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by Brittney Schrick - May 17, 2017
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
National Eating Disorders Association
The Body Positive