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Body Image: Deciding What is a Perfect Body

By Arlene F. Harder, MA, MFT

Women constantly struggle with body image. We are concerned about our weight, about whether our size and shape is acceptable to others, failing to accept ourselves and, too often, struggling with an eating disorder. This page helps you explore the origins of your body image and, perhaps through the questions it raises, help you recognize that size has nothing to do with self-worth, unless you give it power to determine self-acceptance..

". . . No matter what has happened in her life, a woman has the power to change what that experience means to her and thus change herself both emotionally and physically. Therein lies her healing."

— Christine Northrupp, MD

How much does your body fit the image of what a perfect body should look like? If you are at all like the vast majority of women, you expend a great deal of energy comparing yourself unfavorably with what our culture says our size and shape "should" be. After all, it's pretty hard to feel okay about your body (let alone feel terrific) if you're a size 14 when size 12 is considered a "large" size—although 70% of women wear size 12 and up. This is not to diminish the reality that obesity is a major health risk in our society. We're not even talking gross over-weight here. We're just pointing out the reality vs. our mass fantasy.

Therefore, it's no wonder so many women are obsessed (and often depressed) about their bodies. This is why we are glad the The Real Women Project has given us permission to print a list of questions they created to help you explore this important topic. This group is devoted to redefining "real beauty" and wants to help women recognize their inherent beauty, dignity and capacity for transformation. Especially if you are caught in the web of unrealistic expectations of what is beautiful, we hope Learning Place Online (LPO) can help you begin to shift to a more comfortable and realistic view.

BulletWho in your life has made you feel the most beautiful physically and what did they do or say?

What statements would you make to these people today?

BulletWho contributed most to your feeling uneasy and dissatisfied with your body and what did they do or say?

What statements would you make to these people today?

BulletWhat are your beliefs about what life is like for the "culturally-defined" gorgeous woman?

What experiences do you think these women have that you do not?

Would you trade places with them if you could?

How do you imagine your life would change if you looked like them?

BulletIf you could change something about your body, what would you change?

How do you imagine this change would impact your life?

BulletWhen in your life did you start comparing yourself to other women?

How much of your time and energy goes into these comparisons?

Do the comparisons create positive or negative energy for you?

BulletHow much time in your life have you spent thinking about changing, promising to change, wishing you could change aspects of your body?

If you could have all that energy back, where would you direct it?

BulletHas your physical appearance brought on welcome or unwelcome advances from men?

How has that affected your relationship with your body today?

How has that affected your relationship with men?

How has that affected your feelings of sexuality?

BulletHow do you feel when a woman much smaller than you starts talking about how fat she is or how she just has to lose a few pounds?

How do you feel about her and how does it make you feel about yourself?

What do you do with those feelings?

BulletWhat woman had the greatest impact on you growing up?

How much of her influence was related to her size?

How much of your appreciation of her had to do with her size or shape?

BulletWhat are the three most important messages your mother or father taught you about physical beauty, size, shape?

Do you still believe these messages?

Are they good or harmful for you?

BulletDid you know very large women when you were growing up?

Was their size discussed?

How did you feel about what was said about their size?

How did you relate these statements to yourself?

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