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HOLD THAT BAD BODY THOUGHT figurine1

Jane R. Hirschmann
Carol H. Munter

One evening in our weekly workshop, a participant named Marion came in with a dilemma. "I'm getting married in two weeks and I'm in a panic. I'm afraid I won't fit into my gown; I have to wear a girdle and I don't want to wear one; I hate the idea of a video being made of the event; and basically, I don't want to be on display. Oh, my god, what did I get myself into?" It was clear to the group that Marion was having a run of bad body thoughts. She was preoccupied with these thoughts to the exclusion of much more important issues. But what were those issues?

We asked her to tell us about her dress. She told us that she'd bought it last year and that she loved it. She had chosen a size too big, figuring she would be most comfortable in a dress that did not cling to her body. But when she went for her last fitting, the dress clung to her body. The dressmaker insisted that the dress was meant to fit that way and said that she thought Marion looked beautiful in it. Marion knew she had gained some weight; she also knew that she did not want the dress to fit this way. But she was unable to say, "Let the dress out. I'm more comfortable with a looser fit." Instead, she decided she'd wear a girdle. Of course, the girdle would pinch her all night and she would feel punished for gaining weight. More important, she would feel punished for whatever thoughts and feelings were underneath her bad body thoughts.

Marion explained to the group that her future mother-in-law had hired a photographer to make a video of the wedding. Marion had been unable to say that she didn't want one made. Instead, she focused on her fat and how she didn't want anyone to see her this way.

The group asked Marion to put aside her bad body thoughts for a moment and think about what else about her upcoming marriage might be bothering her. She said, "Everything else is fine, uh, good. Oh, that's not true. I feel upset. I'm very worried about money. I've always made enough money on my own to feel loose about what I spend. But I make more money than my fiancé and he's always asking what I'm spending my money on and why. I don't want to report to anyone about what I spend. I'm feeling very pinched at the moment. I want to go to the Spa in June when you hold your Overcoming Overeating weeklong seminar, and I don't want to have to account to anyone about the money."

Marion begin to realize that the pinched feeling she had about the girdle and her tight dress represented the constraints she was feeling about her marriage. Her loose dress represented the way she liked to deal with money. Marion had been afraid to address this issue within herself and with her fiancé. She said that her thoughts about wanting to control her money made her feel ungenerous.

As long as Marion stayed focused on her discomfort with her body, she could avoid the issue that was making her anxious and needed her attention. As we talked about it, she saw that she was letting other people make her decisions about what to wear and when to be photographed, much like she was letting her fiance determine how she should spend her money.

In the discussion, it became evident to Marion that raising the issue of money with her fiancé was going to be difficult. Although the group had a lot of suggestions about various ways of handling money in a marriage, Marion feared that her fiancé would not like what she had to say. It was clear to all of us that Marion was having trouble accepting the part of herself that needed to go slowly about the issue of shared finances and perhaps about sharing in other ways as well. After all, marriage represents a huge life change that includes many conflicts as well as pleasures. As Marion finally said, "I guess I'm worried about whether being together means losing my own voice. If I see things one way and he has a different point of view, will we be able to come to some agreement?"

Raising such concerns with a partner involves taking a risk—one that is vital to the survival of the relationship. Bad body thoughts camouflage our innermost thoughts and feelings and keep us from dealing with the real problems that need our attention. Under the pressure of her conflict, Marion forgot the adage: a bad body thought is never about your body. After the workshop, she was in a much better position to take charge of her wedding and to take care of an issue that had been eating away at her for some time.

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