What do you feel when you look in the mirror? Gratitude? Acceptance? Contentment? Or disappointment and shame?
Poor body image is an issue that many of us struggle with. It doesn’t matter how many articles we read that tell us it’s what’s on the inside that counts; standing in front of a harshly-lit changing room mirror can make us feel defeated.
All of this leads to unrealistic expectations of what we should look like, dress like, and act like. As technology advances and we’re more connected than ever, it seems that self esteem — especially of millennials — declines. Recent studies show a definite link between social media usage and low self esteem. It’s way too easy to fall down a rabbit hole on Facebook or Instagram. You can be on your feed and next thing you know you’re on your ex-boyfriend’s sister’s best friend’s page wishing you had abs as great as hers.
Despite what we may believe, nobody’s perfect! Women and men in magazines are groomed, and photoshopped to match society’s preference. And let’s not forget that the “ideal body” changes constantly with the trends. Think about it. In the ‘90s, Kate Moss was the archetype of the “perfect woman” — fairy looking features and an extremely skinny figure. Did anyone think heroin-chic was healthy? Now, the tables have turned to favor “thick” women with generous curves, a la the Kardashian family. Following beauty fads can be exhausting and dangerous.
Comparing ourselves to others is the root of all evil when it comes to negative body image. Every single one of us is beautiful in our own way, and yet we are always looking at others and coveting something that they have and we don’t — or think we don’t have. We look at ourselves and think that we aren’t good enough the way we are. Why is it so hard to just accept ourselves?
Because body image, how we do and should look, envelops us.
Our first assessment of people is based on how they look. Advertising preys on self-doubt, encouraging us to perceive a problem (our body size, skin tone, dress sense) and then gratifyingly provides the solution (weight loss and muscle toning programs/equipment/food-like-substances, make-up/cleansing regimens/spa treatments/laser clinics… and clothes. Lots of clothes).
And we can be so cruel. To ourselves and to others, with a particular, special focus on women. It doesn’t matter if you’re fat, skinny, muscly, soft, hairy or bald… there is a brand of body shaming to fit your type.
Determine if you have a negative body image. You may already know if you have a negative body image, but there are some simple criteria that may help you if you are unsure. Ask yourself the following questions to determine if you have a negative body image:
- Do you perceive your shape in an unrealistic way?
- Do you think that only other people are attractive?
- Do you think that your body size or shape is a sign of personal failure?
- Do you feel ashamed, self-conscious, and anxious about your body?
- Do you feel uncomfortable and awkward in your body?
- If you answer yes to any of these questions, you may have a negative body image.
Culturally, we have this perverse notion that poor body image is a sign of modesty. It’s not. And people, especially women, who accept and appreciate the way they look can be perceived as narcissistic. They’re not.
Feeling badly about the way we look can be a devastating blow to our overall self-confidence, affecting multiple aspects of our lives. Which is why it is important to re-frame the way we view, think and talk about our bodies.
The following are 10 tips that helped me get over my body shame and start genuinely appreciating this life vessel I inhabit. None of them, I repeat, none of them, involve taking a mirror selfie in a bikini.
With 90 percent of collegiate women and 80 percent of collegiate men not liking what they see when they look in the mirror, you can probably imagine that I get asked the question: “How can I improve my body image?” on a fairly frequent basis. I do teach the Psychology of Eating, after all, and body image is a topic we cover extensively.
Here’s my answer: While there is no one way to improve your body image, a combination of any of the following may help:
and one more thing. Exercise regularly and eat healthily. Working out and setting goals can help you feel great both physically and mentally. A balanced diet is key, as well. That being said, you shouldn’t compulsively over-exercise or obsessively count calories. It’s tough to balance, but try to focus on the internal benefits of a healthy lifestyle rather than the external ones.
What you resist, you become. Fighting against yourself and loathing your body only stimulates more neurochemicals that keep you spinning your wheels. The exciting thing is: you can change. Change your mind, change your life. How? Make the decision to shift your thinking and your emotions will follow.
My final word on the matter is that positive self-image is a habit, not an attribute. I don’t always feel great about every aspect of the way I look, but if I’m feeling less than supremely confident, I pull my shoulders back, hold my head up and fake it ‘til I make it.
How do you feel about your body? Do you have any additional body-positive tips to share?
I can help you in this matter. Together we will kick ass.
Love, Health And Wisdom