“You can’t hate yourself happy. You can’t criticize yourself thin. You can’t shame yourself worthy. Real change begins with self-love and self-care.” — Jessica Ortner
Body positivity has been a looming topic for me because I can attest to the fact that body image is an ongoing struggle for each of us. This includes men; it has been very surprising how many of my male clients have confided in me about deep body image insecurities. This is because all of us–men and women alike–are all constantly bombarded with pictures and videos and tiny squares on Instagram of “perfect” bodies–fit, toned, tan, lean, muscular… Not only are nearly all of those images doctored and filtered, but they do not account for the myriad of shapes and sizes of men and women across the globe. Bottom line: There is no “perfect” body. There is no one-size-fits-all. We all have unique bodies, and owning that is the first step to coming to peace with our own individual body image!
Let’s back up. What is body image and how does it impact us? Body image is how we see ourselves when we look in the mirror or when we picture ourselves in our minds. It encompasses what we believe about our own appearance (including memories, assumptions, and generalizations). Body image is also how we feel about our bodies (including height, shape, and weight). How we perceive ourselves affects how much we value ourselves. If we perceive that we are fat/ugly/short, etc, then we translate that into being less-than, not pretty, not special, not worthy of love, etc. Body image is directly tied to our self-worth.
I write about body image to drive home the point that our own brain is in charge of building us up. In fact, changing how we think about ourselves is actually the first place we should start in trying to improve our body image! We must stop the cycle of negative body image and instead embrace our individual bodies as the amazing tool and vessel that they are. Here are seven steps to get us started:
- Take note of all that our bodies can do. Every day our bodies work to do whatever we demand–waking up early, staying up late, exercising, extracurriculars, playing sports, working, etc. Instead of demeaning our bodies for not being [fill in the blank] enough, let’s celebrate all of the amazing things our bodies do for us!
- Write a top-ten list. Keep a list of things we like about ourselves—not even necessarily related to weight or appearance. Read this list often. Then, let’s add to it as we become aware of more things to like about ourselves.
- Remember what true beauty is. Reality check: Beauty is not simply skin-deep. We feel beautiful when we feel good about ourselves and who we are, comfortable in our skin. This is when we carry ourselves with a sense of confidence, self-acceptance, and openness that makes us truly beautiful. Remember, beauty is a state of mind, not a state of body!
- Be surrounded by positive people. We all will have an easier time feeling more positive about our bodies and lives if we surround ourselves with others who are supportive and who recognize the importance of liking ourselves as we naturally are. It also goes to mention that being friends or associating with people who constantly demean their bodies, compare, or gossip will be a huge hindrance to improve our body image.
- Focus on self-talk. The voices we hear in our heads will ultimately be the ones we believe. The voice that tells us we are not skinny, tall, tan, whatever enough, is not a positive voice. Shut that voice down by replacing those negative thoughts with positive ones. The next time we start to tear ourselves down, let’s instead build ourselves up with some powerful affirmations.
- Work with our bodies…not against them. As previously stated, every woman and every body is different. Sometimes we may feel tempted to wear or do things that are trendy that we may not necessarily feel comfortable in. Wear clothes that are comfortable and that make us feel good about our bodies. Not everyone looks or feels great in crop tops or skinny jeans. Figure out what fits and feels comfortable/flattering/pretty to YOU, and go with that.
- Take what we see in the media with a grain of salt. Once we start working on building up our body image, we will pay more attention to images, slogans, or attitudes that make us feel bad about ourselves or our bodies. Ignore, reject, refute and even protest these messages! Write a letter to the advertiser or talk back to the image or message. There was once an influencer in Utah who put billboards all down the major interstate to combat the other billboards to get liposuction or tummy tucks, etc. It was his way of becoming critical to the negative body image epidemic and he made a significant impact! We need to remember that all of the ads and images and things we “need” are not actually accurate!
Ultimately, our own personal body image (and that of our youth) is our responsibility. The very best way for mothers to teach their children–especially daughters–to love their bodies and have a positive body image, is to love their own bodies. Let’s be grateful for all the amazing things our bodies can do, take note of our favorite self attributes, remember what true beauty is, surround ourselves with positive people, improve our self-talk, work with what we’ve got, and do not let the false advertisements around us get us down. Our bodies are truly a gift and are amazing. Let’s treat them as such!
Melissa Cluff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.
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- Global Girls Glow: Body Image and Self Esteem: How Diet Culture Impacts Girls’ Mental Health
Jed Foundation: Tips for Body Positivity: Ways to Feel Better About Our Bodies
- Medical News Today: What is Body Image?
- National Eating Disorders Organization: Body Image
- National Eating Disorders Organization: 10 STEPS TO POSITIVE BODY IMAGE
- Paige Fieldsted: 27 Body Positivity Quotes To Help You Embrace Your Body
- Seeds of Hope: The Top 8 Ways to Improve Your Body Image