Ok, but HOW?

Hello and Happy Tuesday!

Today I want to talk a bit about the 4 body image avatars: the system I created to help people figure out WTF their body image issues are really about, since they’re… ya know, not actually about the body.

If this is the first you’re hearing of the body image avatars, I recommend checking out this youtube video introducing the concept, and browsing my youtube channel and/or instagram page for tons of free content about them.

If you’re already familiar with the avatars, great! Read on!

The thing I want to cover today is the “work flow,” if you will, from body image issues to body neutrality, using the avatars system.

I haven’t talked much about that in my free content before, and I think it’s important to be able to visualize what this journey looks. To illustrate how it goes, I’ll give you an example of an imaginary client!

I’ll call this client October (because she’s my imaginary client and I may as well call upon my 7th grade list of “future baby names” that aren’t gonna get used lol), and she is 35 years old, married with no kids, and working as a middle school teacher.

October self-identifies as fat, queer, feminist, progressive, and passionate about her job. She desperately wants to be “fat positive” both because it aligns with her personal politics, and also because it would make it easier to stop hating her body– but she struggles.

When I ask October about how her body image issues show up, she recites a list of mental and behavioral labor that she goes through nearly daily.

  • She wakes up and weighs herself, feels bad about the number, and is critical of her appearance in the mirror.

  • She’s aware of her size constantly at school, aware of how much larger she is than the other women, and trying to present a sort of light, airy, bubbly personality to offset it and make herself appear less imposing.

  • She tries to eat healthy, takes two or three spin classes per week, and thinks a lot about doing more.

When I ask October why she hates her body so much, she responds that she just doesn’t like being so big, doesn’t like standing out so much, and worries a lot about what people think of her.

When October takes the Avatars self assessment, she scores predictably high for the Outsider, along with a low score for the High Achiever and the Runner, and absolutely zero for the Self Objectifier.

From this information, we’re able to take the first important step along the road to body neutrality: figuring out her body image’s “Hidden Plan.”

The “Hidden Plan” is what your body image issues are trying to do. Body image issues develop to try to help us solve some kind of problem, or meet some kind of emotional need, and discovering your Hidden Plan is crucial for doing body neutrality work.

After all, if you don’t know what your body image issues exist for in the first place, how could you possibly let them go?

The body image avatars exist to offer direction as to what each individual’s Hidden Plan might be (and what to do about it), and in October’s case it confirms what I would have guessed: that her primary motivation for losing weight and looking different is to both:

  1. Earn a sense of acceptance and belonging among her peers, and

  2. To avoid negative social consequences like exclusion and humiliation.

These are typical for the Outsider avatars.

Secondarily, October acknowledges that she feels bad about failing to have a “good body” because she likes to be good at things, and while she identifies as smart, kind, funny, and a hard worker, she still feels like she’s failing at life in some way because her body isn’t “right.” (Typical for the High Achiever.)

The point of identifying October’s specific Hidden Body Image Plan is to know how to move forward, and the avatars system offers shortcuts to this part as well. We start to create a plan for her to access more feelings of connection, acceptance, belonging, and social safety, by looking at common patterns, identifying exactly what’s standing in her way of these things, and working backward.

Because of what I know about the Outsider, we’re able to dial in extremely quickly on a few key things that she would need to do in order to get her needs met, and release her blocks to body neutrality. They are as follows:

  1. Learn to be more authentic and vulnerable. October has to stop pretending to be something she’s not, and let herself take up space. This will start to weed people out: some people won’t like her, but others will, and she’ll form more nourishing and deep relationships to fill her connection tank and help her feel more socially secure.

  2. Learn to stop worrying about other people’s judgements of her. October needs to unlearn the idea that other people’s opinions of her have any power or significance.

But how do we move toward this new goal and actually accomplish these things? We break each goal into three actionable parts: skil-buildingfear-facing, and shame-bustingrepresented below as a, b, and c:

1. Authenticity & Vulnerability

  • Skill building: October will tackle and practice specific new skills one by one in order to support this shift, until they become a habit: boundary setting, self-advocacy, community and friendship-cultivation, resilience, saying no, putting herself out there, embracing her own unique weirdness, and not apologizing. She also works on a few aspects of body language, learning to breathe more deeply, stand taller, project her voice more, and speak more slowly.

  • Fear facing: October will take baby steps toward the things that scare her, using a sort of progressive exposure therapy over time until these things no longer hold power over her: disappointing people, being rejected, opening up and being vulnerable, asking for help and support.

  • Shame busting: October will use connection and empathy to dismantle her internalized shame: talking to loved ones about her body shame, connecting with other fat women (who she had been distancing herself from to avoid association), and self-identifying as “fat” in her day to day life, instead of hiding from the label and hoping nobody notices.

