Jessica: Hey everyone! Welcome back to the Going Scared podcast. This is your host Jessica Honegger, founder of the social impact fashion brand Noonday Collection. Are you ready for honest and vulnerable conversations that will inspire you towards action? Join me here every week for conversations on living lives of purpose by leaving comfort and going scared.
Today, I am sitting down with therapist Hillary McBride. Hillary’s not only a therapist, but she’s a researcher, a speaker, and a writer. I heard her for the first time on a Liturgist episode all about shame. She wrote a book in 2017 called Mothers, Daughters, and Body Image: Learning to Love Ourselves as We Are, which is really a lot of what we talked about today. We get really practical in today’s episode about how we can walk through our fears and our issues with our bodies.
You know it’s interesting because when I launched my book, Imperfect Courage, I spent a whole chapter talking about body image and a lot of the business press outlets asked me why I included it in the book. And I’m like, “How can I not?” Did you know that 95% of women say that they take issue with their body in some form or fashion? I know that body positivity is a little bit more a part of the dialogue today, but that’s only happening because more of us are deciding to be violently against how the culture says “This is what you should look like, and you need to be on a diet in order to achieve this perfect body and this perfect weight and this perfect person. So, if you have ever looked in the mirror and maybe thought something that you would have never said out loud to a friend, today’s episode is for you.
If today’s episode does encourage you at all, would you go let me know on iTunes. I would love for you to leave a review. Tell me what you’re learning on the podcast, Going Scared. Hop on over and DM me on Instagram. Listener feedback is so valuable for us creating a really great listener experience for you. Here’s today’s episode with Hillary McBride.
Reconnecting Mind and Body
I wanted to have you on because you are a … I would call you a body image, positive body image advocate. And I published a book last year, and it was very much about the entrepreneurial journey of Noonday Collection, it was all about living a life of purpose by leaving comfort and going scared. And a lot of that has just been my own journey of starting and scaling a business. But I had to write and include a chapter in there on my own journey of becoming one with my body, loving my body, my eating journey as well.
And it’s funny because when I did the press tour last year, so many of the questions I got were, "Why did you include that in your book?" It’s this business book, it’s in the business section, why body image? And I’m like, “Uh, do you know the statistics? Do you know how many women struggle with this?” And I think to have maybe a successful CEO writing about this journey was a bit jarring for people. And yet, I have found that this place in my life, it has been a huge obstacle. My own image of my body has been a huge obstacle, and me walking in my purpose. So, I’m like, “How could I not talk about it?” So, I was curious about your own journey and how you became interested in this topic.
Hillary: Oh, yes. I’d love to share that with you. But before I do, I just wanted to comment on why I think it was so important that you put it in there and maybe people’s reactions to it. From an academic standpoint, maybe even from a philosophical standpoint, when we look at what’s going on with our relationship with our bodies, we have disconnected ourselves from our bodies, and we see our bodies as an afterthought. We see our bodies and inhabiting ourselves and our physicality as this thing that only happens if we get sick, if we’re ill, if there’s something wrong with our bodies, then we think about them.
And we think of everything else that happens in life as separate. So, the people who are reading this book are thinking, "Well, the body is actually not related to business and not related to entrepreneurship." And what you’re doing, which is actually so similar to what I’m doing, is saying, the body and how we feel about our body relates to everything we do. Because this is our home, this is where we exist, and this is the place that we engage in the world through.
“The body and how we feel about our body relates to everything we do. Because this is our home, this is where we exist, and this is the place that we engage in the world through.” Hillary McBride
And if we feel shame about our body, if we don’t like how we look, if we don’t like how we move through the world, if people are judging us or excluding us from experiences in the business world because of our bodies, that relates to entrepreneurship. That changes how you get dressed in the morning, that changes how much time you’re preoccupied on managing your appearance instead of thinking about creative ideas and what you wanna do moving forward. So, I would just say way to go for including that in there and for narrowing the schism or the divide between body and life. Because actually they’re one and the same, but for too long…
Jessica: That whole mentality of what you just described relates to … I mean, our bodies are our homes, and if we aren’t stewarding our bodies then we’re not able to even bring ourselves to our lives. And that conversation is pretty faint right now. And I think when you think about sleep and food and water, all of these things relate to actually being able to live your life. So, how can we talk about anything without talking about our bodies? This is like, if we don’t have our bodies, what do we have?
