Why do women hate themselves so much?

Recently, Glamour Magazine did a survey of approximately 300 women asking them to share their thoughts about their bodies.  The survey focused primarily on body image and the types of thoughts women have when thinking about their bodies.  Surprisingly, or perhaps not, 97% of the women reported having at least one “I hate  my body” moment.  Even more specifically, the survey found that, on average, women have at least 13 negative body thoughts daily, and that many report having upwards of 100 hateful thoughts about their bodies each day.

It is a shame that it has come to this, but it has become acceptable in society for women to put themselves down, especially when it comes to their bodies and appearance.  In fact, women who like their bodies become the odd woman out.  Sadly, it is more acceptable to think negatively about yourself than to accept or praise your appearance.  Additionally, it seems that, since we have all of these negative thoughts (often starting at a very young age), our neural pathways become hardwired to think negatively.  The negative view of our bodies and ourselves becomes habitual.  You can liken it to an gymnast who trains consistently to complete a certain trick.  Her neural pathways become trained in a certain way, hardwiring her brain to be able to accomplish the trick automatically. The negative thoughts become the automatic ones; the ones that we go to immediately when feeling badly or questioning a situation.

The interesting thing is if women were to hear these thoughts coming from someone else, they would view them as degrading.  The same standard does not apply to the thoughts they have about themselves, however.  And in turn, these thoughts can be very damaging.  Self-invalidation is incredibly powerful.  It can cause women to question their capabilities in many domains and can cause them to doubt themselves and their abilities.  That’s a lot of what we are seeing in these comments. The invalidation of oneself can really promote self-hatred, which can lead to a great many other problems, like depression, anxiety, substance use: things that will help to modulate emotion, albeit not always in a healthy way.

The survey also found that women who had dissatisfaction in other areas of their lives, such as in their careers or relationships, often tended to report more negative body thoughts than those who were satisfied in those areas.  It’s clear that general unhappiness is a significant factor in how women feel about their bodies, even more so than what their bodies look like.  Self-disgust may not be related to a woman’s body at all.  In fact, if a woman is dissatisfied in other areas, it will increase her dissatisfaction with her body.  Essentially, a woman’s default is to take it out on herself rather than really look at the issue that may be creating it.  If a woman feels embarrassed by something that she said in a meeting, she may shift the focus to how ill-fitting her shirt is because she is overweight.  People tend to avoid dealing with emotions, as they are difficult to identify and manage.  The emotions do come out eventually, though, through different behaviors or actions.  Women turn the emotions inward and get really down on themselves, taking it out on their body rather than managing the emotion.

It’s also important to highlight what situations can trigger the negative emotions for women.  There are definitely some moments that are more likely to create intense negative feelings, which may create greater self-doubt and disgust than others.  Feeling negative emotions will trigger negative thoughts, especially loneliness and stress.  Social situations may create an increase in negative thinking, especially if there is any anxiety involved.  It seems that situations that trigger emotional responses or self doubt increase the likelihood that a woman will feel badly about her body.
There are some things to consider, however, that can help to stop this cycle  Here are four suggestions:

  • Retrain your brain: if you can train your brain to focus on the negative things and shift your neural repsonses to automatically default to the negative, then you can retrain your brain to focus on affirming, positive statements.  Make a list of all of the times during the day that you feel good about something you have done, and how you feel positively about your body.  This keeps it in the forefront of your mind and helps to rewire the neural pathways.
  • Identify the root of the problem: As stated, sometimes it isn’t about one’s body at all, although that does become the scapegoat.  Take a step back and try to identify what it is that created a sense of unease.  Ask yourself if it’s really about your body or about something else.  If it’s about something else, go about problem solving it. • Say Stop!: Envision a stop sign in your head when you default to the negative thinking.  This is a great thought blocking technique.  If you can say stop (literally say it to yourself) when the negative thoughts are starting, you can decrease their intensity.  Thoughts increase in intensity the more attention we give them.  If we can stop them before they go running, it will help our emotions stay in check and our sense of our body will be better.
  • Get active: Not only will you have the benefit of seeing a change in your body just because you are exercising, your endorphins will get triggered and that will improve your mood.  Only good things can happen if you are active!
  • At the end of the day, perhaps the most important thing to remember is to focus on your own strengths.  We all have them.  Identify yours and put your attention there.  Focus on all that you have to offer; find the positives in your life.  While feeling negatively about things makes it hard to feel good in your skin, the converse is also true.  The more positively you feel about your life and the things you can do and offer, the better you will feel about how you look.

Here’s a link to the segment I did on The Early Show with Erica Hill and Wendy Naugle, the managing editor of Glamour:
http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7358226n&tag=mncol;lst;4

 

 

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