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How to be More Body Positive

by Brittney Schrick - May 17, 2017

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It can be difficult to cultivate and maintain a positive, healthy body image. Women and girls are at especially high risk for developing negative views of themselves, but men and boys are not immune. There are a few things you can do to improve your overall body image and that can help you in moments of feeling critical or down on yourself. These ideas, while simple, may not come easily, and they may take time. Give yourself room to grow and "mess up." Nothing worthwhile comes without work.

Look at yourself as a whole person, not just a body.

You are more than your body. You are a wonderful and unique set of characteristics that is wrapped up in an equally unique package. Avoid focusing on a single "flaw" or feature that you don't like. Work on viewing yourself as you want others to see you: as a whole, worthwhile person.

Focus on and appreciate all your body can do.

Your body is an amazing thing. It carries you from place to place. It allows you to do everything you do each day. You have lungs to breathe and laugh. You have muscles to walk, lift, sit, smile, work, and play. You have arms to comfort a child. You have lips to tell a story. You have ears to listen to a friend. Celebrate your body for what it can do! Even if you have physical limitations, you are alive, and your body can do amazing things!

Create a list of things you like about yourself.

Choose things that aren't related to your looks or weight. Can you sing well? Are you a loyal friend? Are you thoughtful? Curious? Family-oriented? A great cook? What characteristics do you have that make you unique? Add to your list as you think of new things. It may feel weird to toot your own horn, but it can be so helpful to have a list of positivity if you start to feel negative.

Give your negative voice a name, and then shut it down.

You know that voice in your brain that criticizes you? The one that says, "Ugh. You are so fat!" Or "Your thighs are huge!" Or "Your scrawny arms are so gross." Give it a name. Give it a name or give it the voice of someone you do not like so that you can shut it down. Name it Jasper or Florence or Bucko or Suzy or anything at all. It's much easier and more cathartic to say, "Shut it, Florence!" than it is to say that to yourself. Maybe there is a singer or actor or politician that you don't care for. Make your inner critical voice speak in their voice. You'll feel annoyed or angry instead of hurt or down. You wouldn't allow a friend or stranger to say things like that to you, so don't let yourself do it either. 

Understand that clothing size is just a number...and so is weight.

Clothings sizes are not standardized. Some brands "run small" or "run big." Allowing yourself to be upset by the number or letter in your clothing or to judge yourself based on what it says or where you have to buy it, is counterproductive. Focus on how the clothes fit you, how you feel when you wear them, and don't force your body into clothes that aren't made for it. Not everyone can wear the same styles or brands, and that's ok. Weight is another number. One person who weighs 200 pounds does not look or feel like another. One person who weighs 100 pounds does not look or feel like another. Weight can be a helpful marker if it is viewed as such. It shouldn't cause distress or anxiety.

Think critically about media images and messages.

Be aware of advertising, television, movies, and even music that may send a message of criticism or intolerance. If you find that you feel uncomfortable or bad about yourself after you hear or see a media message or image, talk back to it. This can be done literally as in "Nope. Not today, [advertisement]." You can also register your frustration with the advertiser or creator of the message by contacting them through social media or their website. 

Review and reframe your relationship with food.

Do you have a negative or overwhelming relationship with food? If so, it may be time to take stock and review that relationship. If it takes up a lot of your time and energy either in restricting your food intake or in feeling guilty about "indulging" or "being bad," then you may benefit from reframing your relationship with food. Food is fuel. Your body needs it to run. It can certainly be enjoyable, and it should be; however, if "indulging" leads to guilty feelings, viewing food as fuel for a healthy body may be a more helpful and healthful standpoint. If you cannot enjoy your food because you are so concerned about weight gain or "cheating," it may be helpful to look for ways to find joy in your food. It is important to have a healthy balanced view of food for its healthfulness and the enjoyment it may bring. If it is a great source of anxiety, it may be helpful to discuss this with a professional. 

Cultivate love and compassion for your self.

Work to develop and nurture compassion, gentleness, and forgiveness for yourself. We often find it easier to criticize ourselves than to pat ourselves on the back or show compassion to ourselves when we fail. Cultivating this quality will allow you to feel more confident, to trust your own instincts and feelings, and to push back against negativity from within and without. If this is something you struggle with, give yourself time to change your thoughts and actions. Nothing happens quickly, but the outcome is worth the work. 

Seeking outside help:

If you or someone you know is experiencing a troubled relationship with food such as severe restriction or binging, diet such as obsession with food or food restriction, exercise such as excessive or rigid exercise regardless of weather, injury, or fatigue, negative self-talk or feelings that interfere with one's ability to function positively, anxiety related to changes in weight or appearance, withdrawal from family or friends, or other behavior changes surrounding food intake or body shape or size, it may be time to discuss these feelings and behaviors with a professional. The National Eating Disorder Association website offers a screening tool that may be helpful if you are concerned. This tool is not meant to be used for diagnostic purposes, and it is only acceptable for use by those 13 and up. 

If you are in immediate distress, NEDA has a helpline at 1-800-931-2237, a chat tool , or you can text 741741 to be connected to a trained volunteer. 

"Be patient with yourself. Nothing in nature blooms all year."


For More Information:

National Eating Disorders Association

The Body Positive