Self-Image, Part 1
This series of posts may not be what you’re looking for
This blogpost series isn’t a work of fiction, nor is it the short-form content to which one is accustomed through use of social media apps such as TikTok.
This entry is long—really long in comparison to most of my written content. In fact, it’s so long that when I attempted to post it in its original form, my blog hosting platform required that I separate the content into several parts.
Therefore, this content is a four-part series about self-image. It isn’t the sort of “three easy steps” nonsensical method of ineffectually improving your life that you may want.
The words expressed herein relate to my life. If you want fast food-style material, the false promise of “easy,” or a pleasant story about the origin of this REBT psychotherapist, this isn’t the post for you.
Perhaps you may want to skip to the Conclusion portion of this entry (Self-Image, Part 4) so that you can discover what I think are the takeaway lessons of this post. Or, you can simply forego this content altogether—either way, it’s your choice.
Look at this photograph
This blogpost was recently requested by someone in my personal life. It’s a bit on the lengthy side, so I’ve provided photos with hope of keeping the reader entertained. I invite you to use these pictures as a visual bookmark, in case you read this post in sections.
Additionally, this entry serves as a shame attacking exercise. With the practice of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), shame attacking exercises are used to repeatedly and deliberately seek experiences with which uncomfortable or embarrassing consequences of belief are associated.
As such, this post serves as an example of a psychotherapist “doing the work” for all to see. There’s no shame in doing so.
Take a look at the primary picture associated with this post. What do you see? What do you think is the attitude I had about my body image during the time this photo was taken?
Regarding body image, I’m referring to thoughts, perceptions, and emotions relating to the aesthetics or sexual attractiveness of my body. Body image is a subjective measure one uses to determine self-worth.
What do you think of how I may have viewed myself; my memories, experiences, assumptions, and comparisons about my appearance; and overall attitude towards my height, shape, and weight at the time the picture was taken? If you had to guess, what would you conclude about my self-esteem?
If you care to conduct a pre- and post-blog entry assessment, at this time, jot down what your perception of my mindset is when looking at the photo. Upon concluding your review of this blogpost, you may be surprised to learn how your interpretation coincides with my actual self-image.
Regarding self-esteem—confidence in one’s own worth or abilities—I don’t look at the primary photo of this post and think, “This guy really has his stuff together.” In fact, for the majority of my life, I’ve had a pretty poor valuation of my own worth.
Albert Ellis, originator of REBT, is said to have argued that “self-esteem was the greatest sickness known to humankind, because it was conditional.” When failing to live up to the highly regarded expectations we maintain about ourselves, others, and life, we disturb ourselves.
From an REBT perspective, we do not become disturbed by events which take place in the world. Rather, it is our rigid, unhelpful, and unhealthy beliefs about such circumstances with which we self-disturb and experience emotional and behavioral consequences.
To demonstrate this method, REBT uses the ABC Model—whereby an Action occurs, you Believe something about it, and as a result of this unhelpful belief you experience unpleasant Consequences. Not always, though often, these self-disturbing beliefs manifest as should, must, or ought-type statements.
Here are some examples:
(A) – You look at yourself in the mirror and don’t like your appearance. (B) – You believe, “I shouldn’t look this way!” (C) – Because of your rigid belief, you experience sorrow.
(A) – Someone calls you “fat.” (B) – You believe, “People must accept me as I am!” (C) – Because of your unfounded belief, you become angry.
(A) – You observe advertisements featuring people who are more physically fit than you. (B) – You believe, “Companies ought not to support rigid and unattainable standards of beauty!” (C) – Because of your uncompromising belief, disgust occurs.
Maintaining preferences or desires isn’t inherently objectionable. However, when we place stringent demands upon ourselves, others, and life—often in the form of uncompromising conditions—we will likely experience needless pain and suffering.
As such, REBT makes use of unconditional self-, other-, and life-acceptance—respectively, USA, UOA, and ULA. We begin with the axiom: I am a fallible human being, you are a flawed individual, and life is imperfect.
Regarding self-esteem, conditions are generally used to determine worth. For instance, I may say to myself, “Once I lose 10 pounds,” or, “When I’m able to fit into these jeans,” I will acknowledge myself as a person worthy of esteem.
However, what occurs if I don’t lose weight or I remain unable to fit into my clothing? Am I a worthless human being for not meeting an arbitrary condition?
Let us consider what happens if self-esteem leans too far in an opposite direction, venturing from impoverished self-image to that of a grandiose frame of mind. Suppose I tell myself, “I’m the shit and I must never be less than I am at this very moment!”
When our overinflated sense of self is held to an unreasonable condition, and we fail to maintain our overblown self-image, we can go from being “the shit” to a “piece of shit” (POS) incredibly fast. Therefore, rather than indulging unhelpful conditions relating to self-esteem, practitioners of REBT seek USA.
I’ve been informed, “Deric, it seems like a cop-out to just accept things the way they are.” I’ve even heard, “If unconditional acceptance is so important, wouldn’t you be out of a job if people simply accepted things and didn’t seek growth?”
