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Survivors and Healthy Body Image - Chat Transcript

The Pandora's Aquarium chat room welcomed Sally McGraw on February 24, 2011. Sally is a Minnesota blogger, freelance journalist, communications professional, and a style/body image expert. Her blog, Already Pretty, is dedicated to helping women be comfortable and confident with their body fashionably.

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Lyndsie: Welcome everyone to the Sally McGraw guest speaker chat! We’re very excited that she has agreed to discuss body image, feeling comfortable in our own bodies, and clothing as it relates to being a survivor.

Sally is a Minnesota blogger, freelance journalist, communications professional, and a style/body image expert. Her blog, Already Pretty, is dedicated to helping women be comfortable and confident with their body fashionably.

Thanks so much for joining us! :)

Sally McGraw: Thanks so much for having me!

Lyndsie: This chat will have two question and answer sessions. The first half will be questions you have submitted to me to ask Sally.

Throughout the chat, feel free to ask questions you would like Sally to answer in the chat room. These questions are sent to a queue that is moderated. We will do our best during the second half of the chat to ask all of your questions!

Let’s begin with our first question and answer session.

Question: What do you find is a good first step to beginning to feel comfortable or confident with yourself and your clothes?

Sally McGraw I think it's important to define your personal style. Many of us spend years just wearing whatever our peers wear, or whatever we think we can afford, or whatever is handy instead of being mindful of what we LOVE and WANT to wear.

In order for style to become a part of the self-love-cultivation process, it has to be fun and expressive! Defining personal style can be a doozy of a task, of course, and it often takes years ... but it's well worth the effort.

For starters, do some writing about style. List 5-10 adjectives that describe your current style. Write about brands you love, brands you hate, styles you love, styles you wish you could wear. Name a celeb whose style you admire, and explain why. List your favorite colors, fabrics, shoe styles, accessories. Write down any and everything you can think of that describes your style now, and your style as you'd like it to be. Then make a plan for how to get there.

Question: How do you help others see that obsessing over body "flaws" is unhealthy?

Sally McGraw This is a toughie, especially since trash-talking our bodies is so socially accepted that it's almost expected. Naturally, this kind of problem is best tackled one person at a time. If you've got a friend who talks endlessly about a specific flaw, reflect her/his words back to her/him. Say, "I hear you saying that you hate your thighs so often, sweetie." See if she/he opens up.

If not, try, "Why do you think you feel this way?" The best route is NOT to just pass judgment and tell people that obsessing is wrong. That will just make them feel defensive, and they'll close off. Instead, try to get them to open up. Start a conversation about bodies and body image, and discuss your own views in a calm, self-focused way.

Couch everything in terms of "I feel." As in "I feel like beating yourself up over perceived body flaws is so counterproductive," or "I feel like focusing on the negative might just make you feel worse. I know it makes ME feel worse."

Question: How do you find the confidence to wear stylish clothes and put effort into your appearance when you aren't feeling so beautiful?

Sally McGraw: I'm a big believer in the "fake it till you make it" philosophy of dressing. You can wait until you're feeling confident to wear your favorite outfits, or you can wear them when you're feeling lousy as a way to lift your spirits. Clothes are one thing about our physical appearance that we can always control. Why not use them as tools to help us feel better, stronger, more capable?

This post says more: http://www.alreadypr...-self-love.html

Question: What are some ways you suggest to women/men that can help them improve how they view themselves?

Sally McGraw: Daily affirmations are never a bad idea. Looking in the mirror each morning and identifying one thing about yourself that is unique, amazing, and gorgeous and stating it out loud - that's my favorite.

Making goals is another big one, since accomplishments are often so closely tied to self-worth. I do a list of goals every six months, but even a weekly one can help. If you're feeling badly about yourself, it can be hard to find aspects of your past that inspire pride ... so create some new ones. Set small goals, and track your progress so you can feel like you're making headway.

In terms of self-image as it ties into body image, obviously I think that playing with clothing and style can help. Since focusing on changing your body can lead down dark paths, some aspects of body dissatisfaction can be dissipated by changing how you PRESENT your body. Clothes, accessories, shoes, style: All tools for expression and exploration, and great ways to remind yourself that your body needn't change to look amazing. It's amazing right now!

Question: Did you have a problem stepping out of a "safe zone" when it came to clothes? What did you do to help yourself push out of it?

Sally McGraw: Definitely! You can see a little recap of my personal stylistic journey here: http://www.alreadypr...est-before.html It took me ages to move beyond black pants, black shoes, and solid-colored tops.

