By Ellen G. Goldman, M.Ed., for SparkPeople
On a recent trip to California, I went on a hike in Runyon Canyon, a park near my daughter's apartment. During my climb, I overheard two women chatting behind me. One was expressing concern regarding comments her teenage daughter had recently been making. It seemed that she was miserable about her body, feeling ''fat'' and ''ugly'' compared with her other friends. According to this woman, her daughter's weight was well within the healthy range, and she had ''quite a lovely figure.''
I hiked on and began thinking about body image. Why is it that so many people in America suffer from such poor body image? I have watched too many of my daughter's friends struggle, have met way too many women my own age who still express body dissatisfaction, and have even come across it with male clients over the years. These days, you can never be thin enough, muscular or toned enough, or beautiful enough. The effort and energy many are exerting to look better is not only exhausting, but also severely decreasing their happiness and life-satisfaction.
Humans have been concerned with appearance and physical attractiveness throughout history. However, in these modern times, it seems as if normal concerns have turned into obsession for far too many. In today's media, thin and attractive individuals are portrayed as being wealthier, happier, and more successful and carefree than those who are not thin. The way that we perceive our bodies is largely influenced by our perception of how we stack up against those media ideals, as well as against our peers. Poor body image not only decreases general life satisfaction and happiness, but it can also be potentially deadly if it spurs severe eating disorders or steroid use. Making a targeted effort to improve body image for ourselves and loved ones would be a smart, even life altering, thing to do. But how?
The answer to this question goes way deeper than just working to improve your body to be the best it can be. There's nothing wrong with working to improve your body, especially when weight is compromising your health. These changes in lifestyle habits can be quite helpful, but only if accompanied by a mind-shift as well.
Let's take a look at some ideas on how to boost body image, both for the short term and the long term.
Tips to boost your body image each day:
Find one thing to compliment yourself on every day. Often, when people are asked to come up with something they like about themselves, they focus on physical attributes. However, try to think beyond your appearance, to your uniqueness as an individual. Take pride in things such as being a dependable employee, a great mom, or a reliable and caring friend.
Wear clothing that fits well and makes you feel great. If you're bothered by the size on the label, cut it out! Dressing in baggy apparel in an attempt to hide your body will end up making you feel frumpy. Wear whatever makes you feel pleased with your appearance when you look in the mirror.
Exercise. Studies show when individuals begin an exercise plan, they report increases in confidence, self-esteem and a decrease in negative body image even when overweight or obese.
Nourish your body with foods that will keep it functioning well so that you can do the things you love to do. Think healthy, not skinny!
Thank your body with some pampering for the great job it does carrying you through the myriad of tasks you do on a daily basis. Massages, scented body lotions, and warm baths will have your body and your mind feeling great.
Every time you receive a compliment, write it down in a journal. If you're having a rough day, take your journal out and relive that warm, fuzzy feeling you got when you first received that compliment.
Don't join in the complaint brigade. When your friends start bemoaning their bodies (and you'll surely hear it at some point) don't commiserate and join in with mutual complaints and put-downs. Find something about their personality to compliment, and genuinely share what you find best in them.
Stop negative self-talk immediately. When you catch yourself slipping into negative self-talk (e.g. my thighs are so big, I hate my stomach, my nose is crooked and ugly, etc.) stop immediately. Counter balance that thought with a loving one. Would you say such critical things to your best friend? Of course not! It's time to become your own best friend and treat yourself with kindness and respect.