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Actionable steps to overcome a negative body image

Contrary to what you may think, how you feel about your body has very little to do with your physical attributes or your weight

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Studying body in mirror
Your body image is the perception you have of your physical self

Your body image is the perception you have of your physical self.

You may think you hate your stomach because of how large it is, how wobbly it is, or because it folds over itself. You may think you detest your thighs because they resemble orange peel, but it’s not the case.

If you feel frustration, loathing, disgust, or hate about a part of your body – the feeling is created in your mind – by your thinking. When you think that a part of your body should be different to what it is you feel negatively about it.

Of course, we know this because it’s always our thoughts about a situation that determine how we feel, never the facts, of the situation. And we know this because women all over the world don’t like certain aspects of their bodies no matter whether they are fat or thin, toned or flabby, short or tall, apple or pear shaped.

Thoughts you have about your body directly impact your mental health

In 2019 Mental Health reported that one in five adults (20%) felt shame, just over one third (34%) felt down or low, and 19% felt disgusted because of their body image at some point within the previous year. And they reported that just over one third of adults said they have felt anxious (34%) or depressed (35%) because of their body image and one in eight (13%) have experienced suicidal thoughts because of concerns about their body image.

So why do so many of us dislike our bodies – no matter what size or shape they are?

Ideas about what bodies should look like change based on society and the era in which we live.

At the turn of the last century the more rounded bodies were preferable, then we had the waif supermodels of a couple of decades ago and now big bottoms are desirable.

In historical times when food was not so abundant – the rich were curvier. Carrying more weight was a status symbol.

Whatever the current social construction of beauty – i.e., what you see in the magazine and on /TV completely depends on the era in which you live.

Now we have such an abundance of food – being slim and controlling your weight is desirable.

What you believe to be attractive and good is just one society’s ideal for the current time.

You are taught to think a certain way because of the society and culture in which you live.

Where do you think your ideas about body image came from?

Most of us grew up with terrible messages and pictures about what our bodies should look like. Even before air brushing, bodies would be positioned in photographs and on television in such a way that lighting, and angles presented something that was unrealistic. We’ve had lots of subliminal messages about what our bodies should look like our whole life. Your parents, the media, friends, peers, teachers, magazines, TV, social media, the diet industry, and above all advertising– all of them teach you thousands of subliminal messages about what your body is for, what it should look like, and what it should do.

Society taught us that how we, especially as women, looked.  We were taught that we should look or dress a certain way to fit in at school or get the job that we wanted. And many of us may have been teased or felt less than by constantly comparing ourselves to others.

So, what can you do about a negative body image?

Here are three things you can start doing today to improve your body image.

  1. Seek out images of a wide variety of ‘normal’ body shapes and sizes. Start to appreciate the human body for what it is, for the beautiful souls the bodies encase. Follow people on Instagram who have bodies of all shapes and sizes. If you notice yourself being a little judgmental to start off with, it’s okay. You have been conditioned to judge. It doesn’t mean anything negative about you. Just stick with it and you will be surprised at how your perspective and appreciation for the differences of other bodies will quickly change.
  2. Instead of focusing on how your body looks aesthetically think about what it truly does for you. See it as the incredible organism that it is. See your body as something that enables you to breathe, walk, see, hear, and procreate. See your flabby stomach as the amazing part of you that maybe grew your children or keeps you alive by housing your digestion system.
  3. Start to hear your own negative self-talk about your body. Don’t be afraid to uncover your thoughts – you already know them – so saying them out loud our putting them down on paper won’t make things worse.

Once you’re aware of your negative thoughts you can start to tweak and change them. Now if you’ve spent decades hating a part of you, or your body, then don’t expect to go from believing you hate your body to believing you love it, instead start shifting your thinking to accepting it. So rather than thinking ‘I hate my stomach’ practice thinking ‘I have a human stomach’.

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