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Changing your body won't automatically change your body image

We all deal with the struggles of our body not meeting either our own ideal or the ideals dictated to us by society. At one time or another, we’ve all said some pretty horrible things about our bodies. But I’m willing to bet that we’ve all said some pretty incredible things about our bodies, too. Our relationships with our bodies are incredibly complicated. Whether we feel content with our appearance and not in our ability or vice versa, we often wrestle with what changes we could make to our bodies that would leave us feeling more satisfied.

But the thing is, even if you make a radical physical change to your body it isn’t going to simultaneously change the way you feel or see yourself. Our self-esteem and body image are actual relationships that grow and change similarly to interpersonal relationships. But they don’t just shift to line up with major changes in our body, for better or for worse.

Physical change doesn’t guarantee mental change

A universal experience noted through articles and interviews on this topic is that regardless of which way your body has changed, it takes a long time for your mental picture of your body to change. For some people, no matter how long their body has been changed they will always struggle to see their body the way it currently looks in the mirror — they still see their body the way it was before it changed. This is just one of the impacts of radical body change that we seldom talk about. Another taboo impact is that more often than not your new body may not be what you expect, and you may experience body dysphoria and depression along your journey.

A vast majority of these conscious transformations are to lose weight. Some people choose to do so because their bodies are no longer feeling as spry or capable, some choose to lose weight to better align their bodies with the standards of good health, and some people choose to lose weight to feel more beautiful in a societally normative way. And sometimes people go through these changes to lose weight and determine that the changes aren’t actually meaningful or worthwhile in their life.  

Weight loss surgery and life afterward

I interviewed a couple of friends who made the decision to do weight loss surgery in an effort to radically change their bodies and help them better align with the lives they wanted to live. We’ll call them Evelyn and Suzie.

Evelyn is a trained martial artist who used to crush it in the collegiate and recreational rings. At her heaviest, she was still an incredibly strong athlete and incredibly comfortable and confident in her body. Seven years ago, shortly before she became pregnant with her first child she found out that she had sleep apnea, high blood pressure, and was pre-diabetic. After she had her son she was a single mom who wanted to “live forever for [her] kid.” and so she decided to lose weight and decrease the health risks she’d been diagnosed with. Despite her efforts to change her exercise and food patterns in the conventional ways, she just wasn’t seeing any weight loss results. So she and her doctor pursued weight loss surgery to help her drop the weight and reduce the risks to her body. Just two days after her surgery she no longer required her pre-diabetic medication. She continued to exercise and train in Judo, and her body lost the weight. But as she got smaller, she discovered that she was less comfortable in her body, specifically at the idea of showing her naked body to a new partner. When you undergo radical weight loss, your new body is rarely the same proportions and shape as previous, and there is also more loose skin than in the previous iteration of your body. In the last few years, she’s worked hard on her relationship with her body, has said no to Spanx, and even did a photo shoot to help her feel sexy in her new, smaller body.

My friend Suzie is a medical sociologist who has studied fat people through her academic career. As a lifelong fatty, she was comfortable and confident in her body. After watching her best friend go through weight loss surgery nearly a decade ago and the positive changes it made with her PCOS and other health issues, Suzie decided to make some radical changes of her own. She adjusted her eating and exercise patterns and saw significant results in her body including reduced PCOS symptoms, more energy, and feeling stronger. She grew up with a professional bodybuilder father and had grown up around the gym and didn’t have as much stigma or fear around it as most fat people tend to do. A couple years later, in her late twenties, she moved home to work on her dissertation and her eating and exercise habits changed and she gained back the majority of the weight.

She was still happy and capable, but much like Evelyn, after Suzie had her first child, she began to think about more permanent, radical changes to her body. Suzie says that even know she’s of two minds about her decision because as a fat positive activist who has studied fat people her entire academic career, she was making a decision for both health and vanity reasons to “shirk fatness.” What I found really interesting though, is that her vanity reasons for losing weight stem from a desire to be more easily invisible in public, which is so often the opposite for the majority of fat women. She is still adjusting to life after her surgery (which was just six months ago) and is still watching the changes in her body and coming to terms with them. She seems to be in a positive place as she continues to unpack and process through the feelings and relationship with her new body.

Loving your body changes everything.

Body image and body love is a really complicated relationship, and if there is something you’ve identified as a way to feel more comfortable and more yourself in your body, then I think that is a wonderful thing! Even if that involves losing weight. When making the decision to radically change your body (or even small changes for that matter) comes from a place of loving your body, and not punishing it or hating it, the changes are more likely to be longer lasting and you’re more likely to continue having a positive relationship with your body.  Just remember: having the perfect body doesn’t mean fitting society’s standards, it means having the perfect body for yourself and your life.


Bubble Bordeaux is a body positive advocate, writer, and burlesque performer on a mission to help people discover the vibrant beauty in their bodies and themselves. When she isn’t focused on body pos and fat acceptance she’s advocating for feminism, polyamory, and bisexual people. She recently became a Brand Ambassador for Livi Rae Lingerie, a body positive lingerie boutique in Atlanta committed to helping every woman find her own sexy.

 Photo Credit: The Odyssey Online


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