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For better or for worse, your body is uniquely yours. Each of us only gets one, so how we feel about ourselves matters. When you think of your body, does it make you smile? Do you think, “I love my body!” regardless of what shape it’s in? If your immediate response when thinking of your body is an involuntary cringe, a shrug of the shoulders, or shake of the head, trust us: this is more normal than you’d think. Having a positive body image is no easy feat, especially if you are a woman.
What Is a Positive Body Image?
Body image is all about how we perceive our bodies. It also involves how we think other people see our bodies. Friends, family and, of course, social media can all influence how we see ourselves. It should be no wonder, then, that how you see yourself affects your self-esteem. A positive body image will boost your self-esteem, while a negative body image will most likely result in binge eating or other sabotaging behaviors.
Who Is Most Affected By Body Image?
As stated above, women are among those most influenced by body image. But perhaps even more disturbing is the reality that girls are increasing their desire to be thin. Elementary school girls are not only worried about how they look, but more often than not, do not have a positive body image.
As young as first grade, six-year-old girls begin to ask questions about their weight, worry about they are eating (which often begins a life-long struggle with food), and are more likely than boys of the same age to have stress around creating a positive body image. By the time they reach high school, almost all girls want to change something about themselves and are likely to be teased for some physical aspects of their body.
Why a Positive Body Image Is Important
Having a positive body image is extremely important not only for self-esteem but also for mental health. Those who have a positive body image are far more likely to make choices that are good for themselves and their bodies. Without such a love for their physicality, depression, eating disorders, and other physical or mental problems have a higher risk of developing.
How Social Media Plays Its Part
A large component of how we feel about ourselves is filtered through social media. Each day as we surf the internet or scroll through images on our favorite apps, we are bombarded with bodies. Most of these bodies are picture perfect—the skin is flawless and free of teenage acne, dryness, or unflattering birth marks. The bodies themselves are often toned, with just the right amount of curve and fullness in all the right places.
The perfect model is not just on the Internet. Men and women are subjected to specimens of beauty wherever they turn. The heroes and heroines of movies are always easy on the eyes while the villains are often ugly in some way. Bus stops, shopping malls, and subway cars—the list is almost endless, and the point is that wherever we turn, we come face to face with perfection.
Our minds don’t necessarily register the reality that perhaps this perfection is really a wonderful airbrushing job, or that the actor works out relentlessly and has a personal chef. All too often, we see the standards being set, look down at ourselves, and find something wanting. Building a positive body image is the best way to combat the possible onslaught of negatively created by social media.
A Positive Body Image Is Hard to Maintain
Let’s say there are days in which you feel fantastic about yourself. Your new jeans fit and look amazing, you’ve eaten well, and you have been showing respect for yourself in your eating habits, get to be early, get great sleep, and overall are rocking it! Positive body image—check. You feel good, you look good, and you are talking to yourself in a complimentary way. You appreciate you.
But then one day, the inevitable happens. You woke up feeling cranky, you’re bloated, someone said something about your hair, and within moments every aspect of yourself which seemed like a strength only yesterday somehow piles up as one weakness and flaw after another. Without even realizing it, we begin to compare ourselves to others and come up wanting.
How to Develop a Positive Body Image
By now, hopefully it has become clear how important a positive body image. So how do we develop and maintain a positive body image? Knowing how things can and will go wrong is not as helpful as having an actionable plan for dealing with it when it does. We all want the emotional stability, self-esteem, and great attitude that come with feeling good about ourselves, so let’s dive in a learn some ways to achieve a positive body image.
Realize That No One Is Perfect
Let’s get real immediately. Regardless of how great we might think others look, the truth is simple: no one is perfect. Everyone has a flaw or more than one. Remember that body image is also about how you think about yourself. Even if you think someone else might look fantastic, there is every possibility they are judging themselves harshly.
This brings us to the next aspect of this point: because no one is perfect, there is no reason we should be comparing ourselves. It’s easy to understand that as humans we compare and classify all the time, but comparing is only going to lead down a negative road of judgement and criticism. Don’t even go there.
Show Yourself Some Love
This strategy might be the most difficult, especially if you do not already have a positive body image, but it never hurts to try. Re-introduce yourself to yourself with an apology. Yes, that’s correct. Apologize for every hurtful thought, every sabotaging behavior, every unloving thing you’ve ever said or done, and promise yourself it stops now. Then take some time and appreciate you.
Appreciate all the wonderful things your body can do and does for you each day. Can you walk? Run? Sing? Laugh? That’s all thanks to your body. Your body helps you climb stairs, sit in chairs, and eat food. It might seem silly to start so basically, but keep in mind—this is not basic for some. Show your body some love with appreciation. Now add to this list to what your body does for you.
As you begin a dialogue with your body based on love and respect, the way you think about your body and how your treat it will change over time. Feed yourself well and move your body every day. It doesn’t matter if you dance a little or go for a walk or a jog, just move. The nicer you treat yourself, the better you will feel. It will build from there, and then you will have created a cycle where the better it gets, the better it gets.
Monitor the Criticism
We talked about how social media can worm its way in and wreak havoc with the way you think about yourself. A positive body image is built as much on treating yourself with love as it is with thinking about yourself with love. This might be tough at first, but every time you catch yourself creating a critical or comparative thought, stop and try this: go back to your list of what your body does for you. This works for friends, family, and strangers too. Keep your list handy in the beginning and refer to it often until complimenting yourself becomes the new normal.
When we have a less-than-positive body image, it’s mostly because we’ve created a habit of criticism about our bodies. It takes time and effort, but it is possible to create positive loving habits when it comes to our bodies, which work like armor against the inconsiderate, unkind remarks of others.
Create Goals for Your Body Image
If you are not happy with the state of your body, you can change it. Your first goal should be to accept your body as part of you and that to an extent, it is what it is. Whether you are short, tall, wide, or narrow, accepting this aspect of yourself is crucial. The rest you can work with. If your body is not as fit as you would like it, or you don’t fuel it in a healthy manner, then you can change these things. Start with one goal you can achieve, like losing five pounds. Create a plan to reach this goal and stick with until you achieve it before moving on to the next.
Regardless of your body size or type, you are a thing of beauty, and there is no one else on the planet like you. Literally, there are over 7 billion people on the planet, and you are uniquely you. Developing and maintaining a positive body image are paramount to the full enjoyment of your life. Love the body you are in, and enjoy all it offers you.