Body grief – how to let go of the ‘perfect’ body
A big part of body acceptance work is letting go of the ‘perfect’ body ideal.
Clients often struggle with this because they’ve invested so much of their life trying to achieve their dream body.
Understanding body grief helps clients work through the loss of their perfect body, and heal the relationship they have with their body.
So, in this post, I’m explaining:
- What body grief is and why it’s so important.
- How and WHY it shows up.
- Why you MUST work through it if you want to accept your body.
- The 5 stages of body grief you must work through to feel better in your body.
Listen or read below:
What’s grief got to do with body image?
Surely grief is reserved for the death of a loved one?
Grief isn’t just about death – it can be part of any loss, whether that’s a job loss, relationship break-up, or the body you once had or dreamed of.
The more I learn about it, the more I’m convinced that working through body grief is vital to improving body image.
So, this post is one in a three part series, and in this post, I’m introducing the concept of body grief.
What is body grief?
Bri describes body grief as, “The distress caused by the perceived losses that come when you stop attempting to change your body size… body grief is the loss of the ‘thin ideal’ and/or the loss of the body size you used to have.”
So if, for example, you’ve ever looked back at an old photo of yourself and wished for your younger or thinner body…
Or you have clothes in your wardrobe that you know won’t fit again, but you won’t get rid of them because you want to get back into that size…
That could be body grief.
Grief also comes up for other body changes too, like changes in mobility, physical strength, or age-related changes.
It’s also about mourning the loss of all the amazing things you thought would happen when you achieved your ideal body – like attracting a new partner, getting a promotion, or wearing a bikini on holiday.
With grief comes distress
I’ve observed the tell-tale signs of grief popping up for clients as they try to accept their body.
And with grief comes discomfort and distress, which understandably, clients want to push away or avoid.
The problem is you can’t bypass the grief on the way to body acceptance.
Like any grief, you must move through it. Ignoring grief keeps you stuck in distress. To move through it, you must pass through a few stages.
The 5 Stages of Body Grief
You’ve probably heard of the five stages of grief as it relates to the loss of a loved one. Well, there are also five stages of body grief according to Bri.
Like a bereavement, when experiencing body grief, we pass through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, but not necessarily in that order.
The stages are fluid and non-linear, so you can cycle back and forwards between various stages.
In denial, you don’t want to let go of the body you once had or the ideal body you’ve been striving for, you might say something like, “Let me try to get my body back on track, this time I’ll get there.”
Your anger in this stage may be directed at yourself or others.
You might berate yourself for not achieving the body you wanted or rail against how unfair it is that others can have their dream body.
Clients at this stage say things like, “It’s unfair that I have to give up on my dream body, while others can still have it by dieting and exercising.”
During the bargaining stage, you may decide to have one more go at ‘fixing’ your body.
Clients say things like, “I’ll go on this diet for a few weeks and then I’ll stop dieting for good.” or “ I just need to get to this size and then I’ll be happy.”
In depression, you may feel sadness about the body you’re in and all the time you’ve spent trying to change your body to no avail.
Clients say things like, “I can’t believe this is my body” or “I can’t believe how many years I spent trying to change. I’m sad about all the time and energy I wasted.”
Once you’re in the acceptance stage, you’ve come to terms with the loss of the body you had or wanted, and accept the body you’re in.
Typically, clients say things like, “I may not love my body, but I respect it” or “This is my body.”
Note that acceptance doesn’t necessarily mean you will like or love your body. It’s acknowledging the reality you’re in, regardless of how it makes you feel.
You can’t bypass grief
Clients often expect to move to acceptance without passing through the other stages, which creates more struggle and distress.
The key to working through body grief (is the opposite of what you might think) is to learn to tolerate the discomfort around your body without judging or trying to fix it.
I’ll share more about how you can tolerate your grief in a future post.
But before then, I’ve got some coaching questions for you:
What about body grief resonates for you?
What stage(s) do you identify with most?
What’s the main thing you’re taking away from this episode?
I’d love to hear your answers to these questions. Please leave your answers below.