I’m getting a Ph. D.! According to Dr. Christiane Northrup, any woman who looks at her naked body in a full-length mirror, every day, is in a Body Image Ph.D. program. You may have seen Dr. Northrup during Mountain Lake PBS fundraisers and she’s written several books including “Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom” and “The Wisdom of Menopause”. She’s an OB-GYN and dispenser of important wisdom to women regarding our physical and mental health. I love her spirit and her energy.

Dr. Northrup suggests (and I would agree) that we learn to love our bodies. The first step is by taking care of them – fueling them with healthy foods, exercising them regularly, resting them when they need sleep. She also recommends that we look at them, clothed and unclothed, and often. How else can we learn about them and notice their changes? This resistance that we women have to looking at our bodies, particularly our naked bodies, keeps many of us from self-exams for breast health and skin checks for melanomas.

When I ask my clients to embark on this journey, some roll their eyes, some laugh hysterically, and some cry. “Ilene, I haven’t looked at myself from the neck down in years”, is often what I hear. Believe me, I understand firsthand the courage it takes to look at a body that does not conform to the cultural ideal and that we have ignored for years. My clients tell me that looking in the mirror brings up shame, disgust, fear, a lifetime of negative self-judgments. I know! And we need to look anyway! If we do, a transformation process takes place. Over time, the more we look at our bodies, the more we appreciate them. The more we appreciate them, the more we like them (maybe even love them). And the more we look, the more gentle our eyes become.

One of my clients brought to session the February edition of Glamour Magazine because there was a six-page fashion spread she wanted me to see. The title was “You can look even better naked” and the photos depicted model Crystal Renn in nude colored garments from lingerie to evening dresses. Crystal Renn is gorgeous! And she’s a size 12 (considered “plus-size” by the industry standards and “average-size” by us American women). My client was so excited see a representation of her own body type in Glamour. “Look!” she said, “I recognize my thighs and my arms and my cleavage!” To Glamour’s credit, nowhere in the spread was there mention of a “plus-size” anything.

What my client didn’t know was that Crystal Renn has written a book entitled “Hungry: A Young Model’s Story of Appetite, Ambition and the Ultimate Embrace of Curves” in which she explores her journey from chubby cheerleader, to top model, first as a depressed and ultra-thin size 2, and then to a voluptuous and healthy size 12. She addresses her decision, as she watched her hair fall out, her deadening eyes, and graying skin, to eat – to eat so that she could experience the joys of life and of the fashion industry that she loves. She also wrote the book, she says, to change the way everyone perceives beauty.

As we see more Crystal Renn’s in magazines, on television, and on the big screen, maybe it will become easier for us to look at our own bodies – to accept them, take care of them, and yes, to love them, at whatever size. And maybe someday we’ll even think we’re beautiful! But we can’t wait for the fashion industry to catch up. So why not join me right now. Begin your own Body Image Ph. D. program. Every day, look at yourself in a full-length mirror. If you do, someday you’ll be standing there naked!

Author's Bio: 

Ilene Leshinsky is a licensed, clinical social worker with over 13 years of counseling experience. In her Plattsburgh-based private practice, she works with women who want more joy and fulfillment in their lives. Ilene’s BodySense program is open to women of all ages who are in conflict with weight, eating, and body image. She can be reached at 518-570-6164 or www.ileneleshinsky.com.