After decades of media influence on how women feel about their bodies, we are finally starting to realize that our female body images are seriously screwed up. It is so hard to find a female past the age of 8 in our society who does not have some body image wackiness going on in her brain.
Having a negative body image contributes to so many problems: Depression, anxiety, suicidality, eating disorders, obesity.
In fact, having a negative body image more strongly correlates with poor health than obesity does.
We’ve also seen that improving body image leads teen girls to give up smoking and lose weight even more than exercise does. Exercise and body image have a positive feedback cycle: Exercise improves body image, and people who have a positive body image are more likely to exercise, regardless of weight or BMI.
So besides a complete overhaul on what our society deems attractive, what can we do to improve our own body image?
3 Steps to Improving Your Body Image
- Stop the “fat talk”
Pretend your body is a good friend who is with you all the time. What would you expect from a kid who’s told that they’re bad and ugly all the time? You’d probably expect them to live up to that expectation, right? So stop telling your body it’s fat and ugly. Tell your body it’s beautiful as often as you can, and eventually you’ll start to believe it.
- Focus more on how your body functions and less on how it looks
What does your body do for you every day? Think about all the stuff it’s doing without you even thinking about it – filtering your blood, delivering oxygen to every cell, digesting food. Some of our bodies even grew another human being, for heaven’s sake. It falls behind on some things – right now my right knee is not really feeling optimal, but geez, it’s still getting me around. Our bodies are miracles, seriously.
- Practice self-compassion
One interesting study said that self-compassion is more important than self-esteem in developing a postivie body image. What’s the difference? Self-compassion involves accepting that you’re flawed, that you’ll make mistakes and that life is never going to be perfect.
“Women may experience a more positive body image and better eating habits if they approach disappointments and distress with kindness and the recognition that these struggles are a normal part of life,” said Professor Allison Kelly of the Department of Psychology at Waterloo, and the study’s lead author. “How we treat ourselves during difficult times that may seem unrelated to our bodies and eating seems to have a bearing on how we feel about our bodies and our relationship with food.” (University of Waterloo. “Self-compassion key to positive body image, coping.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 September 2014).
This mirrors what I often say, “Confidence doesn’t come from self-esteem.” Confidence comes from accepting that we have flaws and imperfections, that not everyone is going to like us, that sometimes we will have feelings we don’t enjoy, and that’s all OK and normal. Ride it out because the only thing certain is that whatever’s happening right now, in time, will change.
The same thing goes for our bodies. They get sick, they fail and get tired sometimes, but they usually also have lots of days where they feel really good. So let’s take care of our amazing bodies because we love them and are grateful for them, not because we hate them and want them to change.