    2. Stop worrying about people’s opinions of her

  • Skill building: getting educated on weight stigma, immersing herself in the anti-diet and body liberation world, engaging in activism, and most importantly, shifting her perception of blame and responsibility. October learns to send her anger and resent where it belongs: outward toward the system of prejudice and oppression that taught her her body made her unworthy of respect or belonging, instead of inward toward herself and her body. This doesn’t mean she won’t encounter negative social consequences for her weight, it just means that instead of blaming herself for those moments, she blames the people and systems perpetuating harm against her.

  • Fear facing: telling her family not to comment on her body or food anymore, telling friends not to talk about their bodies or food in front of her, calling out fatphobic comments and jokes when she hears them, telling the doctor she doesn’t want to be weighed because of weight stigma, and wearing outfits she loves but learned “weren’t for big girls.”

  • Shame busting: finding HAES friendly providers, filling her social media feeds with diverse bodies and fat positive accounts, reading books by fat liberationists, cultivating a community of fat-positive activists and friends, and fighting back against diet culture and weight stigma in many small ways in her daily life.

Whew!

I hope you can see that October now has a pretty long-term game plan, with very specific action steps to take toward body neutrality.

If she were to actively work on this, tackling a new aspect on a weekly basis and slowly moving them all forward, she would still easily have a year or two’s worth of work, right?

Plus once she dives into the plan, other things are bound to come up. Maybe October remembers a trauma and has to spend six months dealing with it in therapy before returning to this work. Maybe she put all this work on the back burner for a while to deal with the death of a loved one, or a divorce, or a new baby.

The journey is unique to each person, and I can’t tell you how it will look for you. But I can tell you that there are patterns, and the 4 Body Image Avatars help break down those patterns for you, so you can save yourself an absolute shit-ton of time and effort figuring it out.

I can also tell you that if we were to check in with October a few years later, you wouldn’t recognize her.

She would throw her head back and laugh as she remembers how mousy and fake-cheerful she used to be, and she would regale you with stories about how much space she takes up without apology now, and how weird she’s become, and how she has “found her weird people,” and no longer gives a shit if someone doesn’t like her.

She would say she hardly thinks about her body at all in a negative way now, except for those bad body image days that sometimes hit right before her period, or if she’s feeling particularly insecure about something, like a party with her husband’s co-worker’s thin wives. But even then it’s not a big deal.

“Sometimes you just don’t like how you look,” she says. “It doesn’t really bother me.”

She would confirm that she finds it somewhat jarring to remember body neutrality was ever something she strove for, and how much mental space used to be occupied by thoughts about her body.

Essentially, with the new skills built and freedom earned through fear-facing and shame-busting, October’s needs are now being met, and her problems are now being solved.

Not perfectly, but humanly, and that’s enough. Her body image suffering’s Hidden Plan is simply no longer needed. She feels connected, accepted, and like she belongs… not everywhere, and not all the time. But enough to disprove the fantasy that the problem (and therefore the solution) comes down to her body.

So her body anxiety, obsession, and negativity kind of just… lost power. Faded in volume and size and opacity. Sure, there are occasional negative thoughts, but they’re just that: thoughts. Nothing to worry about, or obsess over.

I don’t like how I look today. I also don’t like that I spilled coffee on my shirt. Both are mildly irritating. Neither have any significant impact on my day, my worth, my life. 

Success on the body neutrality journey is often like this: torturous and painful in the middle, and boring and anticlimactic in the end.

But that’s how it goes, and that’s the work I do with clients. I hope this helps you better visualize how you go from wherever you are today to a place of body neutrality, and as a result makes it feel more doable and within reach!

You may never love how you look, but you can sure as hell take these steps to feel better and strip away the power body image suffering has over you.

And while body neutrality is ultimately a long-term project (it took you years or decades to get here, it’s not gonna go away in three months), I did create an online course to help you blast through the first part: using the body image avatars to figure out what your own unique Hidden Plan is, and illuminate the pathway ahead for your unique body neutrality journey.

So if you want what I laid out for October: clarity, understanding, compassion, and an actionable plan for how to become more body neutral, I encourage you to sign up for The Avatars Project.

This online course is eight weeks long, we start Feb 15th, each week there will be a two hour learning session, the calls will all be recorded and sent out so you don’t have to come to them live, and you can submit questions using a link.

Also, I’m offering two separate enrollment options this time around:

  1. One is a regular membership for $777, which gets you all the course material, and

  2. The other is a VIP membership for $2222 which gets you all the course material plus four 1:1 sessions with me and unlimited 1:1 Voxer support throughout the course. (Payment plans available for both, and only 3 VIP spots are available.)

Click here to get all the details, check out the syllabus, and sign up if that’s your jam.

Otherwise I hope this was helpful, and that you have a wonderful week!
<3

Jessi

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