Hillary: And there’s quite a bit of, I would say, feminist phenomenological research and writing out there to talk about how that schism and divide happened. And we see it go back as far as Plato, Plato saying the soul is separate from the body and the soul is better than the body. And Western philosophy as an influence, even on how Christian scripture was written and interpreted. Christian scripture and the birth of Christianity happened within a context that was steeped in Platonic thought and then we have Descartes who was saying, “Well, actually the mind is separate from the body.” And if you look at how trauma shows up, trauma shows up in the body and all of the -isms that we have like sexism, racism, ableism, all sorts of -isms that relate to the hierarchy of one person over the other, they center around the body.
So awful things happen in life and horrors of devaluing of being the self or the other happen. And so, what do we do? We leave the body to try and get into this place that nobody can touch, where nobody can conquer us, and that’s our mind. And we have found, I think as a survival strategy, a way of leaving the body to feel like we are not subject to the limits or the challenges or the pains or sorrows that come with living as a human in this body. So, it has worked for us to leave our body, but it has also cost us something. And I think that’s what you’re saying is like we have to take care of and be in our bodies as a way of actually bringing our full selves to the world.
“As a survival strategy, a way of leaving the body to feel like we are not subject to the limits or the challenges or the pains or sorrows that come with living as a human in this body. So, it has worked for us to leave our body, but it has also cost us something. And I think that’s what you’re saying is like we have to take care of and be in our bodies as a way of actually bringing our full selves to the world.” Hillary McBride
Embodiment: Embracing the Body as Our Home
And body image is one dimension of our body, but it’s really like focusing just on the wrapping. So, I’m actually an advocate of embodiment which would be to say like the wrapping. Let’s like the wrapping but there’s so much more inside, and we’re not limited to just how we look, that our body is so much more than our appearance. But in a Western context, in a patriarchal context, women predominantly have been reduced to their appearance. So, we don’t inhabit our body, but somehow we become hyper-fixated on what we look like. And in that way, we’re trying to leave the body, but we’re also limited to the body and how other people see us, that so often women are judged by their appearance which is all about being restricted to the body.
And so, sometimes, I think we too wanna get away from the body as a way of resisting what culture has done to us, to say how you look is the most important thing about you. But I’m trying to subvert the system and say the body is important but not just appearance. And yes, let’s love what we look like, and that means being compassionate with ourselves on days when we feel frustrated, but there’s actually so much more to the body. And I hear you say that too in your statement about eating and sleeping and having this tuned in relationship with our home, as a way of knowing how to rest and be caring and paying attention to emotions.
Jessica: So, I’d love to hear how body image, your own body image, has played into your journey of wanting to talk about this.
Hillary: Yes, absolutely. So, I guess I can start a few different places with this, but I’m primarily interested in body image and women. I would extend that to say I’m interested in women’s relationships with their bodies, over and above our appearance, but how we understand our physicality, how we move through space, how we take care of our bodies, how we talk to our bodies, how we shame or heal our relationship with our bodies. But all of that really comes out of a super, super fragmented relationship with my body and … I developed an eating disorder. I would say that the roots were there probably in elementary school and then it became really problematic about the time I was 13. I didn’t get shaming messages about my body, I didn’t get people saying to me, "You’re overweight, you need to lose weight." I didn’t get bullied for my size. I was like a typically developing kid who had a healthy body type.
Self-Control and Body Shaming
And it … for me, in retrospect, developing an eating disorder was more having control over my body because there were things in my life I felt like I didn’t have control over. And when I felt like my voice, my audible voice wasn’t listened to, a lot of the pain and experiences I was having got internalized, and it felt like I was bad and I had to control or shape or disappear my body—make my body disappear as a way of feeling like I had power or at least something I had control over in my life. I was also studying performance violin. If we fast forward, I’m in university at this point, and I’ve been in treatment for quite some time.