For me, the change came when I began to see dressing as a way to express my creativity and celebrate my body. Judging someone solely on what they're wearing is NEVER a good idea, but clothing choices do reflect some information about the person wearing them. So using style as a way to tell the world a little about yourself can feel marvelous, revolutionary even. Exploring and defining your personal style helps you hone it, and once you've started that process, you'll begin to feel bolder.

And if not? This is another place where faking it can help! This post has some tips for working through your style, even in the face of personal or peer challenges: http://www.alreadypr...-look-like.html

Question: Often as survivors, we struggle with poor body image and lack of self respect because of how others have treated us. How would you suggest someone work on creating a positive body image through dressing well?

Sally McGraw: One of the great things about personal style as a tool for self-love is that it is almost entirely within our control. Since we're adults, we get to choose what we wear each and every day.
While it's true that others may hold and express opinions about what we choose to wear or not wear, those choices are still ours to make. And that's empowering.

Dressing your body well is a highly visible way to express self-respect. Showing the world that you value yourself and your body is a great shortcut to starting to earn the respect of others. (At least, in my experience.) You are the steward of your own body, and dressing it beautifully can help keep that top of mind.

Question: What advice would you give to a trauma survivor who feels very uncomfortable dressing in clothes that may draw attention to them?

Don't! There's faking it till you make it, and then there's making yourself feel vulnerable. Style is a continuum, and there's no need to jump ahead to attention-grabbing clothes until you feel absolutely ready. If you force yourself to wear funky items before you feel comfortable doing so, dressing will take on unnecessarily daunting implications.

Some thoughts on the value of dressing for invisibility here: http://www.alreadypr...being-seen.html

What I'd recommend is wearing small items of great personal value. Accessories you love, or a necklace from a loved one. Make small, barely perceptible style statements at first until your confidence has built. Then move to garments one thing at a time: Don't wear a wildly-printed dress, wear a wildly-printed shirt with a blazer over it. Baby steps.

Question: What advice would you give to a survivor who struggles feeling comfortable in their own skin?

Sally McGraw: Perhaps instead of focusing on what your body has been through, you could focus on what it can do now?

I think that sports and athletics can be a FABULOUS way to reacquaint yourself with the wonders of your own physical form. Don't think basketball or volleyball if group activities seem overwhelming, try cycling, weight lifting, running, skiing ... activities that pit you against yourself. Dance, yoga, ice skating, bowling! Anything that takes work and practice, but yields the rewards of seeing progress. Feeling proud of and impressed by what your body can do does wonders for making you feel good about yourself.

If exploring athletics doesn't appeal, find another way to celebrate your body today and into the future.

Sally McGraw: Learn to cook as a way of caring for your body from the inside out, talk to the gals at Sephora about which cosmetics work for your complexion as a way of stewarding your own beauty, dress with care each morning to show your body respect and love.

Or simply make a list of the things your body can do. They don't have to be feats of strength! Anything at all qualifies: My body can lift a child, pilot a bicycle, create a perfect fishtail braid, knead bread dough, take gorgeous photos, paint the side of a barn ... your body is capable and strong. You just need to acknowledge it. I think that comfort within one's own body can be fostered by focusing on body pride. Because everyone's body can do amazing, amazing things.

Question: How can we foster love and respect for ourselves when so many of us feel unworthy of feeling beautiful in our own skin often due to the trauma we endured?

Sally McGraw: This is a tough one, of course. I wish I had an easy, step-by-step answer, but I don't. Recovery is a highly personal process, and each of you will craft your own path. I think that shifting focus from your body's past to your body's future can help; You can't change the past, but you can shape the future. What do you want to do with your body now? How will you honor and cherish it?

I think that crafting a personal style that reflects your inner self outward can help; Your body is constant, but your style can change. Use it to express your creativity, emotions, and, eventually, pride in your physical form. Looking good and feeling good can be connected, and loving yourself from the outside in can be effective. Take it from me.

I think that showing yourself kindness is vital. And that can mean forgiving yourself for feeling scared or overwhelmed or unworthy when you wish so hard to have moved on. It can mean resting when you know there are tasks to be done. It can mean being very, very gentle with yourself. But it can also mean treating yourself to manicures and hair salon trips without a shred of guilt. It can mean talking to friends about your pride in personal accomplishments without a hint of self-consciousness. It can mean finding small ways to be active and mindful of showing yourself care, respect, and love every single day. Eventually, those small ways will begin to have huge impact.

Question: You stated that we should find our own style, I basically wear second hand clothing, it's really the only thing I can afford. Can a person create their style through second hand clothing?

