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Your Weight is Not Your Worth: An Activity For Building Self Worth — Registered Dietitian Columbia SC

I mentioned “petals of self worth,” the activity in this blog post, in my last post on exercises to improve body image, so I thought this post could use a quick refresh and reshare. If you’re someone who enjoys art as part of your healing, I think you’ll love this exercise. If you’re a clinician, this is also a great one to do with your clients, either in session or as homework.

If someone asked you to describe yourself in a sentence, what would you say? I think most people would spout off a list of personality traits, hobbies, their profession, passions, or describe themselves in relation to others (i.e. parent, spouse, child, etc). 

Now, how would you describe someone you love? My guess is that you would have even nicer things to say, since we all tend to be a lot nicer to others than we are to ourselves. You would probably share a long list of characteristics that you value about your loved one and things that make them the unique individual you deeply care for.

If I could read your minds as you shared these descriptions, I would probably learn a lot about you and your loved one. But one thing I likely wouldn’t learn is body size, neither yours or theirs. That’s because somewhere within, we know that who we are as a human is so much more than the number on the scale.

Yet, it doesn’t always feel that way. In my practice, I work with men and women who have deeply internalized their size as part of their identity, usually unconsciously. While it might not make the list of characteristics of how they describe themselves, their weight takes up an outsized chunk of their self worth.

For example, I work with clients in bigger bodies who have internalized the negative stereotypes that society often portrays of them. I can’t tell you how many smart, successful, and hardworking people I’ve worked with over the years who consider themselves lazy, as that is a false stereotype associated with higher weights. When you look at what they’ve achieved in life, they are anything but lazy! But society has told them again and again that they aren’t doing enough, and essentially gaslights them into believing it’s true – that they aren’t worthy of good things in life because they are in a bigger body.

Similarly, I’ve also worked people in smaller bodies, especially women, who have gotten so much “positive” feedback about their thinness versus any other characteristic or accomplishment, that their body becomes the main thing supporting their self worth. It makes sense that any change to their body size (big or small), or simply a fear of losing one’s thinness, becomes an assault on their self identity and worth.

Unfortunately, the reality is that we live in a world that places greater value on smaller bodies – the belief that your worth is wrapped up in your body size is not something you personally came up with on your own. Anti-fatness is insidious in our society, and while it effects some more than others, it does affect us all. If you’re like most people I work with, this societal value is not a personal value, and just because a chunk of society might feel a certain way doesn’t mean that you need to adopt that line of thinking.

None of this is to say that one’s body shouldn’t play any role in self identity. Your body will often dictate your experiences in the world (especially if you are in a marginalized body), and experiences shape who you are as a person. It’s impossible to separate the two. 

What your body shouldn’t play a role in is your self worth. Who you are is so much more than a body. Seeing as how your body is almost certain to change during your life, it doesn’t really seem like a smart idea to wrap your self worth up in it!

An Activity for Building Self-Worth

One thing we work on with clients is helping them foster more stronger and more resilient self worth, and an identity outside of their body. An exercise I learned in individual supervision with Evelyn Tribole (one of the dietitians who founded Intuitive Eating) is an activity called Petals of Self Worth. It’s a really fun one to do with my clients who are more creative, but if you lack in the artistic department, feel free to use the images I included in this blog post!

To complete this activity, first draw, paint, or print out an image of a flower. Then, write down a characteristic you value about yourself that doesn’t have anything to do with your appearance in each of the petals. If that feels hard to do, think of compliments you’ve received from others, or ask for help from people you love. You could also look at this list of personality traits or this list of values for inspiration. Feel free to add more petals, or if you want to leave a few blank and think more about it, that’s OK too!

Have fun with this project, and feel free to take it however you’d like! I’ve had clients paint petals where the colors or drawings within represent characteristics – it is so cool to see how people visually represent who they are! One of my clients used pictures of themselves throughout their life, each representing characteristics about themselves, cutting out and gluing pictures together to make flower petals. You could also cut pictures from magazines and make a flower collage.

If you need an example, here’s a mini-flower I made for myself. It may seem silly, but even a brief glance at it and I notice a little joy and appreciation brewing inside my body.

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