I appreciate the skeptical questioning. As well, I pose a question of my own. If use of inflexible conditions is what brings clients to therapy, why would I encourage use for more of the same?
Clients who believe they should be tough on themselves, must feed into an unbalanced “harder, better, faster, stronger” motif, and ought not to reject unsustainable conditions for themselves will have made a moving case for low esteem, if ever there was one.
Starting from the dictum, “I’m a fallible human being,” is the key to removal of unhelpful conditions. Working to improve one’s circumstances doesn’t mean we reject ourselves.
Rather, you can unconditionally accept yourself while opting to change an unhealthy habit or unhelpful behavior. For instance, consider the following case of fictitious person X who is five feet tall and weighs 400 pounds (lbs.).
Person X’s physician informs the patient that because of body composition and lifestyle choices, person X is at risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and chronic liver disease—four of the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States (U.S.). What can person X do about this news?
Rather than offering a this-or-that binary choice, I’ll propose a number of plausible options:
Option 1: When hearing the news (A), person X could believe (B), “Life shouldn’t be this unfair,” and self-disturb into an unhealthy emotional and behavioral reaction (C). With this option, person X will likely reinforce unhealthy beliefs which lead to more unpleasant actions.
Option 2: Person X could unconditionally accept human fallibility while at the same time pushing through discomfort associated with challenging self-sabotaging behaviors by taking personal ownership of individual actions. With this option, person X doesn’t seek perfection though chooses to change undesirable conduct.
Option 3: Person X could simply do nothing at all. With this option, nothing improves though the situation will likely worsen.
Option 4: Person X could adopt a fatalistic perspective and seek complete self-destruction by accelerating unhealthy behaviors as a means of slowly self-terminating. With this option, matters become dark and this hopeless method is inadvisable.
Option 5: Person X could rush to the Internet and search for some obscure diagnosis that likely doesn’t apply and blame personal management of conditions on a misapplied cause. With this option, nothing substantial improves and the matter will likely continue.
Option 6: Person X may reject focusing on the circle of control (self-change) and instead opt to force change on others and the world as a whole—as is the case with the body positivity, fat acceptance, and body acceptance movements. With this option, one concentrates on collective shaming of society instead of enduring the unpleasantry of personal guilt.
The body positivity movement
Per one source:
Body positivity is a social movement focused on the acceptance of all bodies, regardless of size, shape, skin tone, gender, and physical abilities, while challenging present-day beauty standards as an undesirable social construct.
Given this definitional standard, I reject the notion of “positivity” as being synonymous with “acceptance.” For instance, I can accept that mosquitos exist without considering them a positive element in life.
Mosquito-borne diseases are said to kill approximately 725,000 people annually, as this arguably isn’t a positive aspect of life. Therefore, something can be tolerated and accepted without the trivial label of “positivity.”
Addressing criticisms of the body positivity movement, one source opines:
According to the Office on Women’s Health, a healthy body image means feeling good about looking and feeling comfortable in one’s body. Conversely, they report that having a negative body image can put one at a higher risk for mental health conditions, including eating disorders.
Again, I reject the rhetorical framing. Rather than “feeling good” or “feeling comfortable,” can a person merely tolerate and accept one’s own imperfection while also seeking to improve the level of functioning (e.g., nutrition) and quality of life (e.g., increasing frustration tolerance)?
I argue in the affirmative. You see, seeking to feel “good” or “comfortable” infers a conditional standard. If I say to myself, “I will only accept myself if I feel good or comfortable,” what happens if my condition goes unmet?
I will self-disturb into a miserable consequence. However, if my baseline standard is, “Though I would like to feel good and comfortable, I can tolerate the discomfort of not achieving this standard,” I will have established a healthier, more practical guideline.
From this flexible principle, I can then choose to change my behaviors—and not the behavior of societal members—as I see fit. Conversely, the body positivity movement, using activistic means, focuses on “inclusivity”—which is a method of changing the behavior of others.
Rather than taking responsibility for what I put into my mouth, and being held personally accountable for my behavior, I may promote societal change so that others are shamed into including me and making me feel “good” or “comfortable.” As my step-aunt used to say, “Not just no, but hell no!”
For those who seek option #6 in this way, understand that I am not an “ally” of your cause. While I don’t seek to stop anyone from choosing this self-disturbing path, I won’t join with a person or group in what I perceive as an unhelpful attempt to deconstruct and then reconstruct society in such a manner.
The fat acceptance movement
According to one source;
The fat acceptance movement, also known as fat pride, fat empowerment, and fat activism, is a social movement which seeks to eliminate the social stigma of obesity from social attitudes by pointing out the obstacles which are faced by fat people to those who are less fat.
As previously mentioned, I’m not focused on or concerned with societal change. I work with individuals on matters related to changing themselves.
Admittedly, I can appreciate the “acceptance” qualifier of the fat acceptance movement. Still, I consider this movement’s label to serve as little more than doublespeak—communicating in a manner that misinterprets or obscures the truth.
