By Melissa Giaquinta, Eating Disorders Psychologist, Lakeside Psychology.
Having poor body image is common for many, and for some it can have a major negative impact on the way they enjoy their lives. Somewhere along the way, we have lost our appreciation for our bodies and have begun criticising them for their shape and weight. This is not surprising given the constant (and often subtle) social messages we’re bombarded with about how happy and healthy we could be if our bodies looked a certain way.
The truth is our bodies are all different and this should be celebrated. Instead, we let society dictate how we should feel about our bodies. This can lead to a cycle of negative thoughts and feelings, dieting, and feeling even worse when we don’t achieve the unattainable body society expects. Despite research showing that diets don’t work, that body shaming does not encourage healthy lifestyles, and that health cannot be defined by weight, we still put so much emphasis on what our body looks like and it needs to stop! Improving body image is about learning to accept your body as it is right now, at whatever size and weight. Here are some practical ways you can begin practicing body acceptance:
Stop Incessant Body Checking
Throw away the scales. Any device that can ruin your mood simply by showing you a number is not worth your time. Avoid standing in front of the mirror for long periods of time analysing all the parts of your body you wish you could change.
Appreciate Your Body
Shift your focus from the way your body looks to all the amazing things it does for you. Instead of criticising the size of your arms, think about how amazing it is that your arms allow you to hold your baby, or hug a best friend, or throw that basketball in the hoop when you play your favourite sport. We rely on our bodies to achieve everything we do in life, yet we rarely acknowledge our body parts for the important functions they play. Learn to celebrate stretch marks, scars, cellulite and other imperfections as they are a reality of life and they paint a picture of your unique experiences. Your body allows you to do so many amazing things regardless of the way it looks.
Change the Negative Self-talk
Even though our body does so much for us, we continue to berate it. Notice when negative self-talk arises and reframe your thoughts in a positive or neutral manner. Phrases like “I hate my thunder thighs” can be reframed to “my thighs are really strong and allow me to dance when I’m out with friends”.
We tend to naturally accept our thoughts as facts which mean they have a lot of power over us and in-turn our emotional state. It’s important to recognise that thoughts are not facts, but rather just a perception that may be clouded by our own insecurities. Try to distance yourself from negative thoughts about your body. Using the phrase “I’m having the thought that…” in front of negative self-talk can help reduce the power of these thoughts. For example, thinking “everyone is going to judge me at the beach” implies that this is a fact and will make you feel upset, whereas “I’m having the thought that everyone is going to judge me at the beach” helps you to recognise that this is simply a thought and it may not necessarily be true.
Switch off from Societal Messages
Messages implying we should look a certain way are everywhere! From people complementing positively on weight loss, to advertisements of diets, and constant images of thin people living the supposed happy and perfect life. These are just a few examples of society’s messages that can bring us down. Start to notice these messages and get angry at them. You don’t need to look a certain way to enjoy life, and losing weight isn’t going to solve all your problems like the media would have you believe. Notice how different media outlets are impacting you and do something about it. For example, you may have to un-follow some of those Instagram accounts that leave you envious and upset about your own appearance.
Focus on your Positive Qualities
Acknowledge your positive attributes. Often we rely on looking a certain way to feel good about ourselves when we already have a myriad of other reasons to celebrate who we are. I’m talking about your personality traits, the reasons why your friends want to spent time with you, the achievements you have made, and the challenges you have overcome. Are you kind? Funny? Resilient? Spend some time thinking about what you value and pay attention to the things you do from day to day that is in line with these values. Make a conscious effort to do more of these things. For example, you could make a phone call to your parents if you value family, or organise a random activity if you value trying new things. Do more of what makes you feel good from the inside. This is going to improve self-esteem and reduce the important you place on your appearance.
Don’t Hold Yourself Back
It’s sad to think that sometimes we avoid doing things simply because we are feeling uncomfortable in our body. If you’ve ever said to yourself “I can’t go shopping for clothes until I lose a few kilos” or “I look really fat today so I’m just going to stay home”, you know what it’s like to let your body image stop you from enjoying life and all the pleasures it has to offer. When you’re older looking back on your life what do you want to remember? Will it be the amazing party you went to with your friends, or will it be the time you spent the night in watching Netflix because you were “too fat” to find an outfit?
Take a stand against negative self-talk and start living your life to the fullest. Buy beautiful clothes that suit your body right now. Go to the beach. Go out for dinner. Do whatever it is that makes you happy regardless of how you are feeling about your body. Focus on being in the present moment and you’ll get so caught up in making enjoyable memories, you’ll stop focusing on your body so much.
Body image can play such an important role in our self-esteem and mental health. Please don’t hesitate to talk to your GP and seek professional support if you’re finding that your body image is having a negative impact on your life, and you find yourself stuck in a cycle of dieting. For further information on positive body image, visit: http://haescommunity.com/