“Developing an eating disorder was more having control over my body because there were things in my life I felt like I didn’t have control over. And when I felt like my voice, my audible voice wasn’t listened to … it felt like I was bad, and I had to control or shape or … make my body disappear as a way of feeling like I had power.” Hillary McBride
I was studying violin and had this realization that I had made quite a bit of progress in my recovery at that point. I felt like I could manage without the eating disorder taking over. But I was playing violin in preparation for this Sonata I was working on, and I’d been playing for hours and hours and hours and hours every day, and got into bed and realized that the thing that I was playing over and over again in my head was this one passage, this one few section of notes that I couldn’t quite master. And it reminded me of the eating disorder which said, "Nothing that you’re doing right matters. Just focus on the one thing that you can’t fix and beat yourself up about that."
And so, there was so much similarity in how I was playing violin and in what the eating disorder was doing to me. And so, I decided to take a break from playing violin … from being in university and actually went and lived in the Northern Philippines for a little while in a very rural area where there was a woman who had set up a birth house for people who didn’t have access to medical care, and it was too far from the hospital for them to get to the hospital to birth. So, I went and lived in that birth house and helped with delivering of babies, primarily because my dad was a faculty member in a midwifery program or he taught in a midwifery program.
And so, we had midwives around and the conversation was always about how women’s bodies were so amazing. And a birth was this example of when women’s bodies shine in their rugged … ruggedness isn’t the right word, but like the power, the rawness, the instinct, and the goodness of that instinct. So, I wanted to get close to that experience as a way of trying to heal my relationship with my body. And loved it. It was totally unreal. And I remember seeing women do unbelievable things and seeing the goodness of the body in that situation.
Therapy: Midwifery of the Mind and Heart
And so, left the Philippines and came back and applied for midwifery school and didn’t get in and I was devastated. And so, decided to study psychology in the meantime while I was waiting to figure out if I would apply again. And I remember there was a few … I guess, a few courses that I took that really solidified this for me. But it made me realize that I was super interested in midwifery, but I was also really interested in the experience of being with someone as they were renegotiating their sense of identity and their ability to handle hard things. And when we’re with another person, when they are doing something challenging, they don’t have the experience of being alone in it, in a way that they can borrow strength from us.
And so, that was really the seed that was planted for me about being a therapist, was saying, "I wanna be a midwife of the mind, I wanna be a midwife of the heart." That there are moments of pain, that we all go through and we think, as some women said in labor, "I think I’m gonna die, I don’t think I can do this." But when we have someone with us who knows how the story can go, and who knows how to skillfully shepherd us to the next phase of whatever’s happening, not only do we not die but we can actually flourish, we can become more whole, we can have this experience of transformation, a feeling like we could do anything now.
“When we have someone with us who knows how the story can go, and who knows how to skillfully shepherd us to the next phase of whatever’s happening, not only do we not die but we can actually flourish.” Hillary McBride
So, I decided to go back to grad school. And at this point, I was still struggling a little bit with my relationship with food and struggling with how I felt about my body, but I felt like I was on the right track. And I really wanna emphasize that because I think it’s really easy to tell the story of, "I was really sick and then here’s what it looked like when I was better." And we don’t talk about the in-betweens very often of what were the steps that we took to get from here to there. And so, the entire time I was in my undergrad, in a way, I was internally struggling. There was lots of turmoil and I felt like I was doing a lot of hard work to push back against what I would call the eating disorder voice, and push back against the messages and the images that I saw in popular media that contributed to that eating disorder voice.
And it was when I started researching what I wanted to do for my master’s thesis, and I was really stuck on what topic to research. And I remember thinking that I had to do something that felt sexy or exciting. And in the end, I chose the thing that I was most afraid of as my research question, which would be, what would I do if I had a daughter one day who hated her body the way that I hated my body? And how do I, as someone who has the opportunity to do research and do clinical work, how do I shift that? Are there stories out there of women who don’t hate their bodies? And what do we learn about relationships with our bodies because of these women?
So, I actually started my research as a body image researcher because of my own fear. And in that way, I think it’s a beautiful thing, that fear can sometimes point us in the direction of the things that are meaningful for us. Sometimes fear tells us, "Don’t go there" but actually it’s just reminding us that going there is something that’s been scary in the past but isn’t necessarily bad now.
What Is Body Image?
