A Practical Guide to Improving Your Body Image
Admitting the Problem
You know it's a problem. You know thin wasn't always in. You're disgusted by the rash of eating disordered celebrities. You've evaluated your own warped perception of yourself at "How Bad is Your Body Image?" You know you need to change.
Bookstore shelves are lined with self-help books geared towards improving self-esteem, and particularly body image, but many turn out to be rants on the state of society with no practical advice you can actually implement into your daily life. That's why I've written this guide, both as an offering to the masses of women, young and old, who underappreciate themselves, and as a reminder to myself - however hackneyed it may sound, the only person who can define my self-worth is me.
Creating a Solution
The key to feeling better about yourself is not to change your body, as the diet industry would have you believe, but rather to change the way you feel about your body. The best way to do this is not intellectually, but on your body's terms, through the five senses:
You are not what you eat. Your body takes what it needs from nutrition, and the rest passes through. What last are the messages you take in from your environment, day in and day out. You are what you what you read, what you hear, what you say and do.
Change What You See
Stop watching those tv shows. Stop reading those magazines. You know the ones I mean. You call them a "guilty pleasure," but in reality, they cause only pain. Under the guise of improving your sense of self-worth, they offer a barrage of airbrushed images, negative advertising, and impractical advice geared towards changing your body. Deep down, you know it's true: no matter how much weight you lose, you could always find something wrong with yourself.
Need extra convincing? Statistics show that 70% of women feel significantly worse about themselves after only three minutes looking at a women's magazine. We see hundreds of altered images for every one normal body we encounter every day. Not only are people with model's bodies a tiny percentage of the population, they are extensively retouced. Your favorite actresses and singers? They don't look like that either. Even if your brain knows this, your eyes sometimes need reminding, so check it out.
When you feel bad, instead of shopping around for the latest tips on how to get flat abs, sit down with a good book, go see an art show at your local gallery, or read over your favorite inspiring quotes (some of mine can be found here).
Change What You Hear
Listen to music that lifts your spirits, rather than depressing you. This doesn't mean restricting yourself to easy listening or instrumentals. Just be aware of the lyrics of your favorite songs, and the messages they send about women and their bodies. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
Choose not to spend too much time discussing food, diet, or exercise. If you have friends for whom these are central issues, take note. Girlfriends can be a great source of support, or a self-fueling engine of destruction. You can help steer conversations into more positive and constructive spheres. Talk about feelings, about hopes, fears, struggles, achievements. These are the important things, the things that friendship is based on.
Change What You Say
When you look in the mirror, chances are you give yourself a running commentary. "My legs are too fat, my stomach's too round, my breasts are too saggy, my face is too lumpy..." Sound familiar? Instead of focusing on the negatives, try your hand at some self-affirmations. Find the things you like about yourself, and hone in on them. When you get dressed, concentrate on emphasizing your strengths, rather than covering up your "weak spots."
Instead of doing a mirror-check before you leave the house, take some time to check in with your body. How do you feel in what you're wearing? If you have a favorite scent, let that be the "finishing touch" to your outfit. It's fine to glance in the glass on your way out, to make sure no tags are sticking out, but do a mental count of three in your head as you run your eyes over your image. When you find your eyes dwelling on what you consider a "problem spot," give yourself three seconds, and when the count is up, it's time to move on.
Pamper Your Body
Change What You Do
In marriage counselling, a common exercise given to couples who have "lost the spark" is to have each person write a list of things that make them feel loved, and the other is responsible for doing at least one of those things every day. Your body is your life partner. It's important to treat it well, so that it can return the favor.
Appreciate what your body does for you. When you find yourself bogged down in negative self-talk, remind yourself what part each organ and extremity plays in helping you live a full life.
Remember "do unto others...?" Apply it to your body. Pamper yourself with homemade spa treatments. At mealtime, give yourself time to enjoy each bite you take. With exercise, forget "working out," "cardio training," and "burning fat." Chances are, you're not as big as you think. (A study found that women overestimate the size of their hips by 16% and their waists by 25%, yet the same women were able to correctly estimate the width of a box.) Choose activities that allow you to focus on the wonderful sensation of inhabiting and moving your body.
Count Your Blessings, Not Your Calories
If you do need to lose weight for medical reasons (and bad body image doesn't count as one), there are healthy ways to do so, but unless your doctor tells you to, you're better off without diets. Recent studies have shown that dieting takes a huge toll on both your mental and physical health, and that you can make significant improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol, and activity levels without shedding a pound.
If you have problems with binge- or compulsive-eating, or any other eating disorder, please seek help. There is a life beyond food. And while it may seem easier at the moment to obsess over pounds and pudge, in the long term, dealing with the feelings that cause the obsession is the only way to make a change for the better.
Information on Eating Disorders
- The Signs And Symptoms of Eating Disorders
As many as ten million women and one million men are fighting a life-and-death battle with anorexia or bulimia every day. One out of every four anorexics will die of complications from her disease. Yet, the amount of misinformation about eating disor
- Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS)
Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, or EDNOS, is a mental illness characterized by disordered eating patterns that do not meet the full diagnostic criteria for anorexia or bulimia.
- Pro-Anorexia: The New Online Predator
Thousands of young women log on every day to glean tips and tricks from their fellow disordered, post "progress" pictures and update their weight stats. Do you know what they're looking at?
- Common Myths About Eating Disorders Debunked
The amount of misinformation about eating disorders floating around is staggering. So I'm doing my part. I've listed the most common myths I've come up against, and laid out the facts in response.
- Top Ten Worst Things to Say to Someone With an Eating Disorder
As someone with insight, I've compiled a list of the top ten worst things to say to someone with an eating disorder, both from my own experience, and horror stories from other eating-disordered women. Some of the worst offenders to an anorexic might