Avoiding vs. Chasing

[Includes excerpt from “Beyond Beautiful” by Anuschka Rees]

MYTH: Body confidence equals thinking you look good

No other myth is a clearer reflection of our society’s looks-obsession than this one. How could you possibly have a healthy relationship with your body unless you thought it looked attractive?

It turns out, thinking you’re hot stuff is not the pinnacle of body confidence. And to build a better body image you do not need to somehow convince yourself of your aesthetic appeal. What you do need to do is fix your buggy self-worth barometer and understand that your physical appearance (whether you fit the current beauty ideal or not) is just a single, volatile, and not even particularly interesting aspect of yourself. You are worthy for a whole set of other reasons.

To be clear, having a healthy body image doesn’t mean resigning yourself to a mirrorless life wearing nothing but potato sacks. All you are trying to do is to simply turn down the power beauty ideals hold over you by a notch or three.

I’m pretty sure you don’t have an intrinsic desire to achieve physical perfection for its own sake, but that you want what everyone wants: to feel worthy, happy, loved. And, like the rest of us, you’ve been taught that being attractive is your best chance of getting there. In the end, it’s exactly this toxic belief that fuels body-image issues in the first place, causing you to feel, well…less worthy, less happy, and less loved. And none of that is true.

Avoiding and Chasing: The two ways we deal with body-image stress

You probably know how your body image is making you feel: self- conscious, inadequate, stressed out. But you may not be aware of how your body image affects your actions. All the things you do and don’t do to cope with feelings of not quite (or at all) “good enough.” There are two coping strategies you may use to some degree: avoiding and chasing.


Avoiding comes in two major forms: hiding and running. Whenever you are trying to camouflage the parts of your appearance that you feel insecure about, you are using the first type: hiding. The obvious tools might be makeup and clothes, of course, but there are plenty of other ways to hide: for example by posing a certain way to cover your “bad side,” holding your hand over a “flaw” whenever you meet people, or having a friend stand in front of you in photos.

The second type of avoiding, running, is what you do when you avoid situations that could expose or highlight the parts of yourself that you feel self-conscious about. Here are some common situations people may run from:

  • The beach, the pool, and other places that call for swimwear or other revealing types of clothes
  • Places or events where you might be photographed or videotaped
  • Places with lots of mirrors, or where others may see you (partially) undressed, such as the doctor’s office, gym locker rooms, or spas
  • Seeing people who may comment on the way you look (such as friends or relatives)

The logic behind avoidance behaviors is simple: if others can’t see my flaws, they won’t judge me for them. But it’s important to note that, just as often, people run or hide not just because they worry about what others think, but to avoid having to confront the way they look themselves. This is often why people hate having their photo taken. They’re afraid others will see it, but they’re even more afraid of the emotional pain they might experience if they see a photo of themselves that they don’t like.


Not only does not being able to do what you want to do and imposing strict rules on yourself feel shitty, but it also reinforces your insecurities.

Every time you avoid going to an event you’d enjoy or stay on your towel while your friends have fun in the ocean, you’re telling your subconscious that your insecurities are valid. By letting go of your avoidance habit, you stop feeding that flame and, equally valuable, you are also giving yourself the opportunity to notice that, more often than not, nothing bad actually happens when you expose your flaws. People treat you the same way; nobody cares. That realization alone can often work wonders and help you overcome or at least tone down the shame you have attached to your flaws.


Instead of covering up perceived flaws and staying away from certain activities, some people respond to feelings of inadequacy in a very different way: by tightening the reins to control the situation and chasing beauty ideals. Classic moves include:

  • Dedicating big chunks of free time to improving or maintaining your appearance
  • Perpetual dieting
  • Responding to body-image blows (such as an offhand comment or a bad photo) with an even more elaborate beauty routine

Chasers do this because it gives them a feeling of accomplishment. And why wouldn’t it? If you believe your ability to be happy depends on your appearance, any type of beauty treatment will make you feel proactive, hopeful, and even like you are making a smart investment in your future.

Of course, the reverse is also true: things that reduce your attractiveness seem like a huge threat to your livelihood. This is why people with a shaky body image—even when they are happy with the way they look—will often spend considerable energy on their appearance to maintain it.


There are plenty of reasons chasing is no good. Let’s focus on the two biggies. First, a chaser’s routine costs a huge amount of time, energy, and money. Second, chasing reinforces the single most toxic belief that lies at the heart of body-image troubles: that your happiness and worth depend on your looks. Because after investing all of that energy into your appearance, you’re much more likely to attribute positive experiences, whether a friendly interaction or praise at work, to your improved appearance.

[She talks about how many of us do both, switching up at different times based on the context and how we’re feeling at the moment.]

[Whether avoiding or chasing], Tte fact that coping strategies reinforce a less-than-ideal body image is not the only reason to work towards letting go of them. It’s also about reclaiming control over your life.

When you regularly use coping strategies, your insecurities are making decisions for you and running the show. Your judgy inner voice is keeping you on a tight leash, telling you to never let anyone see your “flaws,” to never miss a step in your strict beauty routine, and to do everything in your power to look better.

Letting go of coping habits means having the freedom to spend your life outside of these constraints. The freedom to accept invitations and opportunities, and to simply enjoy life without worrying about what you look like. [To know that you can be happy no matter what.]

Alternatives to Coping Strategies: Mindfulness and the Inner Voice: [Excerpt and other info integrated]

  • Pay attention to the judgy inner voice, the one that represents diet culture and all the BS we’ve heard about how we’re supposed to look, and how a specific look makes us more worthwhile.
  • Notice the trigger that leads to the judgy inner voice, and how you respond to it. The action you take. How and when you follow the voice (and hide or chase) or not.
  • She says – think ahead to how you might respond to this voice, knowing where it’s coming from. Some ideas/examples:
    • You catch your reflection in a storefront window and the inner voice comments on the size of your arms. Response:
      • “It’s not my job to look as skinny as possible, I have better things to do, and I deserve to feel cool and comfortable like everyone else.”
    • Someone tags you in a photo and you see that your skin had a breakout, and your inner voice says you never should’ve gone out like that. Response:
      • “I am not going to allow unrealistic beauty ideals to restrict my freedom and keep me from living life to the fullest. I was having a great time that night and a hormonal acne-flare does not take anything away from that.”
    • You overhear people talking about how beautiful someone looks and your inner voice says you’d be that way, too, if your butt looked better. Response:
      • “I am intelligent, compassionate and headed for big things. If a single piece of my anatomy really keeps someone from wanting to get to know me, then I’ve dodged one hell of a bullet.”
    • [Practice not doing what the inner voice says – avoiding or chasing – even if you find you agree. Do anything but what it says, even when it’s hard. Settle into your awareness and let the thoughts go by. Practice sitting with the discomfort from this place of safe, caring awareness… breathing into it. It does get easier.]