Unexpected Causes of Negative Body Image

Unexpected Causes of Negative Body Image | Balanced Black Girl

Our bodies don’t always have it easy. Life can throw our bodies curveballs including injury, illness, ailment and discomfort. Then on top of it, we can throw our bodies curveballs including moving our bodies far too much, not moving our bodies enough, not feeding ourselves properly and negative self-talk.

Unexpected Causes of Negative Body Image | Balanced Black Girl

This time of year can be especially challenging, and a lot of negative feelings about body image can come creeping in. The temperatures are climbing, and unfortunately so are the pressures to inhabit a certain body type. A bikini body with toned arms, abs of steel and a perky, cellulite-free booty. Now, don’t get me wrong I’m not bikini body bashing. If wanting to feel confident on the beach is the motivation you need to get your workouts in or start eating a little better, then by all means. Do you boo. But when your self-worth gets wrapped into the process, it is time to slow down and re-assess.

I admit, the bikini body example is a little cliche. Sometimes, body image issues can stem from issues you wouldn’t expect. For me, some of my deepest body image struggles have stemmed from my job, and my feelings about my career path.

Body Image Root Cause

About a year after college, and one year into a job that I was less than happy about, I really started getting into my fitness routine. My morning workouts before work were what got me out of bed every morning and helped me cope with my anxiety I felt in social situations and at work. It was around this time I thought, “maybe I should become a trainer so I can help people feel better about themselves through fitness the way I do now.”

Famous last words.

In all transparency, I have never truly struggled with my weight. Sure, I went through phases in college where I went in a little too hard on the pizza and beer and got a little chubby. And about two years ago, I was pumping myself with so much fake protein that I packed on some extra weight that I wasn’t thrilled about, but I have never truly been overweight. When I first got into fitness and nutrition, it wasn’t necessarily to look better. It was to feel better. When I started in the “real world,” my daily grind made me feel useless, anxious and hopeless. Fitness helped me offset those feelings. I was completely addicted to the mental benefits. But when I decided to become a trainer, that all changed.

While I have never been overweight, I have never looked super “in-shape” either. I don’t look like an Instagram fitness girl. I don’t look like the Tone it Up girls. At the time, that is what success looked like. The differences in how my body looks when I work out regularly versus when I don’t are pretty minimal. That is just how my body is. But for someone who wanted to be taken seriously in a very vain and visual industry, I felt like my medium build and perpetual cellulite would stand in my way. Who would want to be trained by someone who looks well…normal?

[Tweet “Understanding negative body image”]

I spent so much time picking apart my body, that I discounted all of the time and effort I put in to actually training and teaching others. I studied my butt off for years and made a lot of sacrifices to become knowledgeable in the field. I had wonderful clients who I loved training, who trusted me and who I was able to help. But in my head, none of that mattered if I didn’t look the part.

Over the course of the next few years, these thoughts started spiraling out of control. I got into a nasty cycle of restricting and bingeing, while over-exercising even though I knew better. It was miserable. I wasn’t any closer to leaving my unfulfilling job or having my true “trainer” body. It was completely exhausting.

Understand and Overcome

Finally I had enough. I took a step back, and took a break from the gym environment because it triggered a lot of negative feelings for me. After two years of holding it all in, I finally opened up about how I was feeling and was able to start working through it all. I realize that at the root of it all, I felt lost. I didn’t feel like I had a sense of purpose, and it was easier to focus on myself physically than it was to figure out what I truly wanted out of life.

While I have come a long way, I won’t pretend like I have it all figured out. My relationship with my body has improved tremendously. The cycle of restricting, bingeing, then spending hours in the gym to “undo” it all hasn’t happened in nearly two years. On the career front, I’m still not where I want to be. But now I know that picking apart my body for what it looks like, when it has done so much for me over the past 26 years is not the answer.

If you can relate to any of these feelings, here are my best pieces of advice to get you through:

    1. Talk to someone. The times I struggled the most, were the times I spent 99.9% of my free time alone. At the time, I lived alone so my habits weren’t questioned by others because they didn’t see them. Talk to a counselor, mentor or someone non-judgemental  who you truly trust about how you are feeling. Don’t keep it all in.
    1. Find the root cause. Ultimately, I was mistreating my body because I was unhappy with the career path I started on. This may not be the case for you, but doing some soul-searching to get to the root cause of why you are feeling negative towards your body is a huge step in treating yourself well.
  1. Focus on your mind and soul gains. I was so wrapped up in getting Insta-abs that I didn’t give myself credit for learning about how the body moves and works, and I also took for granted the great relationships I had built with my clients. Setting body image aside, what has captured your heart and mind? What aren’t you giving yourself credit for? Write it down and re-visit often.

[Tweet “Setting body image aside, what aren’t you giving yourself credit for?”]

Your Turn:

  • Today I don’t have any questions, but would love to hear your thoughts.



35 Responses

  1. This is such a great reflection, Les! You make some awesome points, especially finding the root of the issue. I think that’s key for anything (I’m went through some health issues earlier this year and it was important to find the root, not just mask the problem). Similarly, I also think finding your “why” is HUGE! Why are you exercising? Or treating your body a certain way? Why do you want this or that? It’s something I ask myself on many occasions.