The fat acceptance movement is publicized as that relating to acceptance—the act of being received as adequate or suitable—though its activistic underpinning alludes to not accepting that some people don’t appreciate fatness. Do you see the hypocrisy of doublespeak narratives?
If a person chooses to be “big-boned,” as it was rhetorically dismissed when I was younger, fat, overweight, obese, or whatever, I have no interest in stopping the individual from pursuing that option. That said I’m not for the act of changing the thoughts of others to also embrace this person’s lifestyle.
Per one source:
No matter where fat people go—schools, workplaces, and courtrooms—we face being ostracized and discriminated against, and that’s the reason why fat-acceptance activists have been fighting since the 1960s to make America’s policies more inclusive of people of size.
Let’s examine the logic inferred from the aforementioned source:
Premise 1: All discrimination is wrong.
Premise 2: Non-acceptance of fat people is discriminatory.
Conclusion: Consequently, non-acceptance of fat people is wrong.
Premise 1: All fat people are discriminated against.
Premise 2: Person X is fat.
Conclusion: Therefore, person X is discriminated against.
Premise 1: Fat-acceptance activists are good people.
Premise 2: Person X is a fat-acceptance activist.
Conclusion: Ergo, person X is a good person.
Premise 1: Everyone who is a good ally must align with the fat acceptance movement.
Premise 2: You are a good ally.
Conclusion: Thus, you must align with the fat acceptance movement.
The logic of these syllogisms is sound. However, each is based on a flawed premise. For example, is it morally wrong to discriminate against white nationalists?
In your mind, is there a distinction without a difference between discernment and discrimination? What makes it a discerning action—to judge well—for me to reject a white nationalist’s attempt to eat at my hypothetical restaurant though to allow a black nationalist to indulge in my menu?
Likewise, what makes it a discriminatory act—prejudicial treatment of different categories of people—for me to opt not to allow a 400-lb. person access to my hypothetical theme park ride that has a 250-lb. limit, though to allow a 150-lb. person the ability to enjoy the ride?
Activist behavior that aims to alter society so that a particular group of people may “feel happy and proud of their bodies” fails its aim, because each individual’s perception is the responsibility of that person and that person alone. It isn’t my responsibility to make person X “feel happy and proud,” nor is it your burden.
I can choose to or not to serve white or black nationalists without the needless title of bigotry. Likewise, I can choose to or not to accept a fat lifestyle without pointless classification relating to bad, evil, hateful, and otherwise.
For those who seek option #6 in this way, again, I am not an ally of your cause. I promote change of the individual, not the dismantling and reassembly of society.
The body acceptance movement
Internet searches for “body acceptance movement” generally yield results relating to the body positivity movement. Body positivity, neutrality, and acceptance are often used synonymously in this way.
Per one source:
We should all practice body positivity, regardless of your gender, age, or size. Some people feel like “body neutrality” or “body acceptance” is a more suitable name for the movement, but all three terms describe roughly the same ideas.
Granting this premise, I reject the body acceptance movement, just as I reject the body positivity movement. The same logic and reason is applicable to a movement that uses similar rhetoric.
Still, one source expands upon the body acceptance movement by asserting:
Body acceptance is also born out of the reality that certain bodies have been marginalized and considered unacceptable in mainstream culture. No body acceptance movement means anything if it’s not intersectional: A movement that preaches positivity only to able-bodied cisgender white women and excludes BIPOC [black, indigenous, people of color], people with disabilities, and people who are transgender, queer, or nonbinary is not body positivity at all. And it’s not useful to any of us.
This is activistic allyship on full display. Here’s how the flawed logic of this method works:
Premise 1: All people who advocate intersectional activism are good.
Premise 2: Person X advocates intersectionality.
Conclusion: Therefore, person X is good.
Premise 1: All people who oppose the body acceptance movement are bad.
Premise 2: Deric opposes the body acceptance movement.
Conclusion: Thusly, Deric is bad.
Premise 1: Body positivity supports discrimination of non-able-bodied cisgender white women and is therefore a useless movement with invaluable people.
Premise 2: Jane Doe, an able-bodied cisgender white woman advocates the body positivity movement.
Conclusion: Ergo, Jane Doe’s movement is useless and she’s an invaluable person.
I hope one stretches before partaking in these logical leaps. Rather than gathering allies in a movement against others who don’t appear as you do, perhaps changing yourself is in order.
Not to be overly simplistic in my assessment of the body acceptance movement, it appears as though this approach is little more than a blame-shifting strategy. “I’m overweight and it’s your problem,” isn’t a rational position.
As was the case for body positivity and fat acceptance, for those who seek option #6 in this way, I am not an ally of the body acceptance movement. In fact, instead of advocating activist movements, I promote individuals actively moving as a means to change themselves.
Therefore, and despite temptation to focus this blogpost solely on body image, I’ll address a broadened perspective as it relates to self-image—the idea one has of one’s abilities, appearance, and personality. As you read, keep in mind your perception of my self-image when looking at the primary photo for this post.
**References located on Self-Image, Part 4