I think it’s safe to say that we have all been there. At one time or another, the vast majority of Americans have looked in a mirror and felt concerned about one part of their body, or several. Maybe it was stretch marks, or thunder thighs, or bat wings, or any other number of aspects of our body that are deemed unattractive in our culture. This all leads us to have body image issues, which can affect nearly every aspect of our lives.
#BodyPositivity and #BodPos have been cropping up on social media much more in recent years. Some people are trying to shift away from #Detox, #DietStartsTomorrow, and the idea that they should spend their precious time on earth trying to change their bodies by any means necessary. This is a great thing! But, full-on body positivity can seem like an impossible goal for many people, especially when they feel full-on hatred for their bodies right now instead.
Hating one’s body, or even just feeling a little insecure about it, is unnecessary, exhausting, and it can have plenty of negative consequences. We can change how we perceive our bodies, though it may feel impossible at first. Those of us who struggle with food anxiety and body image tend to be perfectionists, and improving your body image doesn’t have to be another perfectionist goal.
Viewing your body less negatively doesn’t have to mean that you get to 100% body positivity 100% of the time. It can mean that you turn down the self-hatred knob a few notches, view your body as neutral, or forge a respectful relationship with your body even if you don’t feel particularly positive about it.
Today we will be discussing my top three tips for improving your body image, despite the crappiness of the diet culture that pervades our society! I cannot guarantee these steps will work quickly, but I can promise they will help you in the long run if you stick with them long enough.
1. Observe the Messages You Receive About Body Image in a Day
If you have never stopped to observe the rampant diet culture we live in every single day, now is the time to do so. Listen to what people talk about at parties, while eating out at restaurants, at work, and even at home. Take stock of advertisements on tv, in podcasts, or all over social media. What messages do you see there?
Many messages that we see and hear throughout the day have something to do with how we need to change our body in some way, and we need to do it quickly. Taken a step further, most of those messages say that smaller bodies are better, and if you don’t fit into that mold, you are not deserving or worthy of love.
Pretty harsh, right? No wonder so many of us hate our bodies and curse them every chance we get. No wonder we spend countless hours doing exercise we despise and countless lunches and dinners choking down meal replacement shakes that taste like dirt. No wonder we feel shame when we don’t look like the people who are most praised in our society.
Honestly, this tip won’t make you feel better immediately. It might even make you feel worse once you really start to notice how rampant these body-shaming messages run all day, everyday and how they take over our entire lives. But observation is an important first step in tackling the problem. We can’t put up a proper fight if we don’t yet know what we are fighting.
One example of how rampant diet talk runs is how much my fiancé has to hear about people’s diets at work. He is a barista at a specialty coffee shop, and he has expressed how sick he is of people wanting to order a fun coffee drink, but they have to submit a long list of revisions to make it keto or reduce the calories. Or they will simply say “better stick with the black coffee because it’s zero calories.”
He isn’t annoyed that the has to make a special drink for someone or that people request black coffee. He is annoyed that he has to hear about how they’re on a diet or they’re trying to lose weight at least five times per day. It’s a weird pride thing, like “look at me, I’m on a diet, and I have to tell you about it.” He is so over engaging in diet talk, and I wish everyone else was too.
Maybe you don’t work with customers, but you hear these same sentiments from your family members or friends repeatedly. “I am going to start being ‘good’ after this weekend” or “diet starts tomorrow” are common sayings, and I think they take the enjoyment out of the moment. Plus, they can trick you into engaging in the last supper mentality, where you overeat because it’s your last chance to have fun with food for the foreseeable future.
Or maybe, sadly, these interactions are directed at you and your body instead. The number of times someone has told me that a family member has said, “you’ll never get a husband or wife unless you lose weight” makes me want to punch a hole in the wall. That stuff hurts and stays with a person for years, maybe even decades.
So yes, take a look at what the people in your life are saying about bodies, whether theirs or your own. Ask yourself with genuine curiosity why you think they feel the need to do so and how it affects you on a daily basis.
The immediate people in our lives aren’t the only ones that skew our thinking. We all know social media can play a major role in how we perceive ourselves and others, so take stock of what accounts you follow and how those impact you too. Do you follow Fitspo accounts to try to motivate you to work out, but end up making you hate yourself? Or do you follow recipe accounts that teach you how to make low calorie salad dressing to help you lose weight? I know I did for a long time.
