By Jill Jensen
There are many areas of work for each individual pursuing recovery. One of the most difficult obstacles for many of our patients is body image acceptance. Body image is often one of the last areas to change and sometimes one of the most challenging. At Avalon Hills, we approach body image work from many angles. One of our interventions working towards body image acceptance is the shopping challenge.
Shopping for clothes for any individual can vary from an exciting experience to a downright painful one. For our patients, there is often a very high degree of distress while shopping for clothing, particularly for bathing suits!
We begin to consider the need and therapeutic benefit of shopping challenges as our patients start to make progress on their recovery path. As Case Managers we are able to experience, support, and work through fears associated with shopping as they come up in the moment when we take patients shopping. Ultimately, we know our patients need to be able to shop without it being a destabilizing experience for their recovery.
What we often see during shopping challenges
1. Distressing perception of size is and how their body looks in the mirrors or clothing
2. Overvaluation of size or external features as a way to define themselves
3. A focus on numbers
4. Shifts in patient’s ability to actually see themselves as a whole person (which is our goal)
How we create a supportive experience in shopping
First, when picking out clothing we encourage clients to grab a variety of sizes. Some individuals feel that they cannot be above a particular size. When challenging to try on different sizes, we typically find that individuals can fit in a variety of sizes and clients tend to be shocked or refreshed by the news. This is because every store and brand size their clothing differently. Sometimes the exact same brand and size fit differently. This can help patient unhinge from the importance they have placed on particular numbers in the past. Second, we focus on fit– here is an idea of what that means. We start with having the individual try on an item of clothing not facing the mirror. We are then able to check in with the client and see how the clothing feels. If a client feels good in the clothing (in terms of fit/comfort), then we encourage them to look in the mirror.
In conclusion, our hope is that shopping challenges facilitate growth and exposure as patients move in their individual recovery process, not for it to simply be an overwhelming experience. Shopping challenges serve the purpose of exposing patients to a real life experience that can’t be avoided with support and encouragement. Our best days include when we can see patients start to conceptualize themselves as others see them, as much more than a body or a number!