Body image is how we think and feel about our physical appearance. What do you see when you look in the mirror? Is it an accurate perception? What does it feel like to be in your body?
A positive body image involves feeling content in your own skin. People with a positive body image like and appreciate their bodies for all they can do. They don't feel a need to drastically alter their physical appearance. People who have a more negative body image often have feelings of guilt or shame surrounding their bodies and feel a need to control how their bodies look. They focus in on specific bodily imperfections and feel a personal responsibility for these "flaws."
Some of us feel happy and confident in our bodies, while others of us struggle to think positively about our appearance. Most of us can relate to both of these experiences. Having a positive or negative body image does not mean you feel fantastic or awful about yourselves 100% of the time, but how you feel about our bodies in general.
Where Does Negative Body Image Come From?
- Advertisements, TV shows, magazines, and social media often emphasize certain standards of beauty that can lead us to compare our bodies to those we see in the media. This can lead us to equate our sense of self-worth with whether or not we feel we meet those standards.
- Hurtful comments from classmates, peers, family, friends, and others can also cause us to feel inadequate about our bodies.
- Negative body image can also surface when we aren't giving our bodies what they need. Ample nutritious food, exercise in moderation, and plenty of sleep on a regular schedule are all important to stay healthy and to feel good in our own skin.
- Ruminating over what's wrong with your physical appearance can be a sign of deeper, unresolved issues happening in your life. Some people develop a negative body image in the midst of a personal crisis, tragedy, or difficult life transition.
How Can I Develop a more Positive Body Image?
- Learn to recognize distorted thoughts. Make a point to identify possible distorted thoughts whenever you find yourself starting to feel badly about yourself. Often times the negative things we think about ourselves do not reflect reality. When we make a habit of noticing negative, distorted thought patterns, we can choose to make a deliberate effort to replace them with thoughts that are positive and truthful.
- Understand that the body types that you see in movies, magazines, and online are not a reflection of most people's reality. Many photos are heavily edited and are not what the models actually look like in real life. The vast majority of people cannot maintain a healthy weight while looking like the average supermodel.
- Avoid using social media as an attempt to feel better about yourself. Getting reinforcement through likes and comments can feel really good in the moment, but it can also lead us to crave more reassurance from others, rather than learning to love ourselves regardless of other people's opinions.
- Exercise in moderation. Not only is exercise healthy for our bodies, but it also releases endorphins which increase our feelings of happiness, energy, and well-being. Exercise makes us feel healthier and motivates us to continue practicing healthy behaviors.
- Make a point to appear confident with your physical appearance. Doing so can actually make us feel better about ourselves. Practice standing and sitting up straight. Try to remind yourself to do this whenever you notice yourself slouching. Wear clothes that make you feel good. Practice making eye contact with others when talking and listening to them. Look up and around at the beautiful world around you when you find yourself staring at the ground. Smile at strangers, loved ones, and acquaintances alike.
- Reflect on what else is bothering you. Preoccupation with physical imperfections can sometimes be due to inward flaws or difficult situations that we struggle to come to terms with. If you are obsessing over everything wrong with your body, identify what other struggles you may be facing and talk to someone you trust for support.
- Know that learning to love your body is an ongoing process, and not necessarily a finishing point. You will probably have a blend of days where you feel genuinely good about yourself and days where negative thoughts seem to take over. This is okay. Progress takes time, and nobody feels great about themselves 100% of the time.
- Exercise gratitude for all the amazing things your body can do—running, jumping, dancing, thinking, breathing, seeing, hearing, creating. Not all of us have each of these abilities, and we often take our bodies and their abilities for granted. Recognizing what a gift it is to be capable of some or all of these things can help separate us from the negative thoughts we have about our bodies.
- Treat yourself how you would want others to treat you. If you would not call someone "fat" or "ugly," don't say hurtful things like this to yourself, either. You are just as human as they are, and you are just as worthy of respect.