Feeling at peace with how you look can be an incredibly challenging task, but it’s an important part of being healthy.
Here is a challenge: Tell yourself that your body is good enough the way it is and believe it. It sounds simple, but it is actually a very hard task for many of us. Almost half of all Americans are unhappy with their bodies in some way. Why is that?
Let’s do a little thought experiment to find out. First, try to remember all the ads, TV shows, and movies you have seen in the past week that have live people in them. How many of these models or actors look like you or like people you know? Probably not a lot. Maybe not even one. That can have a negative effect on our psyche and self-confidence. When we don’t see ourselves reflected in a positive way around us, it can be hard to experience and think of ourselves in a positive way.
And this is just thinking about messages we get from the media and cultural outlets. Think about how many times you’ve heard a friend or loved one openly criticize their own body or someone else’s- or even your own. Add it all up and we have a constant barrage of negative messages that renders us feeling inferior. Day in and day out, we are being told that we are not good enough, that we don’t look the way we should, and that we need to change who we are. That is powerful, and very hard to counteract.
Sometimes we can be hard on ourselves to try to motivate change, which can make it hard to give up self-deprecating thoughts. Many people have been told by health professionals that they should lose weight, and so then they become frustrated with themselves for getting into this situation. “If I was just a stronger person, I wouldn’t have to worry about my weight. Oh well, I’ll just punish myself until I do better.” Sound familiar? Too bad it doesn’t work- studies have shown that experiencing weight stigma doesn’t lead to a healthier life.
We learn to feel ashamed and upset, to spend money and time on fad diets and exercise programs, to talk negatively about how we look. We can develop disordered relationships to food, or become obsessed with trying to lose weight or change our body in other ways. But I’ll say it again- hating yourself because your body doesn’t match an unrealistic idea of attractiveness is not a path towards health and well-being. It is a continuous and insidious loop that keeps us needlessly trapped.
Here’s one more thought experiment: think about what your life would be like if you could successfully complete the challenge I issued earlier. What would your life be like if nothing else changed other than you gained a belief that your body was good enough the way it was, and you no longer worried about how it looked compared to others or what numbers it pulled up on a scale?
It can be a tough question to answer- many people can hardly remember a time when we were not wishing our body was different somehow. Learning to love your body can be an important part of your holistic health and well-being, but it is not a mindset that comes naturally or easily to most of us. We all struggle with cultural norms, societal expectations, messages from people we know, and sometimes real health concerns and issues.
So let’s try to actively combat these negative messages you are receiving. Here are three things to try on a daily basis that can help you heal and love your body:
1. Imagine loving your body just as it is. Change the goal from weight-loss or body modification to being truly at peace with how you are. See what that does for you.
2. Recognize something awesome about your body. Think about something your body does for you that you are grateful for (ex. “My body lets me dance, play, walk, run, etc.”) or a part of your body that you might like just as is and say something nice about it in your head. It can be specific (“Thank you, body, for helping me dance to music I love”) or more general (“My body is wonderful just the way it is.”)
3. Make this a daily habit. Try doing this every single day- after you brush your teeth or before you go to bed spend just a few minutes reminding yourself that your goal is to accept yourself as is, and then express gratitude for your body in some way.
For some of us, this might not be enough to counteract years of self-doubt and discontent about how you look. This is where body image therapy can help. We all are suffering from a constant influx of negative messages but you don’t have to suffer through it alone. With your therapist you can untangle some of these distorted images that have been hoisted on you, and learn to appreciate your body as it is. We all have a right to experience happiness, and learning to love ourselves is an important part of this journey. The therapists at WC&P that specialize in working on a healthy body image can be found here.