    1. Thank you so much Emily, I really appreciate your comment. I 100% agree with you – finding the “why” is SO important, and is a step that is often skipped. I can definitely do better at asking myself “why” every once and awhile too!

  2. When I was younger and far more impressionable, I definitely had a negative body image. Now – I accept who I am and realize that there are far more important things to worry about that what I look like. This mindset has led me to accept who I am and be happy with me as well!

  3. Great post! I feel like I’ve always had fairly good body image but bad body image almost always flares up when I’m at the beach/gym/etc and I notice someone who has a ‘better body’ than me. I usually catch myself and say ‘dude you’re healthy and strong, what more do you want.?’ haha it seems to help!

  4. This is an intense (in a good way!) read. Sometimes you have to acknowledge your strengths and really give yourself kudos because we are often so hard on ourselves. I’m super busty, tall (think Amazonian), and have a bit of a belly but I also have strong legs and arms, I’m witty and always making people laugh, and got Nicest Smile in high school and that same smile has carried me though an amazing life. I’ll always deal with body image issues but no one can take away this crazy, fabulous, and beautiful journey I am so thankful for.

  5. This post just made my day. This is exactly what every person needs to hear before we step into swim suit season. The way we look should not reflect the way we value our selves and you said it perfectly. 🙂

  6. Great post!! I struggled for years to accept my body as it is and I am now finally happy. I really wanted to get to that point so that I will never pass those feelings on to my daughter.

  7. Honestly, I think I still struggle with body image, but it has drastically improved over years. Grad school was my worst time, as I followed a super restricted diet and worked out far too much to be healthy. Now, I’m proud of what my legs can do in terms of running and dancing. I’m proud of the strength in my core which carries me every day. And I’m happy to workout because I feel good about it. And yet, those negative thoughts can easily come back. It’s something I still need to work on. Thanks for posting this 🙂

  8. Absolutely love this Les! I used to suffer from orthorexia for years but I’m FINALLY recovered. Although some days are harder than others I still appreciate my body the way it is now. Thank you so much for sharing this though, you’re so inspiring! <3

  9. I totally relate to this. I’ve struggled for years with body image, and while I’m mostly on the path to full acceptance, I’ve found lately – despite the respect of my body for carrying, birthing, and nursing a child!! – that those thoughts are creeping back in. Oddly, it’s as I write and talk more about ways to accept myself, how not to push too hard in the gym, etc. and “preach” to others on how they can overcome that I begin feeling inadequate again. Maybe I just need to back off the topic completely for a while.
    Thanks for a great post. 🙂

    1. Sometimes I think as bloggers one of the best things we can do is post what WE need to hear ourselves, which is why I posted this. You aren’t preaching at all, you’re helping others and yourself. Much love <3

  10. Les I always love hearing what you have to say on subjects like this. The more we open up, the more “normal” I think we can all feel, and hopefully find our way to a happier, healthier self. You’re amazing <3

  11. Yes! I so agree with this–especially finding the root cause. I have learned (the hard way) that I need to think about things this way. Often times the real reason why something is going on isn’t what it appears to be on the surface.

    Thanks so much for sharing!

  12. I found that the root cause of my negative body image days were the pressure of maintaining the “healthy girl” image I held in high school and the fear of going back to the old days where I was overweight, unhealthy and downright miserable in my skin. I learned that you have to move on from the past and sometimes you have to start anew in order to let yourself grow beyond certain barriers. Ultimately not limiting yourself to anything makes all the difference. I love you story so much and I’m so happy you were open to revealing such a personal part about yourself!

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment Cassie, and for being so open. I 100% relate to your perspective – I felt a lot of the same pressure to look a certain way once I felt others thought of me as the “healthy girl.” Love your thoughts on starting anew to bust through barriers – so well said!

  13. This is one of those posts you read where you swear the writer (you) has gone into your own brain, taken out your own thoughtsand put them into perfectly written words.
    Absolutely everything about this resonates with me. I began my unhealthy relationship with exercise a year after graduating college when my career wasn’t going as I had “planned,” and I found myself feeling lost, embarrassed and like a failure. But I don’t actually remember feeing any of these things at the time because I immediately just pushed them down by replacing my focus onto my body, food and exercise. It wasn’t until I began to recover from my coping mechanisms that I realized it was actually my career and life I was unhappy with – not my body. Its a very tough mind shift to make, but the awareness is what can start you to getting the life you actually want.
    Thank you for this!!

    1. Cora, I wish I could just give you a big ol’ hug right now! Reading your comment gave me chills, because what you described is exactly how I have felt/still feel at times. It is challenging, but don’t forget about all of the amazing qualities you have going for you <3

  14. Ok, so I just read this, and I REALLY latched onto you saying, ‘I’ve never been overweight or the super fit Instagram girl,’ because that is SO me, and I still struggle with that sometimes. Realizing that it’s OKAY to not look the ‘ideal’ because healthy is such a broad definition is really freeing.

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