Overcoming Body Shame: Developing Your Inner Authority
Weight loss programs abound. It’s a $70 billion industry that is 95% ineffective.
So why keep trying? Why keep taking their advice?
Or, more importantly, why do we keep looking at ourselves, evaluating ourselves, and criticizing ourselves through eyes that not only steer us in the wrong direction, but worse—eyes that sear and burn? Eyes that injure.
Because we have been dissuaded from, talked out of, or abandoned our inner authority.
The Relationship Between Inner Criticism and Authority
Have you ever noticed how confident your inner critic is? You may not be the most confident person, but that inner critic of yours is free of the slightest drop of self-doubt. Even if it says stupid things, it’s never unsure about itself – your inner critic issues forth its opinions with absolute authority. And the more confident your inner critic is, the less confident you generally are.
It makes sense—that voice has been knocking you down for years.
You could disagree with that voice a hundred million times. It’s impervious. For instance, my inner critic knows exactly what it thinks of me. It knows exactly what it thinks of my shirt, my glasses. Exactly what it thinks of my nose, my belly. It operates without doubt. (And, by the way, rarely are those opinions complimentary.)
If you grew up in a world where your teachers or your parents could never be challenged or called out for being wrong, you may perceive authority as taking the form of somebody who knows exactly what they’re doing, has an answer, and is confident about their answer.
Inner critics mimic this kind of confidence. They see life in very absolute terms. They don’t think there’s interesting variety of ways of being or looking or eating or sounding or acting or feeling. They don’t grasp that diversity is worth appreciating, celebrating. They act like, and often channel, a dominant, patriarchal authority.
In short, inner critics are autocratic and diversity-stupid!
Inner critics are also regularly hurtful. The parent or teacher says, “This is for your own good,” or “I’m punishing you because I think it’s going to be a good lesson for you,” (even though you are shamed or humiliated) or “You’re more likely to follow my advice if you are intimidated by me,” or “I’m going to criticize what you eat and the way you look because that will keep you on track and motivate you.”
Mainstream weight-loss programs often echo the same tone and attitude as our inner critics. “It’s true, you shouldn’t have eaten those potato chips, you do eat too much, you aren’t really attractive as you think you are. Listen to me, I know how to fix you.”
It rarely helps; it almost always hurts.
It’s actually the resonance of this advice with our inner critic that leads us to sign up for these programs. They bank on our self-loathing, our body shame. Unfortunately for the weight-loss agenda, we eventually resist these critical and shaming authorities, resulting in the abandonment of the program it led us to. Nonetheless, in the in the eyes of the program, as well as our inner critic, we have “failed,” adding more shame and further eroding our confidence.
In truth, it is rarely we alone who have failed; instead it is actually the weight loss industry, with its 95% failure rate. But because of the way this guidance resonates with our inner critic, coming off like it knows better, like it’s the final authority, we believe it is us.
Weight loss programs, along with our inner critics, count on our lack of a true inner and loving authority over ourselves to keep us buying and trying, even though they betray us at every turn.
Here’s an example, you might say to yourself, “I think this shirt looks good on me.” But your inner critic says, “You don’t; it looks awful.”
You listen to the critic and obediently take off the shirt and pick something else. And it’s not even something you’re aware of as an inner dialogue. This inner critic and their authority fly under the radar. It’s automatic, autonomous, but powerful.
We usually don’t debate with the inner critic, say, “Hey, wait a second. I already know how I feel about this shirt, and I’m sticking with it.” It doesn’t happen; we instantly cede our authority.
The same is true with our inner criticism of our body – we take it as true authority.
Strengthening Your Inner Authority
There are three specific steps you can take to weaken your inner critic’s voice and strengthen your inner authority:
1. Claim your story, especially early stories of neglect, hurt, or abuse.
Early foundational injuries are fertile ground for the critical inner voice to root and grow. Unaddressed, we learn to distrust our own experience.
The word authority comes from the word author. You’re the author of your story, you’re the author of your experience. Only you can say what you went through as a child: you’re the author of that. Not somebody else who tells you what you should feel.
To have inner authority is to author your own truth.
“When people tell you who the are, Maya Angelou famously advised, believe them. Just as important, when people try to tell you who you are, don’t believe them. You are the only custodian of your integrity.” (Maria Popova, Brain Pickings, “13 Life-Learning from 13 Years of Brain-Pickings, 2019)
2. Identify the voice of the inner critic.
Who or what does it most remind you of? A parent, a patriarchal value system? Is it a combination (for example, of your older brother and a hectoring coach)?
When you can truly hear the critic’s voice, you become more aware of its shaming, humiliating, even abusive nature. As you learn to distrust its intention, you begin to trust your own voice more.
3. Join the conversation.
Practice listening to the words and tone of the inner critic and talk back to it. Consciously dialogue with the voice. Disagree with confidence. Practicing the freedom to talk back is perhaps the greatest key to unlocking the door to your own authority.
Not only will this practice help you to weaken your inner critic, it will also privilege your body’s wisdom. All the societal messages you’ve been open to over the years will fade away. Instead of being too open to weight loss programs’ ill-fated promises, you’ll be able to notice what you truly want and need, and then act on it. You’ll become your own authority.