Growing up highly sensitive can have its disadvantages, for sure. You already know that, and it’s different for each and every HSP. There’s a lot of crossover between us, but we each get to have our very own unique experience. It’s such a journey, right?

What I want to talk to you about today is what I would consider one of the more common “crossover” themes that we experience as HSPs: poor body image.

More specifically—working on perfecting your body.

Self Acceptance And Body Image

As an HSP, I have a strong tendency to want to be in control. This way I am not so overwhelmed. A certain degree of control is healthy and good. The control I’m talking about today is when the control goes to a place where we are sacrificing health to be perfect.

I’m talking about those of us who feel we need to be a different weight to fit in. I’m talking about the ones who feel like they are struggling on a daily basis with loving their bodies, just as they are.

Years ago, before I knew anything about my HSP trait, I was always trying to “get better.” Somehow I landed on using my body image as a way to improve myself. I could not see what was right with me. When I looked in the mirror I focused on every ounce that needed improvement: the scars on my face, the cellulite on my thighs, the bloat in my belly. I set out on a journey to get better quick—because once I got to that magical place surely I would feel less overwhelmed.

I truly felt like people were fixated on my every flaw, just as I was. I believed my thoughts (a dangerous habit for HSPs) and even got into the habit of creating other people’s thoughts for them. My thoughts were so loud, I felt that other people could hear them and were saying things like, “Yes,” in agreement, “you need to lose a few pounds.”

I often joked around that when I grew up I wanted to be somebody. I lived life from that place of not having enough and not being enough. Happiness was surely on the other side of having attained firmer thighs and a flatter tummy – the elusive perfect body image.

So in the midst of working out and trying to control my every bite with food, tirelessly creating my “perfect body” so that I could finally feel free in my own skin and love myself, my therapist at the time had other ideas. She burst right through my perfect bubble when she said something to me that stung hard.

“Maybe you’re supposed to be a different size.”

Um, excuse me?

“Maybe you’re supposed to be a different size.”

Speechless.

How dare she! Couldn’t she see that my body wasn’t perfect yet? Did she not see how hard I was working?

“Maybe you’re supposed to be a different size.”

It stayed with me like an echo. I couldn’t shake it.

And she wasn’t talking about a smaller size.

Reframing My Body Image

At the time, I was nowhere close to being overweight. But the thing was—I had never (ever!) considered gaining weight. Why would I do that? It went against everything I had ever learned. I needed to control my weight, right? Isn’t that what I’m supposed to do so that I can feel good about myself?

I felt so found out. Did I need to gain weight? It didn’t matter. I was put face to face with a new possibility, which was exactly where I needed to be. Somebody saw me, really saw me, and let me know about something new. The rest was up to me to figure out.

We are saturated with images—daily. We see how we are “supposed” to look, what we are “supposed” to eat, how we are “supposed” to be. The message is seemingly simple: if we succeed—if we become more and more “perfect”—we are granted access to happiness, feeling amazing in our bodies, and feeling loved by everyone around us.

Let me tell you—that is one hard path for anyone to follow, especially if you are an HSP. So why would you want to? It leads to more suffering and more overwhelm. The very things we already often have plenty of in our lives.

Of course, I didn’t get what my therapist said right away. I just took offense to it. I internalized it as I do with most everything and eventually came out on the other side having finally heard what I needed to hear. The message that came through for me was that I get to love myself NOW. In this body. And that I get to love myself in the future—at whatever size body I become.

Somewhere in between now and the future is some “bettering” myself, sure. But the self love can start right now. There’s no need to wait for my thighs to become “bikini ready” (they’re ready NOW when I put on my bathing suit, thanks!)

What do you think? Do you struggle with body image and how do you deal? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

About Kathryn Nulf

My passion is working with women* (*cisgender, transgender, nonbinary, genderqueer – I welcome you). I grew up emotionally sensitive and through therapy I learned tools that taught me how to move through the world in ways that embraced my sensitivity. I soon realized my sensitivity was actually my superpower. I love to help women feel this empowerment, too. I came to therapy through healing from chronic pain and depression and an infinite curiosity for human behavior and a love for the complexity of people. I get what it’s like to feel up and down with your emotions, to get depressed or anxious and not know what to do, or even feel unsure of who you are. I have taught yoga for more than 10 years, and enjoy teaching my client's tools to regulate their emotions, communicate in ways they can feel good about, manage stress more effectively, and move toward what they want to do in your life. I believe that people are doing the best they can and that we cannot shame ourselves into a better life. I love to introduce clients to how they can practice compassion for themselves and create more meaning in their lives. You can find my practice at Therapy for Women Center in Old City Philadelphia, or find me on Instagram @counselingwithkat.

11 Comments

  1. Eija Searle on March 16, 2015 at 10:17 am

    I don’t like to be photographed, because I look ugly in the pics. I have been insulted too many times about my out look that it has taken it’s toll. I don’t accept the way I look and ageing doesn’t make things any easier to accept. I feel that what ever garment I wear it will not look any good on me. I am not fat, but I keep on eye on my eating and eat healthy food and try to do exercise. I have struggled accepting my body image as far as I can remember.



    • Maria Hill on March 16, 2015 at 10:48 am

      Hi Eija,

      Some people are more photogenic than others but that does not mean they are ugly. I do not take great pictures either but that does not mean I am ugly. I would love to see you find someone who can help you with styling so you are able to feel better. Sometimes minor changes can make a big difference.

      All the best,
      Maria



  2. Liz on March 16, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    As an HSP, this was powerful to read..I’m getting married in just 10 short months, and almost as soon as I was engaged I started thinking to myself “sheesh, I need to drop a size or two and get rid of all this arm flab I have before I can even THINK about putting on a wedding dress…” Funny thing is.. I’m 5 foot 4 inches tall, and I weigh around 120 pounds.. So after reading this.. I had some hope. I don’t need to drop a size, I’m already a healthy size. Love this.



    • Maria Hill on March 16, 2015 at 1:41 pm

      Hi Liz,

      Congratulations! Both for your engagement and freeing insight. I hope you have a lovely wedding.

      Maria