercare to help them find housing, support any children they have, and keep them from backsliding into old habits once they leave rehab. Community and family support and key dynamics that help improve the recovery journey but it takes rebuilding those networks to support a woman so she can stay the course in her recovery for the long haul.

Casa Capri gives women permission to be vulnerable and find healing with other women who share their struggles. Whether it is body image, drug use, alcohol addiction, or something else, women are invited to come as they are. We approach recovery from a holistic perspective. If you are looking for community and connection in rehab, call Casa Capri today: 844-593-8020


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