Expert Insight: Questions of Identity

“In my work with women who experience despair and conflict in their relation to food, I have found that in the first hour they talk about eating. By the second or third hour they tell me they feel confused and do not know what to do with their lives. They have little sense of who they are or what they believe. They are lost, empty, restless, confused and dissatisfied. They are struggling with all the questions of identity their mothers also faced”.

Kim Chernin, “The Hungry Self”

In many ways, little has changed since Kim Chernin’s book was first published over 30 years ago.

In my work with clients with overeating issues today, I’d say the majority are struggling with questions of identity.  They also feel lost, empty, restless, confused and dissatisfied. If food is an escape, it’s the discomfort of these feelings they’re often attempting to escape from.

And yet so much has changed in the last 30 years. Perhaps most notably, we’ve experienced the birth and meteoric rise of social media and, along with it, an ever-increasing culturally-driven obsession with appearance.

Sharing platforms are bursting with people, especially young women, compensating for a lack of authentic self-worth by investing solely in their appearance. Their appearance becomes their identity.

While I don’t think there’s anything wrong with enjoying how we look, it’s worth remembering it’s only part of our identity. Identity also includes our personality, character, values and beliefs.

Obsessing about our appearance (something I’m definitely still guilty of at times) can distract us from our real issues, such as uncovering beliefs that limit our personal development and exploring our place in the world.

So rather than avoiding challenging feelings, what if we allow them to point us in the right direction? What if we use the information they provide to get to know ourselves? And I mean really get to know ourselves – not the person we wish we were or the one we think we ought to be.

Then perhaps, rather than feeling lost, empty, restless, confused and dissatisfied we may begin to find answers to our individual questions of identity and develop a peaceful relationship with food.

©️ Julie de Rohan 2019.



Chernin, K. (1994) “The Hungry Self: Women, Eating and Identity”. New York: HarperCollins.

31 thoughts on “Expert Insight: Questions of Identity

  1. A very interesting post. I especially liked how you explained that we cannot let our physical appearance be a barrier between us and the world.

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  2. Hi Julie, thanks for another wonderful post. I really like your holistic definition of identity. How we look is, of course, part of our identity – but only part. I am often struck by how beautiful young women start off their YouTube videos by apologising for a chip in their nail varnish, or that their hair isn’t freshly washed, or they have (wholly imaginary) dark circles etc. Bright, intelligent women, with interesting things to say but focused on one tiny perceived imperfection. It can be depressing and as you rightly point out, it’s our culture that is obsessed with appearance. Your conclusion is so interesting – allowing our feelings to guide us, rather than trying to battle them. Lxx

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    1. It’s sad how women in particular apologise for some aspect of their appearance – I’ve caught myself doing this many times. It would be great if we could move towards not apologising for or criticising ourselves, but just being grounded and secure in who we are. Understanding our identity is such a big part of that. I also think that other people generally don’t just respond to our appearance. They tend to respond to the whole of us – our character, our energy, our humour etc. Great comment, Lol, thanks as ever for your contribution.

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  3. I think it takes a lot of courage to face challenging feelings rather than sublimate them or hide them behind our ‘bad’ habits. Exploration of those issues is ‘good’ for us of course, and helps us grow stronger and more wise, but when did humanity ever embrace the hard road in favor of the easy one? Interesting post!

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    1. I couldn’t agree more that it takes courage to face challenging feelings – I know only too well from my own recovery. I also know there’s a part of me that desperately wants to resist exploring feelings at all because they’re uncomfortable, but the understanding gained when I do is truly rewarding. The hard road ain’t easy but it’s worth it! Great to hear from you, Melanie, thank you for your comment.


  4. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!!… 🙂 everyone has issues of some type and unfortunately there is a element in worlds society who are closed minded and make life difficult for others needlessly… as Ray Stevens said “it is not the image without but the love within that matters, everything and everyone is beautiful in their own way”!.. 🙂

    Life’s Choices

    Life is full of choices
    Make sure you pick the right one,
    Don’t listen to the voices
    Hear only yours and you have won.

    Many people will tell you
    You need to change your looks,
    Don’t take to heart their view
    Fabulous bods are found only in books.

    There is only one voice
    That you should listen to,
    It will help make the right choice
    That is perfect just for you.

    Your looks are your own
    Someone will always love you,
    You will never be alone
    Look in the mirror and you’ll see who.
    by Rose

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  5. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!!… today’s world society can put a great deal of stress in one’s life while one is dealing with life’s challenges.. some even resort to drugs and alcohol.. one shouldn’t let outside influence cast doubt in one’s mind “Don’t be pushed around by the fears in your mind. Be led by the dreams in your heart.” ― Roy T. Bennett 🙂

    “Making your mark on the world is hard. If it were easy, everybody would do it. But it’s not. It takes patience, it takes commitment, and it comes with plenty of failure along the way. The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won’t. it’s whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.” – Barack Obama

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  6. So beautifully said, Julie. Our identity goes so far beyond the outer appearance. And yet, so much of the cultural messaging reinforces that message that women’s value is based on their appearance. When we start to challenge that idea as true, and realize it is not, it can start us on a path of profound healing. Thanks so much for this insight.

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    1. It’s true that the message is reinforced constantly that our value as women is based on how we look but, as you rightly say, we can choose whether to buy into that or not. I agree that when we challenge that message, it can start us on the path to healing and really getting to know and appreciate all of who we are. Great to hear your thoughts on this, Cristy, thank you for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Trying to see the use and ‘bright side’ to challenging feelings is a really good way to turn things around. I try to see the positives to chronic illness, and even though you have to squint really hard and think outside of the box, they’re there, there are lots of lessons to learn. With challenges in our lives, we can use the information they provide and dig a little deeper to know ourselves more intimately and honestly. In doing so, perhaps we can come to a great appreciation for who we are, acceptance, and healing.  ♥
    Caz xx

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    1. That’s truly inspiring – that you’re able to find positives and things to learn when you’re struggling with chronic illness. I take my hat off to you, Caz. You’re right that any experience in life can teach us, if we’ll allow it to. I feel it’s in this – as well as discovering and understanding our true needs – that we find out who we really are. Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

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      1. Always a pleasure Julie, you write posts with bite – l always appreciate content with some depth to it 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  8. When it comes to me, I always believe each one of us our born Unique to each other and our very own purpose in our lives. No twp people are alike. If we keep in our minds that, “Each one of us are Authentic – no one need to feel out of place and getting lost in the crowd” Hello from me and Hope you are keeping in Good Health and Happy 🙂 ❤

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  9. « Enjoying how we look is only part of our identity » actually a small part in comparison of this big chaos we have inside! I guess many die before reaching the point of discovering their true identity…like you I enjoy how I look and I know it’s important these days, it’s a good feeling to feel great about the way we look but we need to remember that we are much more than that, most importantly we need to discover whom we are not the person we wish to be or think we ought to be 👌 this is the main trick and paradox I guess
    I enjoy reasons your posts and will do that whenever I have time 😊
    Have a good evening

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Huguette, I’m so sorry for the delayed response but, for some inexplicable reason, your comment ended up in my spam folder and I’ve only just discovered it! Many thanks for sharing you thoughts on this post, I’m glad it resonated with you and I agree that it’s most important to discover our authentic selves, not the person we think we should be – I think that’s how we make peace with who were are. Hope you’re having a good weekend.

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      1. Hello Julie, hope you’re having a nice weekend
        Don’t worry it happens the entire time, thank you for retrieving it and for your kind reply 😊🙏🏻
        Hope we’ll be able to someday 🙂
        the weekend is good thank you for asking 😊

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