Expert Insight: Looking the Wrong Way

A signpost at sunset with "you are here" written at the top, below it three signs reading "self-loathing", "bingeing" and "poor body image" point to the left, a larger sign pointing to the right says "eatonomy".

“Body image is quite independent of physical appearance. Someone with high self-esteem tends to view her body favourably, regardless of how she actually looks.  

The weak connection between body image and physical appearance means that changing your looks won’t guarantee a lasting improvement in self-esteem…you need to get past your appearance and focus on your other personal strengths as well.”

Rita Freedman, “Bodylove”

It may come as a surprise that body image really has nothing to do with how you look.

When someone struggles with poor body image, we might say “it’s such a shame – if only they could learn to like their looks”.

In reality, it’s “if only they could learn to like themselves”.

If we want to feel better about ourselves, dreaming about having the perfect body and fantasizing about “fixing” our appearance is, essentially, looking the wrong way.

It’s looking outward, not inward.

A dysfunctional relationship with food is symptomatic of a dysfunctional relationship with ourselves. The latter can’t be improved by looking in the mirror. It can’t be solved with weight loss. It can’t be healed by the approval and admiration of others.

Self-esteem is our relationship with ourselves, no one else.

That’s why it’s crucial we give ourselves a break and get to know ourselves better, because if we can come to know and appreciate our qualities and strengths, we can come to know and appreciate our bodies.

It’s simple: hate yourself, hate your body. Like yourself, like your body.

If we think “I’ll like myself when I’m thin enough” we’re entirely missing the point. For how many years now have we been missing the point?

It’s time we started getting it. I mean really getting it.

We just need to stop looking the wrong way.

©️ Julie de Rohan 2020.



Freedman, R (1988) “Bodylove: Learning to Like Our Looks – and Ourselves”. London: Grafton Books.

8 thoughts on “Expert Insight: Looking the Wrong Way

  1. You’re so right, Julie. I’ve been slim, I’ve been large, back and forth and everything in between. I’ve been Karen throughout. It’s hard when the external world praises the slim body, even at times when it was the unhealthiest and unhappiest I was – being praised when you don’t like yourself makes a spiral that’s hard to step out of. As I’ve gotten older, I pay much less attention to external judgement anyway, and am much more comfortable in my own skin, whatever size it is.

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    1. It’s so lovely to hear that you’re now comfortable in your own skin, Karen – my wish is that we could all feel that way. It’s so sad that thin bodies are often celebrated – with no concern about the individual’s health or happiness in their journey to thinness. As you say, that quest for approval is a difficult spiral to get out of. Thank you for sharing your experience – especially highlighting that we’re still the same person, regardless of the size of our bodies.

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  2. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I think also, though, self-image became less important over time. To put it simply, I woke up one day, about thirty, and realised I was what I was. Did you feel that too, or was it just me?
    I think it is ever so sad when I meet a youngster who’ll say how screwed up they feel, and why would anybody find them attractive? (Not just physically attractive, but the whole package.) And it feels so wishy-washy, just to say that it will get better, that they’ll get less hung-up on their faults as time goes by. But I think we do learn to live with ourselves as we get older.

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    1. I think that was just you! But I’m glad to hear about your experience of waking up one day and being able to accept yourself as you are. It wasn’t until I was in my 40’s that I began to improve my body image as a result of understanding who was I was and why I struggled to accept myself. I’ve always had a turbulent relationship with my appearance and I’ve had to work at valuing and appreciating my body – flawed and imperfect as it is.

      I agree it’s sad when you meet people who can’t understand what anyone else would see in them. I meet them all the time in my work. They’re often the loveliest people with the most to offer, but they can’t see it because they lack a relationship with themselves and, because of their experiences in life, can only view themselves negatively.

      I think you’re right that we “learn to live with ourselves as we get older”. Perhaps things that seemed terribly important when we were young just don’t seem so important when we’re older and this must help with self-acceptance. Thank you so much for taking the time to share you thoughts – much appreciated.

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  3. Thank you for sharing!!.. I believe at times that society plays a role also as one tries to be like someone else instead of accepting who one is, or try to meet certain requirements in order to be accepted into a certain group of people… 🙂

    “It is not easy to find happiness within ourselves, and it is not possible to find it elsewhere.” Agnes Repplier

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    1. You make a really good point – often we feel pressure from society to look a certain way in order to be accepted but society’s expectations may not fit with who we really are. All the more reason to know ourselves well enough so we can be authentically who we are, and not attempt to be someone else. Good to hear from you, Dutch, many thanks for your comment.


  4. So very true. This made me think – a different point but bear with me – of when I’d say to my mother, even sometimes lately, “I feel fat”. It was more about feeling frumpy, exhausted, yucky, in pain, fed up, generally just bad about myself. I can’t look in the mirror on those kinds of days and see anything else, and it’s not my body that I’m having problems with, it’s me and the situation. A little different to your point but I hope that makes sense.
    The whole thing of how we need to learn to “love ourself”, as cliche as it sounds, really could make so, so much difference to how we feel, how we live our lives, how we feel about ourselves and bodies and relationships.. if only we could be a little kinder to ourselves as we’d like to be to others.
    Great post, as always.xx

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    1. It makes absolute sense to me and you describe so well an experience that so many of us can relate to – feeling “fat” often means nothing feels right within us, but we equate it with what’s on the outside. As you say, it’s not our bodies, it’s our internal struggle with ourselves. You’re right that being kind and nurturing ourselves makes such an enormous difference to how we feel but often people find it hard to believe they can break out of beating themselves up. That’s the shift that makes all the difference – if you can move from hating yourself to caring about yourself life feels so much better. I remember a while ago Merri at the Binge Free Blog wrote a really interesting post about feeling fat – here’s the link if you’re interested.

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Caz, good to hear from you as ever.

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