In a society saturated with thin body image ideals and weight-loss mania, it’s easy to get caught up in constant thoughts of food choice, calories, and weight loss. These thoughts impact your body image, or how you view yourself in a mirror or picture yourself in your mind, and they’re coupled with feelings of judgment about your body.
So, why does all of that matter? Body image can be a major contributor to overall life happiness, especially when it comes to components of self-esteem, such as sexual attractiveness, physical condition, and weight concern, according to a study reported in Medical News Today. Body shaming can also take a toll on your physical health, according to a study published in Journal of Behavioral Medicine.
Unrealistic body images and negative attitudes in the media can prove overwhelming to many, according to research from the University of Florida, in Gainesville. In their studies, researchers found that exposure to images depicting the thin-ideal body type was found to be extremely influential among young women. (They also examined college-age men who had “muscularity-focused body image disturbances.”) Rather than accepting such images at face value, study authors suggest approaching the media, TV shows and other representations of physical perfection with a more critical eye, remaining ever mindful of what reality really looks like.
Before you take another look in the mirror, check out these nine easy ways to work toward a more positive body image:
1. Engage in Positive Self-Talk
Write down a list of the things you like best about yourself, jotting down positive reinforcement, and stick them around your mirror or dresser. Sometimes, on the days you are having any doubts, one friendly reminder is all it takes to get your positive thoughts back on track. According to Ryan Casada, Licensed Mental Health Counselor at Journey’s Counseling Orlando, “Find a support network of people who esteem and honor you for who and where you are, even when you can’t give that to yourself.”
2. Choose Flattering Clothing
Your duds (day or night) should make you feel secure and confident about your body. Rather than dressing to impress others, or focusing on the designer label, make sure you like the way you look in your clothes. Sure, you should feel comfortable in your clothes and your body, but all of it should make you feel attractive, too.
3. Do Something Positive for Others
Channel time and restless energy — that used to be spent counting calories or worrying about your body — into local volunteer work to lift you up and help others. Try taking a friend out for lunch, or calling a family member in need. Reaching out to others always fosters the personal connections that help make you feel better about yourself in the long run.
4. Acknowledge Your Body’s Strength
Your body carries you through day-to-day life. Take a yoga class, go for a hike, or watch a classic comedy with friends. Whether it’s laughing, dancing, running, or just breathing very deeply, your body is capable of so many awesome things. Live in it today (for just a little while) with total gratitude.
5. Create a Positive Mantra
Say goodbye to that whiny, negative voice in your head by creating an uplifting phrase or repetition. A study published in the journal Mindfulness found that those who practiced self-compassion exercises (not surprisingly) felt less body shame and more body satisfaction. So, substitute self-defeating talk like, “I wish I had smaller thighs,” with new and empowering phrases like, “I am thankful to have such a strong, capable body.” Now that’s inspiring.
6. Focus on Your Health
Rather than obsessing over appearance or body weight, make lifestyle changes such as eating healthier, taking time for relaxation, and adhering to an exercise program by creating specific short-term training goals. Rather than nervously watching numbers on a scale, start walking 10,000 steps a day, learn to cook healthy, or incorporate a healthy shake into your day. You’ll be crushing your fitness goals before you know it!
7. Practice Self-Care
Stressful week? Bad day? Take a bubble bath, go for a walk, or get a massage. “Start caring for yourself now. If you don’t believe you have worth until you have arrived at a certain jean size or certain weight, you will never get off the shame treadmill,” according to Matt Casada, Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Orlando, Florida. Taking a break from reality to focus on doing something good for yourself is not lazy or selfish — it is part of living a healthy, happy lifestyle.
8. Get Active in New Ways
Your body is likely capable of more than you realize. Try rock climbing, white-water rafting, horseback riding, mixed martial arts, or dancing as part of your home workout. There are so many ways to be active that don’t involve a treadmill, and joining different exercise groups is a refreshing way to meet new, like-minded friends.
9. Unplug from Social Media
Images of vacationing friends, the perfect family, and even celebrities on social media can prompt us to compare our bodies, lives, and eating patterns to those of others. These body reflections can lead to a negative body image and disordered eating habits.
Thinking about your body in a more holistic way can improve body image. In one study, 15 college-aged women exhibited positive body image characteristics, such as appreciating the functionality of their bodies; defining beauty in a holistic way; surrounding themselves with others who promote body acceptance; focusing on their body’s assets while minimizing perceived imperfections; and taking good care of their health.
This study implies exciting news: Body image is a fluid concept, constantly shaped by various factors. Every day, you have control over creating a healthier relationship with the body you have.