The last major area where we receive messaging is the general media, like television, podcasts, commercials, billboards, news networks, and pretty much any other place we get information from. What books are you reading? Ones that give you 75 life hacks to trick your body into being full on nothing? What websites are you visiting? How about magazines?
Overall, the message here is to evaluate and pay close attention to the messages people and things send to you on a daily basis regarding body image and dieting. Chances are good, you’ll notice lots of things you hadn’t considered before.
Once you dig deep and explore this, you’ll see how obsessed we as human beings are with our appearance and the pursuit of always looking the way society tells us we should. It’s messed up stuff, and it can feel so defeating to delve into. But, this is a necessary step in the fight toward feeling better about your body. I promise.
Noticing everything that goes on around you can take some of the pressure off yourself. Because there is constant messaging that smaller bodies are better, there is no wonder you feel the way you do about your body, even if you are in a smaller body. That’s not on you- you didn’t one day decide to feel crappy about what you see in the mirror. It is on you to fight it and overcome it, however.
2. Take a Look at Your Body Image Self Talk
Just like I recommend you take time to observe the messages you receive from the outside world on a regular basis, take time to observe the message that you give yourself. Most of us are pretty dang mean to ourselves, and we often hold ourselves up to a higher standard than we would ever hold up someone we love.
Have you ever felt yourself getting stuck in a negative loop of thought? It can start out with something minor, and then spiral out of control to all out self-hatred in a manner of minutes. I have definitely experienced this, and I don’t wish it on anyone. I was also guilty of constantly making self-deprecating jokes that only might get a laugh once in awhile, but more often led me to feeling worse about myself. You can read more about this, and how I stopped making jokes at my own expense in Break Free From Your Inner Bully.
One simple way to work toward breaking up negative loops of thought is to try saying positive affirmations to yourself out loud. This would probably be a little embarrassing in front of people, so you can whisper them at your cubicle or say them quietly when you’re in the bathroom. Or, if you don’t feel embarrassed, you can shout them from the rooftops for the whole world to hear. I’m sure your neighbors would be thrilled.
Positive affirmations are nothing new, but they can feel a little new-agey, hippie-dippy, or just plain weird. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give them a try. Here is a list of reason I have compiled for at least giving them a go every day for a week:
- They’re free to do
- There is no risk involved
- You can stop anytime if you don’t like doing them or don’t see results
- Nobody has to know you’re doing them
- They can help you feel better immediately and in the long term
- They can break up negative feedback loops when you feel yourself spiraling
- You don’t have to spend too much time on them
At this point, I have hopefully convinced you to give them a try if you don’t do them already. If not, that’s okay, I understand your hesitation.
But let’s say you are interested in trying them- how do you pick an affirmation that will work for you? Well, you can choose pretty much anything. If the phrase “tater tots” makes you feel incredibly strong and empowered, go with that. A more standard approach would be something like “I can accept myself for who I am” or “I am grateful for my body”. Feel free to google more options, as the internet is full of suggestions.
Most of them go for all-out positivity in your life, whether in general or for body image. I think that can definitely turn some people off. The goal here isn’t necessarily to work toward only positive self-talk or to rid yourself of all the negative thoughts you might have. That’s pretty much impossible, honestly.
If positive self-talk seems out of reach, maybe aim for body respect with your affirmations instead. You can respect another person without feeling all warm and fuzzy toward them, and you can do the same with your body. We may never quite get to the genuine full on body positive self-love feelings that we strive for, especially in our diet culture climate. But we can try, and that starts by forging a respectful relationship with our body.
If positive affirmations said outloud just feel too new-agey and weird for you, how about journaling? Ugh, I know, I’m talking about journaling again. But perhaps instead of saying affirmations out loud, you can find a quiet time and place for 5 minutes and write about how your negative body image affects your life. Then, write about how thankful you are for your body, and how your life would be different if you could just be at peace with it. I also have 30 free journal prompts over in the free stuff tab, so be sure to check that out!
Personally, I tend to do much better with writing out my thoughts and feelings than I do with speaking. When given the choice, I would much rather confront someone else with a letter than a verbal confrontation, so I take that practice to confront myself too. I have written gratitude letters to my body, as well as apology letters. I found that the apology letters were quite powerful. I wrote about how sorry I was for restricting my intake, doing exercises I hated, and spending all those hours counting calories.
Next, I described how I always strive to make other people feel comfortable exactly as they are, yet I didn’t extend that to my own body. Instead, I said mean things to it and pointed out its “flaws” to anyone who would listen. Finally, I wrote about how tired I was of trying to change how it looked, and I wanted to just feel at peace with it. Sometimes I find that my pen or keyboard has much more wisdom that my own rambling, anxious mind.