But for me, it really shaped my research. And it was in the process of researching body image that I came across all of this literature about embodiment. So, in researching body image, we can only get so far because body image, as a construct, is this idea that we’ve come up with that we mentally have a positive or negative evaluation of our appearance. But what the research is showing us is that you can have a positive evaluation of your appearance, for the most part, but still not know how to inhabit or take care of yourself. And you could actually have a very, very unhealthy body and have a positive evaluation of your appearance. We know that some women who have a body that looks a lot more like the ideal have a positive evaluation of their appearance, but their eating pathology or the problematic eating or disordered eating is off the charts.
So, there’s actually got to be something more than just cognitively or thought-based evaluation of our appearance that leads us into healthy relationship with our body. And that’s where I came across these … There was some of the research of a woman named Niva Piran and some of these feminist researchers who’ve been looking at what does it look like to not just think about our appearance in a positive way, but really show up in our own skin in a way that helps us pay attention to desire and pleasure and appetite and fullness and sleep, like you were saying, and feeding ourselves and justice and play.
“What the research is showing us is that you can have a positive evaluation of your appearance, for the most part, but still not know how to inhabit or take care of yourself. … there’s actually got to be something more than just cognitively or thought-based evaluation of our appearance that leads us into healthy relationship with our body.” Hillary McBride
None of those things are captured by the body image construct because it’s just about image, as the term defines. So, we need to move beyond just image. And yes, that’s important. Let’s have healthy dialogue about how we look, but what about the rest of it? And that’s really where my research is focusing is like, yes, having a kind relationship with our image because as we know, our bodies change throughout our lifespan as women. But what about the rest of it? What about play? What about pleasure? What about desire? Those are not image-based things, those are embodiment-based things. So, that’s the 30,000-foot fly-by as any one story goes. There’s obviously more complexity and nuance and narrative. But, yeah.
Jessica: Well, we often teach what we need to learn, and so I do find that where you land in your life, it comes from your own journey of choosing to walk through fear to get to the other side and get to the freedom that’s on the other side of that.
Hillary: That’s right.
Jessica: I remember in my early 20’s I had a roommate who was from the Midwest, North Dakota, and she was like 6’3, definitely bigger bone, German background, had to special order her shoes and such. And she did not struggle with body image at all. And she would talk about growing up in the kitchen with her mom and baking pies. And that’s where I first was exposed to even the idea of baking because my mom was not a baker. And that is when I realized, because I grew up in a very, very appearance centric-culture and I grew up with a mom with a few sisters, where jabbing on their bodies and hating their bodies was a central way that they connected when they got together.
So, I grew up hearing women just look at themselves and saying, "I’m fat." That was just very normal. I would say my mom and my dad are amazing people that have given me a huge level of confidence and "You can do anything in this world," but we learn more is caught than taught. And so, as I was around women … it was very typical for me to have several friends in high school that were being treated for eating disorders. That same narrative continued through college. So, when I graduated college and then went overseas and had this roommate, that’s … for the first time I realized my body is not the problem.
Hillary: That’s right.
Jessica: There’s this woman who… And I am a little curvier, so I definitely am not … I am a very muscular, hourglass, curvy girl. So, there’s that narrative too. So, anyway, but that was when I realized I’ve seen my body as a problem that needs to be fixed instead of my house that needs to be loved and cared for. And that was revolutionary for me. But that was when I was 22 but it wasn’t until 38 … and again, the same thing. I got pregnant with my girl, and I was scared to death. I was like, "Oh, my gosh. I don’t want her to have the same story." And so, that’s really what sent me into going to a therapist that did focus on body image. And then that is where I was exposed for the first time to this whole idea of intuitive eating. So, I would love for us to talk a little bit about the correlation between body image and how we eat. Because certainly how we eat is part of this embodiment, and it’s part of being in our bodies, is how we fuel our bodies. So, what’s that journey been like for you or how do you counsel people…? Because I do find there’s this correlation between the two.
Hillary: Yeah. That’s right. The research is actually really fascinating. It shows this, you’re right, a correlation between body image and eating disorders or disrupted eating behaviors, or we could even say positive body image and healthy eating behaviors occasionally. It’s not a one to one correlation though. So, there is some other factors that play into it. But we know that having a negative body image is a significant predictor of having disordered eating behavior.
