Did you give up on your fantasy body image? Then it’s time to get started with grief work and body image!
Today I want to talk about the hugely important role of grief on the body neutrality journey.
Grief is central to the body image healing work most of my clients do, and one of the most important tools I believe exists when it comes to body acceptance.
So let’s talk for a moment about what grief is, and what it isn’t.
Grief is not depression, wallowing, moping, complaining, or self-pity. It can accompany those things, but in its purest form grief is just a deep sorrow or sadness over the loss of something precious.
When it’s allowed to move through a person freely, grief is also a bridge from before to after that loss. Grief is the boat taking you from the old shore in which that thing existed, and the new shore, in which that thing is gone.
Grief is a shuttle, moving you from the past to the present.
Perhaps you know someone who seems stuck in the past. I always think of the stereotypical popular high school jock who felt that he was destined for athletic greatness… but then went on to live an average life in an average town. This man tends to retell stories from “back in the glory days” to anyone who will listen, tries to “get the old gang back together,” and is clearly a bit disappointed or embarrassed with how life turned out.
Listening to this person might make you sad. It’s clear this person hasn’t taken the grief shuttle out of the past and into the present. They haven’t let their heartbreak for what they’ve lost, and as such, they’re either still back there, or still haunted by an alternative version of how life was “supposed to be.”
When we resist grief, we find ourselves constantly ruminating, feeling stuck, feeling frustrated or unhappy, always comparing and criticizing, a feeling of dissatisfaction or victimhood, always wishing for a different or better reality.
On the flip side, what happens when we allow ourselves to grieve?
When we properly grieve our losses, we are able to fully let them go and move on. Grieving means we let our hearts break; we feel everything and don’t try to “cheer up” or “think positive.” We acknowledge the significance of what we have lost, and let the whole thing roll through us, breaking us open physically and emotionally.
On the other side of grief there tends to be joy, peace, and acceptance. Instead of “I wish things were different,” grief helps us experience reality clearly so that we can say “this is how things are.”
For those of us who are highly sensitive feelers, learning to grieve tends to be even more important.
I had a client recently tell me that she never thought about her childhood because it was too sad. I asked what was sad about it, since she had otherwise described a fairly happy childhood. “It’s just so unbearably sad that it’s gone,” she responded.
If you are especially sensitive, the passing of time itself may break your heart; the fragile and temporary nature of human life itself might require grief. That’s ok. You were born to feel all the things deeply. Me too. I see you, and grief will likely plan an even more important in your body image healing journey.
So what is there to grieve when it comes to body image?
The biggest loss most people experience as they move out of diet culture, beauty culture, body obsession and control, body anxiety, and negative body image, is the loss of their “dream body,” and what that dream body represented.