Learning to love yourself
Most of us have 'bad body days'. They tend to occur after spying another wrinkle or while flipping through a fashion magazine—stuff that’s pretty much par for the course for most women, and indeed many men.
But when you let yourself feel down about your body, this is a sign of poor body image.
All nibble away at your self-esteem, says Shelly Russell-Mayhew, a psychologist and assistant professor at the University of Calgary. “The female definition of beauty has narrowed over time, and now it’s an impossible standard,” she says. “Women are spending extraordinary amounts of time, energy and money on making themselves look better.”
At some point in our lives, most of us have cycled through the levels of body acceptance, which Russell-Mayhew defines as the ability to understand that how one’s body looks is only one part of who we are.
Some people end up defining success based solely on outward appearance. Obsession with body image can lead to social isolation, eating disorders and depression. Now is the time to ask yourself: Is your body image getting in the way of a healthy, happy and successful life?
Read through these types of body-image, and see which is the best fit. There's something to be learned from each type of body image, so pay attention to those you don't identify with, as well as your own.
If you are body-obsessed…
You dedicate a lot of time to altering your appearance through diet, exercise or even plastic surgery. You’ve avoided dating or applying for a job because you dislike your appearance, though you may not want to admit it.
You feel pressure (self-imposed or from others) to change how you look. At its extreme, body obsession can lead to serious disruptions in your life, including depression and eating disorders.
Some people end relationships or get into debt from beauty procedures, all because of a really poor body image. If you think you’re body obsessed, seek counselling.
- Quit ruminating. The more you ponder the things that you hate about your body, the more dissatisfied and anxious you’ll become. So check any negative self-talk. Body obsessives tend to blame their appearence for some negative emotion they’re having. “I feel fat” is not a feeling. Fat is not felt. Ask yourself what you are really feeling.
- Think critically about your influences. Examine your belief about what defines beauty. Think of those you consider attractive. Are they grounded, poised, kind, unpredictable? Guard against negative media messages.
- Use techniques such as those employed in cognitive behavioural therapy. This approach emphasises changing the way you think about something in order to change your behaviour. To do this, you need to challenge your views about your appearance. You probably can’t justify your belief that being thin will actually make you happier. This kind of thought inspection improves people’s self-esteem even when they have not lost their desired weight.
If you are body preoccupied…
You may underestimate how much you blame your body flaws for failures in your life. You frequently compare yourself to others, and come up short. You often experience bad body days, feel self-conscious around others you find attractive, and spend a lot of time in front of a mirror.
You believe you would be more attractive if you were thinner or more muscular, and beat yourself up for not exercising enough or for having a decadent meal.
You should spend more time reflecting on ways you can derive meaning, satisfaction and joy in life. Often, you’ll find that changes to your body, say losing weight, really won’t change anything at all. The reality is that what you really value in life is much broader than clear skin or tight abs.
- Engaging in dialogues with friends that go something like “I look horrible in everything I try on” is called “fat talk.” A study published in Body Image showed that resisting this type of conversation, instead engaging in positive body talk, makes you more likeable to peers.
- Appreciate what your body can do. Try exercises based on the practice of mindful awareness. Move away from thinking about your body, to living in your body. For example, next time you are walking down the street, experience how your body moves, feel the muscles contracting. You will find you relate to your body in a whole new way.
- Live for the now! Many people put their lives on hold until they are happy with their body image. Live your life no matter how you feel about your body; doing so is an important step toward positive change.
If you are body confident…
You feel strong, healthy and confident about yourself. You know that you are more than your appearance. How you look is important to you, but you spend only small parts of the day thinking about it.
You may dislike certain body parts, but you’ve made peace with the aspects you can’t change. The key is to maintain this healthy outlook, especially through pregnancy and menopause. Be aware of the messages you are sending others.
- For an extra boost, maintain good posture. Body posture not only gives a better impression to others, it boosts your own self-esteem, according to a study in the European Journal of Social Psychology.
- The simple act of exercise, irrespective of intensity or outcome, can also boost your self-esteem, according to a study in the Journal of Health Psychology. It may be that when we exercise, which we know is good for us, it translates into a perception of increased well-being.
If you are body bold…
Congratulations—you are among the body-confident minority.
The Canadian Women’s Health Network, estimates that 90 percent of women and girls are unhappy with the way they look. As for you, body image is simply not an issue. You have a strong sense of who you are, and it’s not measured by your appearance. You feel confident in your relationships, and you rarely let insecurities hold you back.
- Ask yourself: How well am I caring for my body? Whether happy or unhappy with your body, you shouldn’t be complacent about your health behaviours.
- Talk to your doctor about whether your health—not just your size—is optimal.