Because in our culture we see people … there’s so much discourse around what body needs to look like, what our bodies need to show up in this space like, as a way to be desirable and valuable as a human being. And the connection has often been communicated to us early through education and through media, that what you eat can change your body type. So, we know that people who have shame about their body or have been told, or like you said, it’s been caught by them, that their body needs to be different for them to be acceptable in some way, often try to modify their body size through eating.
Now, the really frustrating part about this whole thing is like, yes, healthy eating is important and taking care of our bodies are important, but we know that 95% of diets, if not up to 99% of diets fail, that they just don’t work, that they’re not sustainable, that they don’t create long-term change, and that they actually usually create more stress for people’s body systems because people’s bodies actually think that they’re starving.
And so, the kickback, if there’s been any change in eating behavior is that their body goes, "Oh, thank goodness. Oh, good I’ve gotten some food. I’ve been starving for so long and now I’ve gotten food." Is that after diets, people often gain more weight. So, the frustrating thing is that we’re told that our bodies aren’t good, and we’re trying to change our eating behavior to make our bodies better in the eyes of our culture, and yet that often leads people into a cycle of yo-yo dieting because they’re frustrated with their body, and their body is actually protesting the starvation mode that they’ve been put in.
But we unfortunately need to be critical … maybe not unfortunately, but we need to be really, really critical of the messages that we’re seeing in the education system, in media, on social media as well about what kind of bodies are ideal, but also what food choices are healthy and sustainable for us. Because I think … and this is a link that I’ve talked about in other places before, that we can confuse health with diet culture. So, we think that we’re doing things that are healthy for ourselves like certain fad diets and they’re portrayed as taking responsibility for your body and clean eating.
And what they’re doing is they’re just serving this machine that tells us that certain kinds of bodies are ideal and others are not. And so, we need to be really critical of those messages about ideal bodies, but also what is the message that we’re getting about how we eat, and how are we doing that? How are we eating? How are we responding to these messages about eating in ways that actually fuel our own body shame or fuel diet culture?
“We can confuse health with diet culture. So, we think that we’re doing things that are healthy for ourselves like certain fad diets and they’re portrayed as taking responsibility for your body and clean eating. And what they’re doing is they’re just serving this machine that tells us that certain kinds of bodies are ideal and others are not.” Hillary McBride
Building Body Positivity
Jessica: What are some practical things that … for the listener that’s listening right now and is going, "I am in the pit, I am struggling, and I don’t even relate to some of this idea that I could be free." What are some of those ways we can help her?
Hillary: Absolutely. So, the first thing I’d say you can choose which accounts you wanna follow on Instagram, right? And so, if there are accounts that you’re following on any social media platform that make you feel shame about how you look, don’t follow them. It’s that simple. You don’t have to follow them. And I regularly say this to people, "If there’s something that I’m posting that makes you feel shame about yourself, don’t follow me. That’s fantastic. I wouldn’t want that for you."
Jessica: By the way, we can mute for those of y’all that are really afraid to hurt someone’s feelings out there. Because it could be your best friend that’s just like … or it could be just for a season like swimsuit season that you need to mute some people.
Hillary: That’s right.
Jessica: So, you can mute, they’ll never know. You can then come back and unmute and … just to get that little tip. OK. I love that one. That’s real.
Hillary: So, choosing which accounts we wanna follow or not. And I would say that that extends to other forms of media, other shows that make us feel badly about our bodies. Well, let’s not follow those shows. And I think that, in addition to that, what I’d want for you to see is that if you are engaging in some sort of active resistance, to celebrate that. That maybe you don’t know how to say … to look down at your belly and your thighs and your skin and say, "Wow, I love you."
But maybe you can say, "I don’t like the stories that are going on around me that are making me feel shame about myself. And this is my first act of trying to put a barrier between the things that hurt me and the things that I want for myself." So, that’s a mechanism in therapy that’s actually really helpful for change, not just the action of doing something different, but pausing to slow down, to notice that you’re taking that action and to celebrate that for yourself as a way of reminding yourself, "I can do things that are good for myself." So, there’s two parts to that.
