This guest post comes to you from the amazing Robyn Hussa, who helps run We Are the Real Deal, a fabulous site for writings and conversations about body image, eating disorders, and the Health at Every Size movement. Read on for Robyn’s post.
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As a professional performer I experienced profound struggles with body image in my 20’s and 30’s. The pressure of having to be outwardly attractive in order to get a paycheck was excessively stressful. But my struggles didn’t begin in professional arenas alone. I remember being concerned about my body as a child in middle school and throughout high school. I was constantly comparing myself to my classmates or those around me. In addition, I am the sister of a 5-time Iron Man, so I have seen the ways body image issues and concerns cross over into athleticism and in the exercise communities. My colleagues and friends in their mid-30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s all share this common stress. No one, it seems, is happy with their body.
It is time; therefore, to undertake some serious body re-imaging. Not through surgery, botox, new products or potions, but through the mind’s eye.
Re-imaging our body has to begin from within.
In general, body image is a negative by-product of our being taught — through the media, through our culture, through our community — that body is the most important part of who we are. That WE are not good enough just on our own. That we must have a perfect body in order to be happy, successful or in order to find love.
According to a study of one teen adolescent magazine over the course of 20 years found that in articles about fitness or exercise plans, 74% cited “to become more attractive” as a reason to start exercising.
- 8 out of 10 women are not happy with their reflection
- More than 90 percent of girls (15 to 17) want to change one aspect of their physical appearance, with body weight ranking the highest.
- More than half of 10 year old girls wish they were thinner
It is entirely natural and normalized in our culture to obsess over body shape and weight. The common thoughts and messages seem to be: “if I make my body perfect, less fat, more muscular, more tan, perfectly pedicured … I will be more loved or accepted.”
According to WomensHealth.gov, we can start re-imaging our body by “changing the way we think about our body.” The Cleveland Clinic offers a few practical steps we can take to do that, including: 
- Define personal goals and inventory
- Set measurable goals
- Confront distorted thinking (for me, it was helpful to talk to a therapist regularly)
- Stop comparing yourself to others
- Develop your strengths
- Evolve self-acceptance
- Recite positive affirmations
Fascinating that a key to a healthy body image doesn’t have much – at all – to do with food or exercise. Yet the $40 billion dollar-a-year diet industry would like us to think otherwise.
I began re-imaging my concept of body when I began reflecting deeply on my values and goals and – especially – when I started feeling my feelings (as uncomfortable as they were), communicating my needs assertively, and practicing mindfulness or meditation on a daily basis. I also started noticing the number of times that people in my career, family and community commented on body or body dissatisfaction. I simply noticed the comments and took note NOT to emulate them.
Simultaneously, I had to work to literally change my thoughts about body. This took regular practice, but the thoughts eventually shifted. When I put on a pair of jeans and didn’t like my appearance, I reminded myself that my entire body is a metaphor for my overall health. That in this moment my body may be out of balance in one way or another (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually), and I can use those markers of imbalance as ways to learn even more about my truth in any given moment. I learned that when I keep my mind, soul and heart fed with the things that nourish them, my body finds its way to balance.
The more in touch with my values and morals that I became, the more I realized that giving back through volunteering or charity work was a crucial part of my Being. I am proud to point to projects (like the NORMAL nonprofit and www.thewalkinghospital.com) in which I am involved, and that link me to a greater universe and world view.
By giving myself permission to learn from my entire Being – not just from my body – I began my own body re-imaging revolution.
Photo via original post.
 Gullen & Barr. (1994) Journal of Adolescent Health, 15, 464-472. Courtesy of NEDA’s “Media, Body Image and Eating Disorders” at http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/nedaDir/files/documents/handouts/MediaBI.pdf
 Retrieved from http://www.womenshealth.gov/body-image/about-body-image/#pubs
 Retrieved from Cleveland Clinic at http://my.clevelandclinic.org/healthy_living/mental_health/hic_fostering_a_positive_self-image.aspx
Robyn Hussa, MFA, E-RYT, is Founder and CEO of NORMAL, for which she was awarded the 2010 Champion in Women’s Health award from Ms. Sue Ann Thompson and the Wisconsin Women’s Health Foundation. Ms. Hussa is also a professional performer and New York producer. She is the Editor of the WeAreTheRealDeal blog site and author of Healthy Selfitude.