How do you know if your Body Image needs a tune-up?
Do any of the following apply to you:
- Do you pinch, measure, weigh, and suck in body parts obsessively?
- Is your day ruined when you compare yourself to someone with a “better” body (like an Instagram fitness guru)?
- Is your day ruined when you weigh yourself?
- Have you given up on exercise, going to the gym, or eating healthy because you think, “Why even try? I’ll never look like _____ (fill in an ideal) anyway!”
- Severely restrict food, purge, or overexercise to control your weight?
- Taken a selfie more than 10 times in a row, trying to capture your body at the best angle?
- Panicked because you thought you didn’t look good enough for an upcoming vacation or event?
- Worried about being scrutinized for how you looked when posting a pic on social media?
- Been surprised by the health or fitness of someone who does not have a stereotypical “fit -looking” body?
- Scrutinized a body part that you did not think looked thin / muscular / fit / conditioned enough?
Why is it important to improve your body image?
The short answer is that a negative body image is likely making you feel unhappy, and like you’re never enough.
The long answer is that there are ripple effects when you feel like you’re not enough:
- When you feel bad about body, your relationships suffer, even if you try not to let it show.
- Your preoccupation with your body image can consume your attention, leaving you less present for the ones you love, your work, or a hobby.
- You are likely sabotaging your health / weight loss / fitness efforts by fixating on the body image, rather than working toward creating a healthy, happy lifestyle.
- Fixation on a negative body image can become an obsession, and can lead to compulsive body-checking, weighing, calorie counting, or comparing yourself with others.
- You are likely experiencing yo-yo diets: rigid rules to “punish” your body into submission, followed by a period of feeling out-of-control with food, or completely lacking the will to exercise.
Three Steps To Improve Body Image
If you identify with the above descriptions, take heart that you don’t have to live this way. Negative body image is not a deficiency within you. It is the result of many factors, including:
- Feeling pressure from peers or partners to “look” better.
- Cultural beauty “ideals” that are a far cry from how the majority of people actually look.
- Cultural fixation on basing our worth or value as a person on appearance and achievement.
- Persistant negative self-talk.
If you want to move beyond negative body-image to a more positive body-mindset, you must first realize that improving your Body Image is a journey, not a destination.
Here are three tips to set you on your course:
STEP ONE: Forget Affirmations; Take action.
Affirmations–(or repeatedly telling yourself positive phrases such as “I am beautiful” or “I am good enough”)–tend not to improve your Body Image because once you have gotten into the habit of entertaining negative self-talk, it’s extremely difficult to convince your brain that the opposite is true. The negative self-talk loop has built up a litany of reasons why you’re not good enough, and will push back on any affirmation statement that goes against the negative self-talk.
Rather than trying to create a new way of viewing yourself by simply speaking it, create your new reality by ACTING it. This involves an element of “fake it till you make it”.
Think: “How would I be acting if weren’t hindered by a negative body-image? What would I be doing in this moment differently?” Then base your actions on that answer.
For example, you may think that you need to “look better” in order to wear a swimsuit in public. But your body is NOT the problem. It’s the negative self-talk you tell yourself about your body that is the problem. So prove to yourself that it’s NOT true that you have to look a certain way before getting into a swimsuit. Prove it by doing it. Get into that swimsuit. You may feel uncomfortable and self-conscious, but the more you act like you have a positive Body-Image, the more your Body Image will improve.
STEP TWO: You can’t punish your body and love your body at the same time.
When food rules and exercise routines are done out of self-loathing, you will not improve your Body Image. For example, when you are starving your body into submission, or exercising to exhaustion in hopes of looking a certain way, you are acting from a place of loathing your current physique, and hoping that by changing it you will start to love yourself again.
But here’s the deal: It’s not your physique that’s the problem. It’s all the negative self-talk you have about your current physique that’s the problem.
Also, when your diet & exercise plan is fueled by self-loathing, it will never stick if you’re also trying to love yourself. You can’t punish your body through rigid diet and exercise rules and love it at the same time. If you want to start loving your body again, consider easing up on the rigid rules, and tuning in to what your body wants–how would your body like to eat today, or what kind of movement would feel good in this moment?
Again, thinking, “How would I be eating / exercising if I already loved my body?” can open new possibilities for acting in ways that affirm your body positivity. You will likely be eating and exercising more playfully, more full of fun, and more authentically, rather that viewing it as a chore.
STEP THREE: Surround yourself with positivity.
When you’re doing the work of building a positive Body Image, it is vital to surround yourself with people who model self-acceptance, and who are balanced in their approach to eating and exercise.
If you find yourself spending excessive amounts of time comparing yourself to social media images, lay off social media. Watch an uplifting show, read a book, connect with family and friends, or go for a walk instead.
Do you know people who are grateful for how their bodies function, rather than how they look? Do you have people in your life who celebrate being able to move their bodies, use their bodies to travel and explore and enjoy life? Those people are out there, and perhaps rather than obsessively looking for the latest an greatest diet plan, spend some time looking for friends who appreciate and celebrate their bodies.
Who are the friends and family members who bring out the best in you? Which friends embody confidence and self-acceptance? Make an effort to spend more time with these people. They can model for you what healthy Body-Image looks like. Notice how you feel inspired by people who embody body acceptance and who have a positive body image. You can “borrow” their body positivity like training wheels, while you practice offering the same body-acceptance to yourself.
The Takeaway: You don’t have to loathe your body, and you don’t have to feel like you will only be satisfied once your physique looks a certain way. Acting as you would when you feel fully body-confident can produce surges in confidence in yourself NOW, before you’ve achieved your goal. You are perfect just as you are. Celebrate all that your body allows you to do, and surround yourself with people and ideas that inspire Body-Acceptance.
Please note, improving your Body Image will take practice, and it can be very helpful to consult a mental health professional to assist you in navigating this journey toward self-acceptance and body-positivity.