Treating Ourselves as We Would Treat Others
The next thing that I would think about suggesting is thinking about your body not as an it and more as yourself. So, if your body hears everything you say about her, what kinds of things do you not wanna say? And maybe a litmus test for this would be, would the things that you say about your own body feel OK if you were saying them out loud to your kid or to your best friend? And if the answer to that is no, then those aren’t things that you have to say about yourself. So, instead of treating your body as this thing that has no connection to you whatsoever, actually starting to realize like you are connected to yourself and there is an impact to the things that you say and think and do.
“Would the things that you say about your own body feel OK if you were saying them out loud to your kid or to your best friend? And if the answer to that is no, then those aren’t things that you have to say about yourself.” Hillary McBride
Practice, Practice, Practice
So far on this list are two things like not following the accounts and then also being mindful of what kinds of things we think about ourself and our body. These are all about things we don’t want to do and that’s a good place to start. But what we wanna do as well is add things in. What are the things I want to do? So, you could say, "Who are the people who increase my sense of compassion to my body, my ability to resist diet culture? Who are the accounts … which are the accounts that remind me that it’s OK to show up in lots of different sizes and ways in my life? I’m gonna move towards those things or those people." But then also think like, "What are the things that I want to say about myself? And what would it sound like if I started to do that?" And I don’t think you have to believe it at first to do it. In fact, this is like…I’ll digress just momentarily about neuroplasticity. Our brain is wired to change. Our brain has the capacity to adapt. But in order to do something different and for it to feel natural, we have to practice the new thing a lot. And that’s how we got, for most of us, how we got into this pit of feeling shame about our bodies.
You were listing off all these things in your friend’s study and how you did them but think about how much you practice those skills. No wonder they come naturally. It’s like we’re taking it so seriously like we’re training for an Olympic event in hating ourselves. We practice all the time. So, let’s think about trying to do something different and then practicing that. And I’m gonna give you and your listeners one of my favorite pieces of neuroscientific insight that has transformed the way I do therapy. But the things that feel natural and normal for us are often just the things that we’ve practiced the most, not the things that are actually best for us. So, if something feels normal, it feels normal to feel uncomfortable in our body, it feels normal to compare ourselves to other people, it might just be because we’ve done it a lot, not because it’s actually the only way of being.
And neuroplasticity is this principle that is fact, essentially, now in the scientific community, that our brains can change. But we need to support our brains to change by putting ourselves in environments and practicing cognition and practicing ways of being that actually enhance our ability to be kind to ourselves. So, what do we wanna say? How do we build a relationship with our body? What would those things sound like if you started today? I’m not gonna ask you if this is really hard for you, to go stand naked in front of a mirror and proclaim with certainty. "I love you" looking at your own body. Maybe that’s down the road. But how about saying "Thanks?" When you go for a walk and you’ve carried heavy groceries from the car into the house and you sit down and you feel your muscles ache saying, "Thanks, arms." "Thanks, feet, for carrying me." If you’ve birthed a baby, looking at your belly and saying, "Thanks, belly."
“Our brains can change. But we need to support our brains to change by putting ourselves in environments and practicing cognition and practicing ways of being that actually enhance our ability to be kind to ourselves.” Hillary McBride
If you look at yourself in the mirror, maybe even looking at the areas that you love most or looking into your eyes as if you were talking to someone you love and saying, "Thanks for showing up." And starting with these little things that change the inner dialog while surrounding yourself with people and voices that support you to do that, that creates the conditions where you could have this kind of, maybe what we call a positive spiral, where that becomes the new foundation, and it’s a jumping off point for doing even more risky things like saying, "What would it be like if I accepted myself as I am without conditions? And what would it be like if I actually took joy in my skin and the way my body is just because? Just because this is the life that I have, and this is what I’ve got."
Jessica: It’s beautiful. I remember the first time I did practice yoga, which I am not a yoga practicer, I really like sweating hard. But when I did, it was Bikram yoga. It was on this real hot … And I started bawling at the end because the instructor said, "Now, let’s thank our bodies for what you’ve done today."
Hillary: That’s right.
Jessica: And never in my life had I done a workout and thanked my body at the end.
Hillary: That’s right.
