Open Feedback Dialog

Your Dress Size is Just a Number

By Kalin Burkhardt, MS and Emily York, PhD


It can be hard to separate our self-worth from our physical appearance and the size of our clothes.  Why is this such a common struggle? We constantly get messages from society and the media telling us that beauty and popularity are based on what we look like, especially how skinny or fit we are. The beauty and diet industry is funded by selling us the fantasy that if we just lost weight or if we changed our appearance, we too would be happy just like the models in the advertisements. It is easy to tell yourself that things in your life would be so much better if you were just thin. This puts a great deal of value on size alone. This road can become particularly tricky to navigate after extreme weight loss.  It is also a common experience after bariatric surgery to distort the way you see your body size and shape. For some, it can take up to 2 years to see your new size when you look in the mirror. This can lead to frustrations if you have placed too much emphasis on your appearance as an evaluation of your success. Your dress size says very little about you, and is just a number. It does not provide any information about intelligence, personality, beauty, or health.


How do you begin to bring your focus away from your dress size, and put more of an emphasis on other factors to assess your self-worth? The first step is to become aware of your inner dialogue. Although everyone has an inner dialogue, not everyone is tuned into it because it happens so automatically. What you’re most likely to notice is how you feel. How you feel is usually a result of your inner dialogue and your thoughts and beliefs about situations in your life. It is crucial to understand how your mood, thoughts, and behaviors interact to be able to change your body image.


In order to increase your awareness of your thoughts, keep a journal or diary. Write down your feelings or thoughts, and how you are reacting to different situations.. The goal of this task is to simply observe what is going on that may be contributing to your thoughts and ultimately your feelings related to your body. Bring your awareness to what your thoughts and feelings are without judging yourself for experiencing them.


Pay special attention to the thoughts that pop up. Examples might include, “I would be much happier if I were even thinner,” or “My weight isn’t coming off like it should.” In order to change your feelings related to these thoughts, it is important to change your thoughts into something more positive. When you find yourself thinking about your body negatively, challenge yourself to replace that thought with a more positive or neutral one. Instead of focusing on wanting to become thinner, for example, focus on all of the positive changes you have already experienced. Bring your attention to things like your increased energy level, which has allowed you to play with your children more. You might be surprised how your mood changes after you look at your body differently.   Your ability to be there for others as a result of your improved health says so much more about who you are than any dress size you will ever wear.