Saturday, November 28, 2020

Do You Have a Body Image Pie Problem?

A special thanks to Cindy Bulik for taking the time to share in a little e-interview with me.  This is SERIOUSLY amazing stuff!  Robyn Hussa Farrell, Editor, Real Deal.

1.  During a film interview for the FLOORBOARDS documentary, you mentioned that body image should really only take up a small percentage of our self-esteem.  What happens when people’s body image or body esteem takes up too much of that self-esteem “pie”?  Does this automatically mean a person is more vulnerable?
Yes it does. Beauty is ephemeral as we all know. Personality characteristics and traits like compassion, warmth, ambition, intelligence, sociability are more enduring. If your self-esteem balances on your looks it will teeter both in the short run (like if you develop acne, gain weight, get a scar) and in the long run (experience the effects of aging). So basing your self-esteem on those more enduring characteristics is a ticket to more enduring self-esteem.
2.  What would be an indicator for “every-day people” that their body image is taking up too much of their self-esteem pie?
There are several indicators. One excellent one is to listen to the chatter that goes on in your head when you look in a mirror. Is it all negative? Are you scanning for flaws? Dissing yourself? Or are you saying positive things about who you are as a person? If it’s the former, you could have a pie problem. If you find yourself saying no to invitations because you don’t like how you look or how things fit, your could have a pie problem. If you are constantly making downward comparisons between yourself and other people or between yourself and photoshopped idealized images in the media, you could have a pie problem!pumpkin_pie_body_spray_6e7995693.  Can a person re-train or adjust their sense of self so that there is less focus on body image or body esteem?
If yes, HOW can a person begin to do this?
Absolutely! One of my favorite exercises takes us back to the mirror and has people retool that negative commentary that they often have when looking at themselves in the looking glass. It’s not easy and it takes practice, but you have to break the habit of criticizing yourself and pointing out your own flaws. You need to look yourself in the eye and say something positive about who you are, not what you you look like. With enough practice, the mirror can become a friend, not an enemy and you can learn to look beneath the surface to who you really are.
4.  Is low body image a common trait in some, most or all patients with eating disorders (including binge eating disorder)? 
Yes, even if it is not a diagnostic criterion for BED, it is often still there. Of course the disturbance can take different forms across the eating disorders, at at the core, dissatisfaction with body shape or weight is there across the board.5.  Would it be true to say that if we start teaching kids how to evolve a healthy body image, we might be able to stave off eating disorders?  (Latest research?)
I don’t know that we have the data to say that definitively yet, but it sure would be a step in the right direction. Our whole culture is built around girls and women being dissatisfied with their looks. Women use dissatisfaction to bond with each other (which is quite twisted when you think about it). It has an I am more miserable than you feeling to it. If women are qvetching about other people’s bodies or complaining about their own looks, you are within your rights to steer the conversation in another direction. Or, if they are pushing you to join the conversation, you can just say that you don’t speak that language.6.  Aside from a healthy body image, are their other ways to help individuals evolve a healthier self-esteem?
We can help others build healthier esteem by letting them know on a regular basis things that you value about the other than their looks. It goes back to the earliest experiences when someone shows you a picture of their new baby. We almost always respond with how pretty she is or how handsome he is. Try using different words, like alert, sweet, adorable, cuddlable, anything that points to characteristics that are not just physical appearance. Of course with babies and pictures, looks is pretty much all you have to go on, but you are setting the stage and practicing praising even the youngest of people for characteristics other than physical appearance.
womanInMirror-Bulik7.  Can you share your inspiration for writing Woman in the Mirror?
Sure, I had two locker room experiences. One was at the place where I ice skate. There is also a pool there, and a bunch of dripping little 6 year old girls came out of the pool into the locker room. They looked like regular normal-weight little 6 year olds in swim suits. I over heard them talking about their bodies and they are all complaining about how fat they were and how they had to go on diets. Now in my work, I am pretty good at estimating BMI and BMI percentiles for kids, and none of these girls was overweight. A few weeks later, I was visiting my parents in their retirement village in Florida and again found myself in a locker room, only this time with women in their 70s and 80s. I sort of expected some grumbling about the effects of aging and gravity on their bodies, but what I heard shocked me. They were basically having the same conversation as the 6 year olds were—complaining how they were too fat, had to go on a diet, needed liposuction etc. It through me into despair that this phenomenon started so early and persistent to long into older adulthood. Women are so much more than their bodies. We have so much more to share and so much more to talk about.8. Anything else you would like readers to know?
So this experience in the wellness center locker room got me thinking even more about body image and eating disorders in midlife and beyond which prompted me to conduct the GABI study (Gender and Body Image) which was a study of women over 50 and ultimately to write my new book Midlife Eating Disorders: Your Journey to Recovery. You can read more about that book, find loads of resources, and read more about me at


2 Responses to “Do You Have a Body Image Pie Problem?”
  1. Debra Hennesy says:

    Great article, Robyn! I can’t wait to pick up this book…it sounds amazing! Thanks for sharing!


Check out what others are saying about this post...
  1. […] This is an exclusive interview with the awesome Cynthia Bulik, PhD, FAED for NORMAL’s #RealDea… […]

WordPress SEO
Get Adobe Flash player Plugin by wordpress themes