Health, Help, and Hope from Hillary
Jessica: That was my first invitation into what you’re talking about, this invitation. And one other thing, my therapist told me that this whole idea of just do the next right thing. Because those of us that have had disordered eating struggle with perfectionism which we tend to think, "OK …" The perfectionists listening right now have their pen and pencils out, they’re writing their lists are like, "OK. I’m not gonna do all these things tomorrow." But just like, what’s that next right thing that you can do, and just that there is freedom. There is freedom, and it’s a journey. But man, it is such a journey worth stepping into. I would love for you to share how we can come under your leadership a bit more in this area of embodiment.
Hillary: Yeah. So, I’ve written a couple of books. One is more of a clinical book, but it’s about using embodiment and working with the body in therapy and treatment. So, instead of just treating eating disorders from the top down or just changing our thoughts, looking at creating experiences in our body that give us an experience of goodness in our body. So, that’s more of a clinical text. But my popular book that I’ve written is called Mothers, Daughters, and Body Image: Learning to Love Ourselves as We Are. And the whole point of that is even if you don’t have kids, everybody is a daughter, everybody has gotten messages from someone, from the generation of women who have come before us, whether you knew your mom or not, whether you have a mom that you’re close with who had … regardless of what kind of relationship she had with her body, we all got messages from the women who came before us, and we all have a responsibility to change the narrative for the generation that comes after us, and to model for them that they can be in freedom too.
So, this is about looking at the link between all of us as women. So, it’s not just for moms, not just for people who had moms who struggled or who want to have kids some day, it’s about being a woman and changing our relationship with our body. And then, I’m a host on The Liturgists Podcast, and that’s something you can listen to. We’ve got an episode about body image and an episode about embodiment and one about shame. And there’s all sorts of good stuff in there. Social media too. And then I have a podcast through CBC called Other People’s Problems. And that’s a podcast where, with the consent of my clients, we put microphones in my sessions, and you can hear people getting therapy. And the beauty of that is, like I was saying earlier, we see what’s happening when people struggle and then we see when people have recovered. But does the change process actually look like? And what is it like to reach out for help and see people in and on the journey of healing?
Jessica: So good. Which it’s an ongoing journey still to this day. And part of my journey is accepting that it’s a journey.
Hillary: That’s right.
Jessica: Because I want there to be a point of arrival. I did wanna close the loop a little bit on how I was so afraid of having a little girl. And my little girl just had her first day of eighth grade this week. And one of the practices I did, I don’t know if this has ever been recommended by a therapist before, but I took showers with her until fifth grade. We would take showers together, and it was my practice to … And ironically, there was actually a mirror, just like the way my bathroom was set up, I had a smaller bathroom right there so I can see myself naked in the shower. And I would just, of course, never say anything bad about my body and just practice loving our bodies together, and we would wash each other’s hair. I have a little hippy dippy ass. I had a home birth and I live in Austin, all this stuff. I bet you’ll catch me in stilettos and statement earrings most days of the week, but that practice of just learning to be naked and unashamed with my daughter…
And just the other day we were adjusting our shorts in the Texas heat and … She has a beautiful muscular body, and so we were both like … Our shorts had ridden up. We have no thigh gap is what I’m trying to say. There is no thigh gap in either of our lives. And she’s like, "Mom, we both got those beautiful thick thighs, didn’t we?" And I just said, "Yep. Just like Beyonce." And it was just this moment of like, "Oh, my gosh, Oh, my gosh. Some of the stuff we’ve done has worked." You know what I mean?
Hillary: Yes. That’s right.
Jessica: And it was just so hopeful.
Hillary: That must have felt so good.
Jessica: So, I want to speak hope over women right now who are like, "Am I gonna screw up my daughter? And how can I…?" And that we can … Because I think some of this does come through generations and generations. And so … but we can change the narrative. And thank God our brains are designed with neuroplasticity and that we can influence how it gets rewired. So…
Hillary: And I want to … If I could just jump in here for one second.
Jessica: Yeah. Please.
Hillary: I don’t wanna give a spoiler alert, but that’s something that I talk about at length in my book that my research findings … and the book is from my master’s research so it’s an empirical study that I’ve put into more of an easy to read format. But the point, the main takeaway from that book for me was that there are moms who struggled with their bodies and their daughters don’t. And that is so hopeful because I think so many of us women who struggled with our bodies are afraid we’re gonna pass that on. And there are ways that we can protect against that. And there are things that we can do to shift the narrative for the generation that comes after us, even if we’ve had a hard time.
