I’ve already written a post about body expectations, but it was geared more toward giving my testimony as far as my struggle to FINALLY become comfortable in my own skin. And even though it was cathartic for me to write about, I don’t really feel like I HELPED anyone out there looking to come to terms with his/her own body.
So … I did a little research about achieving that healthy body image level and thought I would share a few tidbits with you.
All of us are bombarded with images and messages all day that lead many to unhealthful obsessions with the shape of their bodies. At best, these body-image issues can be unpleasant and distracting from the goal of being healthy and happy. At worst they can lead to serious mental health problems like body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) or eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia nervosa.
And there are a ton of self-help books that deal with body image, but when all of the well-intentioned dust settles, it’s really up to US to actually make that change and change our personal expectations.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say I had an eating disorder, but I have certainly struggled with depression when it came to my own body changes. A woman completely changes after she has children. That tight little body is gone and in it’s place is something softer, fuller and definitely more maternal in nature. This is not necessarily a good, or bad thing, I suppose it’s all how you look at it and what your personal goals are as far as your body, but please don’t think I’m using having children as an excuse for NOT getting back into shape and getting back on that healthy wagon – you owe it to your kids, your partner and especially you to treat your body with the respect it deserves.
And then, your body changes again after you turn 40. I’ve experienced it, first hand. (I’m 44). There are aches and pains that you never even knew were there before. Certain foods suddenly disagree with you, your eyes start playing tricks on you and it’s suddenly a whole lot easier to gain weight around your middle. Your metabolism slows down, which means eating habits have to change. There are hot flashes, night sweats, and a whole slew of other age-related issues that take you by surprise. Your body is more mature, slower, and any endurance you might have had before that point has either slowed down or disappeared completely. It’s quite an adjustment.
But not impossible.
Let’s get real – it’s highly unlikely you’re going to look anything like those Victoria Secret models, or runway models, or actresses or … anyone BUT who you are.
The trick is FINDING you. The challenge is finding that point where you feel good about how you look and your body is healthy enough to sustain you for many, many years.
It took me YEARS to reach a point where I feel comfortable with my size. There are moments, (okay, a lot of moments) where I wish I could lose just a bit more weight, or look more like some women I admire, but then I jerk myself back and face reality – I am me. I can improve, and I will continue to take care of myself, but ultimately, I can’t make myself to be any other person than who I am. And the sooner I accept that fact, the happier I will be.
Here are a few tips to help you with your own body image:
- Don’t compare yourself. I know, easier said than done, right? Especially when we’re bombarded with magazines, television, movies, and other images on a daily / hourly basis. But it’s self-destructive. When we compare ourselves to others we always lose. But remember, you’re special because you’re you. No one can take that away from you. And let’s not forget that these “fantasy” women that are portrayed in our society as “beautiful”, are actually fake. Pictures are photoshopped. They’ve most likely had plastic surgery, and the week of recovering afterward. And then the stress of maintaining the plastic throughout their lives. And the deprivation – think of everything they CAN’T eat. Who wants to live life like that?
- Focus on Your Accomplishments. Instead of beating yourself up, focus on your positive traits. Do you volunteer? Are you an excellent wife/mother/sister/daughter? Are you articulate? Do you have a lot of common sense? Do you have a knack for making people laugh? Do people gravitate toward you because of your kindness?
- Learn to Take a Compliment. Ugh. I have such a hard time with this one. It’s like I work so hard NOT to draw attention to myself that when it happens, I feel embarrassed and guilty. I then cope with those feelings by downplaying the compliment and though I’m secretly thrilled to receive it, I’m equally appalled that the person might sense it and think I’m conceited. It’s a vicious circle.
The very thing we are looking for — recognition — we brush off. Practice saying “thank you” when someone gives you a compliment. Don’t over analyze it, or judge the giver, or make light of it; instead let it soak in and allow yourself to feel really good.
- Focus on the positive. Don’t say you can’t do something, because then you probably can’t. Don’t call yourself stupid, because you’ll start believing it. Don’t call yourself dumb, you’re not. Stop framing everything you do or say in the negative. Instead, think positively.
“What a good idea; that was a good way of handling the situation”; or “That was a real accomplishment; I’m so proud!” By shifting from words of criticism to words of praise, you begin to change your life.
I am constantly berating the boys for focusing on negative things like that. Keep telling yourself that you’re smart, that you ARE good enough and then watch what happens. 🙂
- Affirmations. Find a part of your body that you like and accept, even if it’s your eyes, hair or smile. Write an affirmation about it. For instance, “I love the way my hair shines,” or “I love the way my eyes sparkle.” Look at yourself in the mirror every morning and repeat your affirmations to yourself. Say them with enthusiasm. Believe it! Even if you have to “fake it till you make it.” After a few weeks of doing this, you will come to believe and know that what you are saying is true. Then move on to another body part. Even though giving yourself compliments may become progressively more difficult, continue through until you LOVE YOUR BODY!
- Learn to Compliment Others. In learning to compliment others, you learn the law of reciprocity. As you give, you do receive. By learning to acknowledge the good in others, you can learn to notice the good in yourself. Remember, to be loved, give love. To be accepting of your body, be accepting of others’ bodies.
- Stop Fantasy Thinking. Do you ever hear yourself saying, “If I’d just lose 10 pounds I’d be happy,” or “If I had thinner thighs I’d be asked out more.” Stop those thoughts now! That is fantasy thinking. The truth is that there is room for all shapes and sizes in this world. People are attracted to others for a variety of reasons. Yes, sometimes attraction has to do with body, but that might be a smile or overall appearance. Others are attracted to another based on the energy they give off or their laugh or because they are funny. Your body is not the reason you are miserable. You were miserable first and took it out on your body. Get on with your life. Be loving, and you will attract loving people.
- Heal Your Relationship with Food. If you are afraid of food, you will always be afraid of what it might do to your body. (More on food later).
- Body Movement. The body was designed to move. To walk or run or jump or dance are normal activities. By reconnecting yourself to your body, you might be amazed at how incredible it really is. (More on exercising later).
- Support. The struggle to heal your negative body-image is an ongoing battle. It is often wise to seek the professional help of a therapist and a dietitian. There are self-help groups available at no charge as well. Many books and articles have been written on the subjects of food and body. There are seminars available as well as church and temple groups. Talk to a trusted friend or relative. All of us need support. We are constantly barraged with messages about the fantasy body. We are given negative messages about food and weight. It is extremely hard in our culture to have a healthy, positive body-image. You need support. You deserve it!
(These tips were found in the Love Your Body : Change the Way You Feel About the Body You Have book).
It really is essential to get your mind on track BEFORE you attempt to tackle your eating and exercising issues. If your overall outlook about yourself is not in the right place, then getting other areas of your life back on a healthy track will be that much harder.
No. It’s not easy to undo years of damage. It’s hard to ignore society’s definition of beauty. And no amount of wishful thinking is going to get you where you want to be. It all starts with a hard, honest look at how you perceive your body image and finding a place to begin where you’re comfortable and ready to move forward to becoming a better you.