Sally McGraw: Oh my GOSH yes. I'd say 3/4 of my wardrobe is thrifted! If you cultivate an eye for quality items - good fabrics, good construction, classic shapes - you can assemble an amazing wardrobe from secondhand clothing. I've got a link to a post that talks about shopping for quality and longevity. Hang on ...

Here we go: http://www.alreadypr...-longevity.html I think thrifted clothing is a fabulous way to craft personal style!

Question: Do you ever have "bad body image" days? How do you cope?

Sally McGraw: Definitely. Because of how I'm wired, I have to take some sort of action to alleviate bad body image days. I have to either change something I'm doing, or make a plan to change. It can be as simple as taking off a belt that's cutting into my midsection and making me feel uncomfortable, or as complex as committing to adjust my eating habits (which are, admittedly, a little on the "catch as catch can" side)

The daily affirmations help, too. Sometimes just saying out loud that I'm strong and capable and lovely and worthy works wonders. And honestly? Sleep. Sleep is the cure-all for me. If I'm having a terrible body image day, a good night's sleep often does the trick. ;)

Question: What advice would you give to someone who feels confident in clothes but is the least confident with themselves when they are naked, especially during intimacy?

Sally McGraw: That's how I feel, too. I am SO uncomfortable being naked. I'd be willing to bet that spending some time ALONE naked would help quite a bit. Being comfortable with yourself is extremely important to being comfortable with someone else.

Naked alone time probably doesn't sound all that fun, especially in winter! But taking baths, painting your nails, other grooming stuff that can be done naked will help you get used to the feeling. I make myself walk around the house naked most of the summer. It works wonders for my bedroom confidence.

If you're like me, it's total nudity that feels strangest. So I usually enter lovemaking with my bra and panties on. (Guys, boxers or briefs, I assume!) Then taking them off can feel fun, shared, intimate. And then also bear in mind that your partner is excited by you! They are! They wouldn't be interested in rolling around in bed with you otherwise. And any negative feelings you have about your own body are yours, not shared. Let some of that love and acceptance warm you, if you can.

Question: I'm always critiquing myself on my body and even personality. How can I silence that and learn to accept a compliment?

Sally McGraw: Hmmm, well in terms of self-monitoring, start with awareness. Critiquing yourself can become so second nature that you don't even realize you're doing it. Start by being aware when you're trash talking yourself.

THEN, whenever you realize you're doing it? Follow up the negative with something positive. Tell yourself how awesome you are in great detail. You're smart, you're strong, you've got a flawless driving record, dogs adore you, you can do long division in your head ... ANYTHING!

As for accepting compliments ... start with, "Thanks." It's the quickest, easiest response and you can typically force yourself to say it even if you don't feel it. Next time someone says, "You've got gorgeous eyes!" Just say, "Thanks." Eventually, you'll work your way up to feeling the pride.

Question: How can someone overcome a lack of confidence in their personal style that comes from their style not fitting with what is "in" or not having it accepted by those around us?

Sally McGraw: I think the best thing to do is be subversive about your personal style. Find ways to wear what you want slowly and subtly until your environment becomes more accepting. Amass pieces and tools that contribute to your look, but deploy them in small enough amounts that it feels like your little secret.

Wear one or two signature pieces at a time. More ideas for creating a style you love in the face of adversity here: http://www.alreadypr...-look-like.html

Question: How do you cope with negative comments some people make about you or your body (about something you can't change easily or at all) and how do you respond? Those comments can sometimes make you feel really low.

Sally McGraw: Ugh, I hate that people are being nasty to you. And yes, it can be so painful to be on the receiving end of negative comments about your body.

I think "My body, my business" covers a lot of ground. As does turning and walking away. Bullies want a response, and if you don't give them one they get bored.

You could also try, "How would you feel if I said that to you?" Although that one can backfire. To be perfectly honest, I don't have any foolproof ways to deal with body bullies. If possible, I'd say avoid interacting with anyone who dishes out body criticism.

Lyndsie: We would all like to give Sally a big thank you for spending time with us tonight. We're sorry that we couldn't get to all the questions you submitted during the chat. Sally, the information that you've provided us with tonight is amazing! Thank you!!!

Ash: Yes, thank you so much!

Sally McGraw: You're very welcome! Any and everyone is welcome to write me with other questions. I'm not always lightning fast with the responses, but I ALWAYS reply.

Lyndsie: This concludes our guest speaker chat with Sally McGraw. The chat room will be closing now, but feel free to join General or Healing chats. Thank you everyone for attending tonight!

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