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  • Jacqueline Siempelkamp

Misshapen Perception: Changing Unhealthy Body Image

Body image can be a sensitive topic for many people—plenty of men and women can remember feeling insecure about their bodies starting at a young age. In 2018, 79% of Americans reported feeling unhappy or dissatisfied with their bodies at times. This is a real issue and it can be tough to shake.

There are many factors that contribute to poor body image, such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Even environmental factors like our family upbringing, friendship circles, and social media can have an impact on how we feel about ourselves. If we are surrounded by messages or norms where people speak negatively about their bodies or if we receive criticism about the way we look, it is sure to affect how we then view ourselves. On the other side, if we experience negative self-talk internally, or if we are more likely to be critical rather than compassionate—that can contribute to negative body image too.

By the sound of it, the cards seem stacked against us having hope in developing positive body image. Thankfully, that’s not the case; there are plenty of strategies we can implement to work towards this goal. It’s important to remember that working toward having positive body image is a consistent work-in-progress and it is not an instant change we can achieve. Once we get used to engaging in new ways of thinking and practicing new skills, it will become much easier to view ourselves and bodies in a positive and confident way.

Here are some places to start:

• Find the good in you: Positive affirmations are one of the most powerful tools we can incorporate into our routine. Whether we say them at the beginning or end of the day doesn’t matter—it’s about consistency and also believability. Find three positive (and essentially true) things about yourself and write them down. Examples might be, “I am a good friend,” “I am intelligent,” or “I am trying my best.” These affirmations don’t have to focus on outward appearance; focus on strengthening the inside and the rest will follow. Say these affirmations aloud once per day and in time these messages will become part of your internal dialogue.

• Step back from comparing: Comparing ourselves to others can lead to a spiral of self-criticizing and negative intrusive thoughts. In one moment, we might be feeling confident; the next we see someone who is this or that and we might feel inadequate or question how good we felt just a second before. Focus on your strengths and remind yourself that just because that person has what you desire doesn’t mean that you don’t have great qualities too.

• Create new associations: It can be difficult at times to remind ourselves that self-worth isn’t associated with appearance, weight, achievements, etc. Redefine what it means to love yourself, to be worthy, and a good person. After taking some time to reflect, come up with new ways of measuring your self-worth. Our bodies do not determine our value.

• Focus on feelings: Body image concerns are often associated with behaviors like restricted eating or over-exercising. Instead of thinking about altering your body when you engage in an activity, think about how it makes you feel. You might find that fueling yourself with nourishing foods makes you feel strong and healthy, while restricting your eating makes you feel fatigued. Being able to focus on the underlying feeling of a behavior or of an activity can shift the focus away from your actual body and help you become more in tune with your emotions. Think of it as healing from the inside out!

• Surround with positivity: This is important both in real life and online. Make sure to follow social media accounts that lift you up and focus on self-love and compassion. Spend time with friends and family who make you feel like you can be authentic self and comfortable in your own skin.

Unhealthy body image is something that most of us experience and can therefore relate to in one another. Working towards having a healthy frame of mind when it comes to our bodies is something that, with time, practice, and patience, is achievable. These skills are strategies that can help anyone improve their body image for not only themselves, but also others. If we all work together, we can normalize being compassionate towards ourselves rather than critical.

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