Body Image Concerns in the Transgender Community
7 tips to work on your body image
Body image issues are especially prevalent in the Trans community. This can lead to worsening mental and physical health if not addressed.
Let’s Talk About Body Image
You have probably heard the term body image before. We often refer to our body image or self image as good or poor. Yet, most of us don’t often stop to think about what body image actually is and where it comes from.
Your body image develops over time. It is created based on how you view your body including your thoughts and your feelings about it. This can include physical aspects about your body such as the size, weight, shape, sex assigned at birth, or other characteristics. Body image also includes the attitudes about the body. Where we learn to view our body this way can be from our culture, family, peers, media, coaches, teachers, and many other social pressures. We learn that we can be accepted or rejected publicly or even in our own homes based solely on our appearance.
Many of us start very early comparing ourselves to others. We may look at what they have, how tall they are, how others view them, if they appear happy or not, or any list of things. The biggest issue with comparing is that we often compare what we dislike in ourselves to what we envy in others. Then layer this with cultural pressures of how we are “supposed” to look and suddenly, holding onto a positive body image can become very difficult.
Now if we layer onto these challenges a level of stress related to incongruity between sex assigned and birth and gender identity things get even more difficult. The nature of living in an incongruent way means that a person is not able to feel truly confident in who they are. If we cannot show up as our authentic selves, then we are forced to mask up and try to show up in a way that is more socially or societally acceptable. This incongruence impacts body image and confidence negatively. The research supports that body image improves for many trans individuals after receiving gender affirming treatments and procedures.
This is not to say that gender confirming treatment will fix someone’s negative body image or give them positive body image though as there can be new expectations that arise surrounding the body after receiving treatments or procedures. Feelings around the body can differ greatly at different stages of the transition journey. Achieving body neutrality or body positivity as a transgender individual may feel a bit like a moving target.
So what can you do?
There are a number of ways to start working on your body image.
1. Reduce the brain space.
My number one tip is to spend less time thinking about the physical body if you can. Focus on building other things in life that take up the brain space and take space away from thinking about the physical body. This might include a new hobby, a non-physical goal or spending more time with people who support your authentic expression.
2. Practice gratitude for your body.
Appreciate the body that you have as it is now and as it continues to change because no matter who you are, the body will and should continue to change. The science does not support motivation through hate. You cannot hate yourself into the body you want.
Appreciation might look like practicing gratitude about your physical characteristics (“I love that my legs get me up and down stairs, I am grateful that my arms hug the people I love, I appreciate that I have a genuine smile”). You can do this with a written or verbal gratitude practice.
3. Spend more time with people who unconditionally accept you for who you are regardless of how you look.
Practice letting them accept you and express that acceptance of you and your body even if you are not in a place of self acceptance yet.
4. Find others who are accepting of themselves and their own bodies.
This may look like body neutrality or body positivity. Both of which can be refreshing to be around. If there are not people like this in your current social groups, try to find a virtual support group (see the resources listed below).
5. Take care of the body using healthy behaviours.
Take care of your body the way you would take care of someone you love. Give it enough water, enough nourishment, adequate sleep and down time, a form of movement that brings you joy, and speak to it kindly if you can.
6. Social media cleanse!
Make sure you have filtered the media you are receiving in a way the works to support a more positive body image and prevents you from falling prey to negative body pressures.
If these are your closer family and friends posting information, remember, you can always mute, unfollow or even block their content.
7. Seek professional help.
The reality is that people with negative body image are more likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety. These are contributing factors to the development of an eating disorder. Find a professional who has specialized in working with body image in marginalized groups who can help you work through these challenges.
The longer poor body image persists without attention and support, the more likely a person may be to experience negative mental or physical outcomes or to engage in extreme behaviours as an attempt to modify how they feel. Given the high prevalence of anxiety, depression, and eating disorders in the transgender community, negative body image is a concern that must be addressed seriously.
If you or someone you love is struggling with negative body image, please reach out for support. Our compassionate and experience dietitians are here to help. Contact us to learn more.
Check out my feature on Healthline: Nutrition Guidelines for Trans People.
Find a Support group in your area or online:
Interested in seeing a difference? Craving confidence? Let us help you love the body you live in.
If you are looking for food freedom, a caring supportive co-pilot, and creating sustainable habits that fit into everyday life, we can help.
Don’t forget to check your health insurance! Many insurance plans cover Dietitian services.
Looking for more related content? Check out these related blog posts on our blog:
Disordered Eating, Emotional Eating & Sports Nutrition
Fitness enthusiast and lover of all things food, Jana is passionate about helping her clients improve their relationship with food and their body. She is a strong, motivational leader. Jana also offers the balance of a warm, supportive coaching style to nudge her clients from their comfort zone while feeling safe and supported. She specializes in mental health, eating disorders, body image and sports nutrition.