Your eyes are the key to your body acceptance - Melanie Schilling

Your eyes are the key to your body acceptance

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I’ll bet, if I asked you to list all the things you LOVE about your body, I’d be faced with a long pause (and possibly an awkward silence).  Right?

What if I asked you to list all the things you DISLIKE about your body?  Different story?  Long list already prepped and ready to go?

If we’re honest, most of us would admit that we have a complicated relationship with our bodies.  This seems to be a right of passage when becoming a woman in Western Society – we are constantly bombarded by messages from TV, fashion, social media and Hollywood that in order to be loved and accepted, we must be thin.  

Sure, we have made some progress since the ‘Heroine Chic’ of the 90’s but still, our unconscious minds are still plagued by doubts about the ‘appropriateness’ of our size, shape and attractiveness.

THE EYES HAVE IT

Over a decade ago, when I was working in private practice and had many clients with eating disorders, I went to a lecture to learn about the latest research in the area.  One of the things that struck me (and has stayed with me to this day) was a piece of research about eye-tracking.

The researchers had two groups of people:

  • Group 1 – with disordered thoughts about their bodies
  • Group 2 – with normal thoughts about their bodies

They presented both groups with a series of images, including their OWN bodies and the bodies of others and measured their eye movements (fixations and dwell time).  Participants were asked to rate their levels of distress as well as the most and least attractive features of each image.

What did they find?

The group with a disordered body image tended to heavily focus on negative attributes whereas those with a more healthy body image tended to have a more balanced focus.

This is what’s known as Attention Bias and it simply means that, when our body image is not going well, we filter out the positive features and hone in on the negative bits.  

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU LOOK IN THE MIRROR?

If your relationship with your body is not going so well, your experience in front of the mirror is likely to go something like this:

  • Eyes track to thighs
  • Self talk “I hate my thighs, they look too big today, I can’t wear these jeans in public”
  • Eyes track to face
  • Self talk “How many chins have I got?!?! I look like my mother, I must remember to keep my chin right up on my zoom calls today”

Alternatively, if your relationship with your body is going well, your focus is likely to dwell on the aspects of your body that you like, thus leading to more positive self talk and an overall more positive experience.  For instance:

  • Eyes track to arms
  • Self talk “check out my biceps!  Those push-ups are really paying off.  Go me!”
  • Eyes track to cheekbones
  • Self talk “Yep, my contouring is on point today, loving this new makeup”

I’d like you to pay close attention to your eye-wandering and self-talk when you look in the mirror this week.  Encourage yourself to look at and focus on the parts of your body you are most comfortable with.

And notice what a difference this makes to your day.

Source research: Visual hot spots: an eye tracking study of attention bias in body dysmorphic disorder

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