Body image and self-compassion: Guest Post

I got an announcement on a listserv earlier this week about an eight week supported group about Body Image and Self-Compassion, and the topic intrigued me. So I contacted Naomi Reesor, the organizer, to ask her to share its intentions and background with FIFI readers. I interviewed her via email. Thanks so much, Naomi, with being so generous with your time and heart.

Can you start by just telling me a little about yourself?

I am a registered psychotherapist (qualifying) working out of The Compassion Project in Hamilton. I work with a variety of individuals who struggle with anxiety, depression, trauma, OCD, gender/sexuality identity, body image, and more. This has been my first year working as a therapist in private practice, but I have been involved with the mental health field for the last five years working with a variety of clients through crisis counselling over the phone and providing supportive case management to homeless individuals living in the shelter system.

I identify as a white queer woman and use “fat” as a descriptor for my body. While I have had my own struggles with body image, I recognize that I also have the privilege of existing in what would be considered a “small fat” body in which I can still shop in most department stores and fit in common spaces. My whiteness, cisgender, and able-bodied identity also means I do not experience the same discrimination as others who face intersecting oppressions. 

Outside of work, I am a person who loves taking care of houseplants, watching RuPaul’s Drag Race with friends, and doing outside park workouts with my inclusive fitness trainer!

The title of your workshop — “body image and self compassion” — really intrigued me.  Can you tell me a little bit about the purpose of the group?  

The idea for the group originated by seeing both personally and professionally the impact that the pandemic has had on our relationship with our bodies. In general, people have been more confined to their homes and have less access to movement. At the same time, there has been an obvious increase of fatphobic jokes about gaining weight during the pandemic that only increase this negative feeling towards our bodies.

This group has been developed to help explore these complicated feelings towards one’s body particularly during this time, and specifically by deepening our self-compassion.

Tell me a bit more about self-compassion in this context?  

The basic idea of self-compassion is having the same care and empathy to ourselves as we commonly extend towards others. In this context, it is allowing ourselves to engage in kindness and understanding towards what we consider as inadequacies and imperfections with our bodies. We will also be taking a look at how we can extend compassion towards ourselves as a person who is going through a difficult time during the pandemic, and help normalize the changes that may be occurring in our bodies by recognizing the shared experience with others.

Naomi in “professional mode”

What’s your hope for what participants will experience around their relationships to compassion?

I’m hoping that through engaging in exploration and experiential exercises, clients will be able to foster compassion for their own struggles and discomfort, as well as gain a better understanding of how certain oppressive structures work against the idea of showing kindness to ourselves.

What led you to this topic?  What made you want to step into this space?

I began becoming involved with body positive spaces about 10 years ago when it was more of a niche internet movement. It helped me immensely to see others who looked like me showing themselves love and kindness, I have learned that self-love is a journey that ebbs and flows. These days, the idea of body positivity is more understood by the layperson but it has also been commodified and capitalised on in a way that sometimes pushes out the more marginalised individuals in our society in order to seem more sellable and palatable. It is important to note that the body positivity movement originated from plus size black woman who are now often pushed out of this same space.

There is also the fact that we may find ourselves feeling guilty if we are not able to engage in feeling positive towards our bodies while they go through changes. I want to be able to explore the complexity of these topics and allow ourselves the capacity for empathy during the low times, rather than sticking with the presumption that body positivity and self-love is always a linear journey. While the pandemic has really accentuated the need for this exploration, this has also been a topic that has been on my mind for a while as body positivity becomes more mainstream, yet seemingly also more exclusive.

Who are you hoping will participate in your group?  What will you be doing?

I am hoping that anyone who is looking to explore negative or conflicting feelings towards their body will be open to joining us! We will be working through how we develop negative perceptions about our bodies, what we want out of our relationship with our bodies based on our own comfort levels, and exercises for developing a kinder and more compassionate relationship with our bodies. This will involve both in session activities as well as homework exercises to try outside of the group.

What would you like readers of this blog to know about body image and self-compassion?  What message would you like them to carry?

Approaching exploring body-image through a self-compassion lens does not mean that we are going to increase your self-esteem or encourage you to embrace your own beauty. We want to be able to explore the idea of being worthy of compassion and respect regardless outside of how we feel our bodies look to others. If you are eventually able to get to a place where you are comfortable and happy with your body – amazing! If you are struggling to accept your body or going through re-occurring feelings you thought had already been processed, let’s explore how we can find compassion for this struggle and compassion towards your body instead of constant self-criticism. I want to hold space for this idea that there are so many ways to show kindness and respect towards our bodies whether it be self-love, body positivity, body neutrality, or body liberation.

If you are interested in participating in Naomi’s group, leave a note in the comments or contact her through this link:

Thanks so much to Naomi for sharing herself with the blog!