These days, there seems to be a growing awareness around the unrealistic standards of beauty and healthy body image our culture foists upon both women and men. Viral videos are documenting the extensive Photoshop retouching that goes into many of the images we see online and in magazines. Celebrities are posting un-retouched images of themselves on their social media platforms. And there have been several recent popular songs written by women who feel pretty darn good about themselves and aren’t afraid to let everyone know it.
This is all fantastic. It’s an important shift in the right direction. But we’ve still got a long way to go before we’ve created a culture that truly encourages us to celebrate our bodies. And that makes it easy to fall into the trap of self-criticism and to feel as though our supposed “imperfections” make us less valuable human beings. Here are a few tips to help give you a healthy body image.
One positive thought at a time
Slowly change the inner conversation in your head to a more positive one. When we have negative thoughts about ourselves, they often feel like the absolute, objective truth. But in reality, those thoughts are filtered through our subjective experiences. Maybe we feel badly about ourselves because there were people in the past who were critical of us. Or maybe our parents struggled with body image, and we’ve adopted their way of thinking.
Those critical voices in our heads are just our fears talking—and they’re filtered through the lens of our experience, they don’t reflect the truth. Remind yourself of this anytime you notice a self-critical thought. Think, “This is only my insecurity, it’s not real,” then congratulate yourself for something you’ve done well recently. It will likely take some time to silence the negative voices—and they may never be gone entirely. But recognizing them for what they are will go a long way toward taking away their sting.
Let go of comparison
In this digital age, there is no shortage of ways to feel inadequate. Just a quick perusal of your Facebook timeline can make you feel like everyone you’ve ever known has a more fabulous life than you. But in actuality, we all have challenges and insecurities—even if we don’t broadcast them on Facebook.
The truth is, there will always be someone who has better skin or more lustrous hair—but that doesn’t make you any less valuable, because you have unique gifts and strengths of your own to offer. Having a healthy body begins with your owning your uniqueness. Rather than worrying about how you stack up against others, put your time and energy into trying to become the best version of yourself. What will help you be the happiest, most successful and authentic YOU possible? Hint: It’s not wishing you were more like someone else.
Find a way to move that you love
NOT because you need to lose weight! Whether it’s running, yoga, biking, or horseback riding, doing something you love that requires physical movement reminds you of everything your body is capable of—it is not supposed to be just a nice-looking shell, after all.
There’s a quote by Hunter Thompson that sums it up perfectly. He said, “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming…‘What a ride!’”
Our bodies are built to let us explore the world in which we live. They allow us to have beautiful and amazing experiences. So the next time you find yourself criticizing your “cankles” or wishing you had more of a “thigh gap,” pause for a moment and recall how powerful and lovely your body really is.
Associate with people who love who you are!
If there are people in your life who bring you down, it’s okay to let them go. If you must spend time with them, try to minimize it as much as possible. Instead, surround yourself with people who are supportive and nurturing. If you don’t have enough of those people in your life, seek them out. There are websites that function much like dating sites but are designed to help users find platonic friends—check them out. Join a group that shares an interest in your favorite hobby. Get out there.
Also, associate with people who love who they are and have a healthy body image. Because we tend to pick up the behaviors of the people we’re around the most, you’ll want to avoid spending too much time with others who are always beating themselves up.
Make loving your body a lifelong practice
Okay, so you’ve put an end to critical thoughts, you no longer compare yourself to others, you move your body in beautiful ways and you’ve created a community of loving, supportive folks. Congratulations!
But here’s one last tip for a healthy body image. Remember that celebrating your body is something you will have to continue to do consciously. It won’t just happen. Life ebbs and flows, our bodies change and it is all too easy to fall back into old mindsets. Of course, we all feel fat on occasion—and that’s okay. But sustained negativity will only hold you back. Choose each day to love yourself and your body, even when you’re retaining water or your hair just won’t do what you want it to, because you always deserve it.
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
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