Exactly What Is a Healthy Body Image?

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There is a lot of talk these days about a healthy body image, and how important it is to have a healthy relationship with your body. More and more, we’re seeing conversations in the media begin to focus on how to promote confidence and self-love among both men and women, rather than constantly barraging us with images that make us feel inadequate. Popular songs, advertising campaigns, and viral videos are all beginning to explore the ridiculous standards of physical attractiveness to which both women and men are held.

These are important conversations, and they are certainly heading in the right direction. But when we talk about promoting a “healthy body image,” what exactly do we mean? What does that look like, and how do we know when we’ve achieved it? Here are a few characteristics common to most people whose body image would likely be considered “healthy:”

They derive pleasure from being in their body.

For many of us, it’s not uncommon to feel, in a sense, disembodied. That means we walk through life, not really paying any mind to our bodies, and in fact, we may feel depressed or discouraged when we think about our bodies. We don’t pay attention to what makes our bodies feel healthy and strong, or what makes them feel unwell.

People who have a healthy body image, however, typically enjoy the experience of living in their bodies. They often find physical activities that they love, and they pay attention to the signals their bodies send that let them know it might be time to tweak their lifestyles or diets. In short, they’re mindful of their bodies, not disembodied.

They focus on what they love and enjoy about their bodies.

Not only do those with a healthy body image take pleasure in the experience of living in their bodies, they also enjoy their bodies themselves. Sure, they might not have the silkiest hair or the fullest lips, but maybe they have gorgeous eyes or toned arms. Yes, we all have features of our bodies that we like and those we’re less happy about. But the reality is, the perceived “flaws” are no more noticeable or defining than the features we like. Choosing to focus on the positives is not vain, rather, it is the result of a more optimistic, self-loving perspective.

They really do look in the mirror and say kind words about themselves.

This is not just a trite suggestion from the pages of the latest self-help book. Having a healthy body image is just one aspect of having compassion for yourself in a larger sense. When you stop judging yourself so harshly, you begin to see your strengths, as well as your perceived flaws. And reminding yourself of everything you have to offer the world is a powerful tool you can use to head of self-criticism.

They always return to self-love.

Having a healthy body image does not mean you think you look beautiful all the time.  Even the most confident people will have days when they feel less than stunning. The difference is in how they react to that kind of self-criticism. Those whose body image may be described as less healthy might buy into their own negative self-talk and begin to feel that they are, in fact, as unattractive and unlovable as they’re telling themselves they are. Those with a healthier body image will realize that the critical self-talk is only the result of their fears and insecurities, and they’ll show themselves compassion.

They’re totally OK not being perfect.

The desire to be “perfect”—whether it’s having the perfect body, career, family, or grades—often stems from the feeling that we have to prove ourselves worthy of love. If we don’t meet the impossible standards we’ve set for ourselves, it means we’re unlovable. But those who have a healthy body image usually understand that they are inherently worthy of love, they don’t have anything to prove.  Therefore, they’re not afraid to make mistakes, or to allow others to see their imperfections. If someone criticizes their “flaws,” they realize that the truth, in all likelihood, is that the other person was behaving judgmentally, not that they themselves have fallen short. People with a healthy body image try their best and they know that it is enough.

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