Daring Greatly: Vulnerability and Body Image Issues

Being vulnerable sucks. I don’t think there’s any denying the fact that the raw, exposed, fragile, uncomfortable feeling we identify as vulnerability is something most of us try and avoid. I know I do! Underlying vulnerability is fear and shame.

Fear that we’re being opened up to judgement in some ways and will be found wanting. The fear of shame, being ‘truly seen’ and found to be not good enough underpins vulnerability and body image issues.

I’ve finally gotten around to reading Brene Brown’s acclaimed bestseller, Daring Greatly – a thorough investigation of shame and vulnerability, based on years of her research. You may have already read it, and/or been introduced to her work through the TED talk that went viral in 2010. Well worth a look if you haven’t seen it yet.

Brene’s argument, if I can condense it down into one sentence, is that vulnerability and shame are fundamental human conditions and trying to avoid them is flawed thinking. It’s only when we allow vulnerability in, and go so far as to embrace it, that we can live ‘wholehearted’ lives.

Every good thing in our lives – family, friends, relationships, career choices, hobbies, passions, travel – all began from a willingness to be vulnerable. And practicing the art of ‘shame resilience’ is an essential part of the process of learning to be vulnerable.

Vulnerability and Body Image Issues

I’ve been reflecting over the last couple of days on the relationship between vulnerability and body image issues. They are closely connected in my experience. The way we feel about our bodies and the thoughts and beliefs we attach to them can leave us feeling pretty vulnerable.

Every day society judges us based on how we look. Body image issues can come from feelings of not looking good enough as we currently are, and a belief that we’ll feel less vulnerable – less exposed and critiqued – in a ‘better body’.

Paradoxically though, the decision to try and either lose weight or improve our fitness opens us up to more vulnerability. We’re basically admitting to ourselves and to the world, “here is my body. I don’t like it. I’m going to try and change it. I hope I succeed and that you and I like the new one better”.

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As we know, diets often fail, and my hunch is that this is not just because losing weight is a tough physical challenge, but because that prolonged experience of vulnerability through trying to change ourselves can be demoralising and exhausting.

“What you eat in private you wear in public”

You may have heard the expression, “what we eat in private we wear in public”. While some of our body image issues and insecurities are well-hidden, there’s very little that is private about weight loss. Every time we take our bodies out into the world, we’re on public show.

And how vulnerable we feel about this actually has little bearing on our statistics – how much we weigh, how tall we are, or how much we fit society’s beauty ‘ideal’. The comments from friends and families who watch us change only adds to this exposure.

Gaining weight can in itself be an attempt to appease our vulnerability either through over-eating (with weight gain being the consequence of that self-soothing), OR subconsciously putting on weight as a type of armour to protect ourselves against all the other challenges life throws at us.

Whatever your particular story is, there’s no escaping the interconnectedness of weight, body image issues and vulnerability.

So weight loss is pointless?

This might all sound like I’m leading to the suggestion that weight loss is pointless because you may not feel any better about yourself afterwards. I’m not. Even though some of the most beautiful women on the planet are the most insecure (as was the topic of another recent TED talk), the process of losing weight and overcoming your body image issues can be incredibly empowering (as was my experience).

Your ‘new’, healthier, stronger, slimmer body is capable of more than its overweight older version. But you need to be willing to feel vulnerable along the way and stick with it even when the going is tough. Another expression I like is “being fat is hard. Losing weight is hard. Choose your hard”.

While Brene doesn’t talk specifically about body image issues, it’s a theme in many of the stories she tells. I highly recommend her book to you as it really shed light for me on some of the ways I’ve been living with shame, and fearing vulnerability, throughout my life, and how twisted up body image issues have become in that story.

As with the other things I’ve blogged about recently – having a positive mindset and believing you’re deserving, accepting your vulnerability and finding comfort with it is an essential part of any weight loss/fitness endeavour. All good things in life start this way 🙂

You can find Daring Greatly on Amazon.

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