So, I want to echo your message of hope, to say that just because you’ve had a hard time, it doesn’t guarantee that your daughters will, but it does mean taking responsibility, and it does mean being aware of the things that you say and what you do and being mindful. And it’s really hard to be mindful when a lot of this stuff is so automatic and habitual for us. So, it does mean being tuned in and noticing what’s going on, but we can absolutely have hope that things feel different for us and for the next generation.
“It’s really hard to be mindful when a lot of this stuff is so automatic and habitual for us. So, it does mean being tuned in and noticing what’s going on, but we can absolutely have hope that things feel different for us and for the next generation.” Hillary McBride
And for me to feel like my eating disorder was so acute that I was … there were points where I wasn’t sure if I was gonna live or die, to this summer dancing naked in a barn with some of my closest female friends to the sound of … gosh, whatever pop music it was, under the moonlight. And feeling so free to be in my body with other women, that we could just dance around naked and love our physicality. I thought, this is life, that we can go from death into thriving, that we can go from pain into transformation, that we can go from aloneness into togetherness. And so, I wanna speak that over your listeners too, that there is always hope. There’s always, always, always hope. And you and I, and your story with your daughter and my story and my relationship with my body, are just little gifts to those listening, to remind you this is there for you too.
Jessica: We covered a lot of ground in this conversation, and I hope that it encouraged you. I have been on a journey of healing for so many years in this regard. And if you need a friend on this journey, I would love to be that person for you. I might not be able to actually talk to you, but I really try to talk openly about body image issue, about self-compassion, about mindfulness, all of these things on my Instagrams. So, if you want to head over, it’s @jessicahonegger—two Gs, one N. I’m also on Facebook. Tell me more. What would encourage you? I do not want to be one of those accounts that people mute or unfollow because it somehow triggers them to think that they need to be perfect.
So, I want to keep showing up in the world in a way that encourages people to be all who they were meant to be. I shared that story about Amelie and I in the showers, and, man, I just will always remember the time that she shared with me when she was in the third grade, she wanted to shave her arms. And in that moment, I knew, “OK, what’s happening? We are not professional swimmers in the family. She obviously has an insecurity around this.” And I was about to launch into some feminist pep talk about how “We can just love ourselves as we are, and what’s going on, and we don’t need to be insecure about anything, oh my gosh … How can she be insecure?” And I was so afraid, but thankfully I had developed enough healing and awareness in that moment to just create a space for her. And I just asked her, “What’s going on? Why would you want to shave your arms?”
As it turns out, she had been in a classroom and was making a birthday card for her dad and was coloring in his arm hair. And the kid sitting next to her said, “Oh, you’ve got hairy arms just like your dad.” And from that moment she thought, “Something’s wrong with me. Something’s wrong with my arms.” But that night in the shower, I got to just share with her that I, too, had been called “fat” when I was a kid, and that it took me 30 years before I actually said some of these stories out loud, and it’s only when we share these stories that they unstick their shaming power over us. And so, I encouraged her that night in the shower that, as she shared that story with me, it would unstick its power. And a few months later, I was preparing to give a keynote talk, and I wanted to use this shower example as an example of vulnerability.
So, I ask her permission if I could share, and she said, “Mom, I remember that night in the shower, but what was it that I was so insecure about?” And that’s when I realized that vulnerability when met with empathy leads to healing. There truly is a formula. So, I hope that you can find someone that you can share your stories out loud to, and I hope that you create an environment in your life, and practices in your life that can lead to transformation. Because I used to not have a lot of hope in this area of my life, and now I’m walking in a lot of hope and freedom.
So, thanks for tuning in. Share this episode. I would love for you to just screenshot it. Share it on Instagram or Facebook, or wherever you hang out the most. And thanks, so much, for making this show exactly what it is.
Our wonderful music for today’s show is by my good friend Ellie Holcomb. Going Scared is produced by Eddie Kaufholz, and I’m Jessica Honegger. Until next time, let’s take each other by the hand and keep going scared.