Boost Your Body ImageSelf-Love and Acceptance at Any Size
-- By Ellen G. Goldman, M.Ed.
On a recent trip to California, I went on a hike in Runyon Canyon, a park near my daughter’s apartment. During my climb, I overheard two women chatting behind me. One was expressing concern regarding comments her teenage daughter had recently been making. It seemed that she was miserable about her body, feeling ''fat'' and ''ugly'' compared with her other friends. According to this woman, her daughter's weight was well within the healthy range, and she had ''quite a lovely figure.''
I hiked on and began thinking about body image. Why is it that so many people in America suffer from such poor body image? I have watched too many of my daughter’s friends struggle, have met way too many women my own age who still express body dissatisfaction, and have even come across it with male clients over the years. These days, you can never be thin enough, muscular or toned enough, or beautiful enough. The effort and energy many are exerting to look better is not only exhausting, but also severely decreasing their happiness and life-satisfaction.
Humans have been concerned with appearance and physical attractiveness throughout history. However, in these modern times, it seems as if normal concerns have turned into obsession for far too many. In today's media, thin and attractive individuals are portrayed as being wealthier, happier, and more successful and carefree than those who are not thin. The way that we perceive our bodies is largely influenced by our perception of how we stack up against those media ideals, as well as against our peers. Poor body image not only decreases general life satisfaction and happiness, but it can also be potentially deadly if it spurs severe eating disorders or steroid use. Making a targeted effort to improve body image for ourselves and loved ones would be a smart, even life altering, thing to do. But how?
The answer to this question goes way deeper than just working to improve your body to be the best it can be. There’s nothing wrong with working to improve your body, especially when weight is compromising your health. These changes in lifestyle habits can be quite helpful, but only if accompanied by a mind-shift as well.
Let’s take a look at some ideas on how to boost body image, both for the short term and the long term.
Tips to boost your body image each day:
Find one thing to compliment yourself on every day. Often, when people are asked to come up with something they like about themselves, they focus on physical attributes. However, try to think beyond your appearance, to your uniqueness as an individual. Take pride in things such as being a dependable employee, a great mom, or a reliable and caring friend.
Wear clothing that fits well and makes you feel great. If you’re bothered by the size on the label, cut it out! Dressing in baggy apparel in an attempt to hide your body will end up making you feel frumpy. Wear whatever makes you feel pleased with your appearance when you look in the mirror.
Exercise. Studies show when individuals begin an exercise plan, they report increases in confidence, self-esteem and a decrease in negative body image even when overweight or obese.
Nourish your body with foods that will keep it functioning well so that you can do the things you love to do. Think healthy, not skinny!
Thank your body with some pampering for the great job it does carrying you through the myriad of tasks you do on a daily basis. Massages, scented body lotions, and warm baths will have your body and your mind feeling great.
Every time you receive a compliment, write it down in a journal. If you’re having a rough day, take your journal out and relive that warm, fuzzy feeling you got when you first received that compliment.
Don’t join in the complaint brigade. When your friends start bemoaning their bodies (and you’ll surely hear it at some point) don’t commiserate and join in with mutual complaints and put-downs. Find something about their personality to compliment, and genuinely share what you find best in them.
- Stop negative self-talk immediately. When you catch yourself slipping into negative self-talk (e.g. my thighs are so big, I hate my stomach, my nose is crooked and ugly, etc.) stop immediately. Counter balance that thought with a loving one. Would you say such critical things to your best friend? Of course not! It’s time to become your own best friend and treat yourself with kindness and respect.
Tips to continue boosting your body image over time:
Experiment with mind-body exercises. Many people report that activities such as yoga, Tai Chi and dance make them feel more connected and loving toward their bodies. Try out some classes at your local gym or studio and find something that resonates with you.
Ask your friends and loved ones what they enjoy most about you. I bet no one will mention anything related to your body-- just your personality and nature. How we behave and interact with others is what makes us who we are, not the shape of our bodies.
Explore and appreciate your personal strengths. We each have our own strengths and talents. When we share them, we impact the lives of others and make the world a better place. People don’t care what shape your body is in; they just appreciate the gifts you share.
Take stock and marvel at what your body is capable of doing, no matter what size it is. Write down all the things your body can do that bring you joy. Your legs carry you from place to place and up and down stairs. Your arms allow you to hug your loved ones or lift your child. Your stomach digests the food you eat, and your eyes allow you to see the world around you. Cherish these things as often as you can and remind yourself how lucky you are to be alive.
Who do you look up to, admire, or seek as role models? Make a list of what it is about them you value. I guarantee it’s what inside, not what you see on the outside.
Become media savvy. Understand that the pictures of models seen in magazines and on billboards are extremely enhanced. If you compare yourself to those images, you will always end up feeling bad. Stop looking at fashion magazines if they bring up bad feelings and strive to only surround yourself with positive, realistic images.
- Consider throwing the scale away. If you find yourself stepping on and off the scale numerous times a day and letting it affect your mood, throw it out! The number on the scale is fickle and can change drastically depending on your most recent meal, hydration, menstruation, and even the weather. When making lifestyle changes to lose weight, measure your progress by the way your clothing fits, tape measurements, or most importantly, how you feel. If you do step on the scale, do so only once a week, at the same time of day each time, dressed in the same clothing. The scale is simply an educational tool that lets you know if your habits are helping you reach your goals or if they need to be adjusted.
The road to a healthy body image can be a long one, especially if you have been struggling with poor body image for years. However, by taking deliberate steps to stop the toxic negative self-talk, it is entirely possible to be content—even happy!—with the way you look, at any size. By surrounding yourself with positive thoughts, friends, and images, you'll be one step closer on the road to body bliss.
The Australian Psychological Society. ''The Man Behind the Mask: Male Body Image Dissatisfaction,'' accessed April 2012. www.psychology.org.au.
Cash, Ph.D. Thomas, and Linda Smolak, Ph.D. 2011. Body Image: A Handbook of Science, Practice and Prevention. New York: The Guilford Press.
Mayo Clinic. ''Body Dysmorphic Disorder,'' accessed April 2012. www.mayoclinic.com.
ScienceDaily. ''Negative Body Image Related To Depression, Anxiety And Suicidality,'' accessed April 2012. www.sciencedaily.com.