Writing has always helped me get swirling thoughts out of my brain and onto a page, leaving my mind open to ponder other things or enjoy a hot cup of tea in silence. If you haven’t ever tried journaling or writing about the tough stuff in your life, I highly recommend giving it a try. You don’t have to show anybody what you wrote, and you can shred it or delete the document as soon as you’re done with it.
Even if you don’t want to say positive stuff out loud or write about your insecurities, evaluating your own self talk is still an important component in favor of improving your body image. Simply seeing where your self talk is at now can help you find your own path toward body respect.
3. Do Something Nice for Others
I have found that it’s really hard to hate myself and my body after I have just done something kind or helpful for another person or being. Some may say it’s selfish to volunteer or help someone out just because you want to feel good about yourself, but I honestly don’t see the problem with that. If you are doing genuine good in the world, who cares if it’s because you want to feel needed and helpful?
Putting your focus on someone or something else can help you break out of your negative self-talk loops, at least a little while. Plus, doing good deeds can be incredibly helpful for your overall self-confidence. You might call yourself a piece of garbage in your head, but would a piece of garbage volunteer to take shelter dogs for walks or play cards with older adults? No. Helping others gives your brain tangible evidence that you are not garbage, so you can refute negative thoughts by pointing this fact out to yourself.
On top of this, helping out a person or organization can help you build a sense of community around you. We live in a time of great disconnect, and we have to push ourselves to get out and get to know our neighbors and those who need help in our communities. It’s hard in COVID times, but forging positive relationships with those around us can work wonders on our mental health, and in tern, our perception of ourselves.
A lot of people need help right now, and there are plenty of local and virtual volunteering opportunities! VolunteerMatch, for example, has literally over 1 million virtual volunteering opportunities, where you don’t have to leave your home to lend a helping hand.
This tip may not seem super related to body image specifically, and that’s true. But if you can shift your focus from how you hate your batwings, to how your arms are strong and they help you lift heavy boxes and organize canned goods at your local food pantry, that’s a huge, important mind-shift that can’t be overstated.
Doing a good deed doesn’t have to involve formal, committed volunteering, either. You can literally just walk around your neighborhood and pick up garbage, send someone a $5 Venmo or (or snail mail card with $5 in it), or leave a post-it note with an inspiring message on the bathroom mirror at work.
This tip is such an important one, because I have found that I have the worst thoughts about myself and my body when I am isolated and I feel useless. This can occur when I have days off from work, or work is especially slow, because I thrive when I feel needed and purposeful. Volunteering online and in person, or doing random good deeds, have helped eliminate those unproductive feelings of worthlessness, and has made me actually feel good about myself sometimes.
I say give good deeds a try if you can!
Improving one’s body image doesn’t happen overnight, that’s for darn sure. We live in a world where everyone is subject to scrutiny, no matter what they look like or how they eat. It’s especially tough for people in larger bodies. I know it may be disappointing that I didn’t give you any silver bullets for instantly changing your relationship with your body, but I don’t think a silver bullet for this exists. If I do ever find one, you’ll be the first to know.
Overcoming negative body image and riding our lives of the messages diet culture has sent us basically from the womb is challenging, but it can be done. And the three steps I listed above are an excellent way to start being kinder to your body and your mind.
Good luck, and keep up the fight!
As Always, a Book Recommendation
If you have been following this blog for a while, you know that I think Dr. Lindo Bacon is an anti-diet badass, and the book Body Respect solidifies that view. Written with Lucy Aphramor, Body Respect dives into the “war on obesity” and how the stigma that comes with obesity is more problematic than obesity itself.
This “war on obesity” has led people to worry about their weight now more than ever, and it makes everyone feel more self-conscious about their bodies. It also discusses how oppression can negatively affect people’s perceived self-worth and health outcomes.
Body Respect is a fantastic, evidence-based read, and I truly believe it can help everyone be less judgmental of others and learn to appreciate and respect their bodies more than ever before.
This book is a must-have for anyone who is interested in the anti-diet or Health at Every Size movements, or for people who are interested in improving their relationship with food, exercise, and their body.
As a proud Indie Bound affiliate, I get a small commission on books and products sold using the links on my website. It doesn’t cost you anything extra! I only recommend books that I truly love and believe in, and your purchases on Indie Bound through my website support both my work and small bookstores. Thanks!
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