How to Achieve a Positive Body Image
What's your body image?
How do you feel about your body when you stand in front of the mirror or catch your reflection in a shop window? How conscious are you of the fact that the way people view their bodies is not actually a truth but rather an illusion?
While it may sound a little far-fetched, it is a reality that this illusion is a result of long-term programming. Since the moment we were born we were taught or programmed to believe what the standard of beauty is. As a result, our obsession with thinness is actually a program and NOT a reality.
I’ll give you an example. The Hema tribe in Uganda has a special ritual that occurs when a man and woman marry. The woman is sent off to a fattening hut prior to the ceremony in order to make herself more attractive to her husband. Have a think about this in contrast to the Western woman and her diet regimen before a wedding!
Furthermore, consider Eastern and tribal cultures. Traditionally, they tend to focus more on nature, spirituality, dance, creativity, and connecting with one another. In fact, there is rarely any emphasis placed on weight at all.
Our culture, however, has us believing that a large portion of our worth comes from how we look. Being slender or athletic makes us believe we are special, adequate or deserving.
What is a painful body image?
Do you have a painful body image? Ask yourself:
- Do you avoid going to the beach for fear of seeing yourself or being seen in a bikini?
- Do you avoid looking at certain parts of your body? Do you have the tendency to cover up certain parts, ignore, neglect, or compare your body to others who walk by?
- Do you have a low-grade dislike for your body?
- Do you speak unkindly to your body?
- Do you scroll through Instagram feeds and while you do, does it stir up feelings of depression or unworthiness?
- Do you have a poor relationship with food and your body?
We were not born with body image issues
These issues did not come from you personally. Rather, we can attribute them to the influx of images and messages from the wealth of marketing and social media that we are exposed to on a daily basis. That, plus the programming of friends, family, teachers, and peers or co-workers.
We live in a society where we EDIT ourselves. We are programmed to believe that how we are is NOT ENOUGH and this painful body image is a leading cause of eating disorders, depression, anxiety, yo-yo dieting, and antidepressant use worldwide.
Most people don’t even question their painful body images. They question the food they eat, the shape and size of their bodies, the image they see in the mirror and even their exercise habits - but not how they speak to themselves.
If you want to know at what particular moment you went from being a carefree child to someone who began to judge their body, ask yourself these questions, which were taken from Psychotherapist, Andrea Wachter who inspired this article and explores the topic of body image and self-love so eloquently:
- Did you witness someone else being unkind to their body when you were young? Did you pick up this behaviour?
- Were you ever abused and consciously or unconsciously blamed your body rather than your perpetrator?
- Did you ever get praised for having a beautiful body when you were slender and slim? Did you find yourself believing this was something you had to maintain?
- Did you witness someone else get praised about their body and yearned for this as well?
- Were you ever teased or made to feel ashamed about your body while you were growing up?
- Did you ever find yourself feeling bad about something which happened in your life as a child and associated this bad feeling with also not being good enough?
So many children in this generation suffer from eating disorders as well as bullying over the way they feel or look. Elderly people have neared the end of their lives spending a whole lifetime berating themselves for their stretch marks, body shape, facial features and so on, never finding peace with the way they look.
A range of chronic health conditions can manifest due to this hatred we direct towards ourselves. Thankfully, we now know that it all starts with our thoughts and small behaviours which can be recognised and transformed.
Ruminating overpowering thoughts
Believing the bad thoughts that go through our heads leads to a negative relationship with food and exercise which include:
- Resistance to movement
- Punishing our body
- Binge eating
- Skipping meals
- Ignoring our body’s needs
- Excess coffee consumption
- Inadequate sleep
- Cycles of dieting
- Beating up ourselves over wrong choices
These behaviours are all part of the DIET CULTURE that leaves our bodies lacking in balance and nourishment.
Have you forgotten that your body is meant to look different at different stages in your life?
Just like we transitioned from childhood to puberty, our bodies have held us through grief, pregnancies, birthing, heartbreaks, marathons, operations, and menopause. After living a full life, are you expecting that your body will remain unchanged and be as slender as it may have been during your teen years? This mentality is not only illogical but also unkind.
It’s interesting that after a lifetime of being this unkind to our bodies, some of us finally start to nourish and no longer punish ourselves. Just the same, we are still baffled as to why we don’t get results overnight!
Well, that’s because weight loss is not a calorie issue - it’s a hormonal issue. And what affects our hormones? Stress. Sleep. Nutrition. You can not betray and harm your body for so long and hope for immediate results.
Tools to begin transforming your body image
Know this very well - we don’t lose weight and get healthy. We get healthy and then find that our weight doesn’t matter so much anymore.
There are many reasons people sustain such negative body images. Often it is a distraction from deeper issues they’re dealing with but are not comfortable facing. It may be a symptom of one’s natural need to fit into cultural expectations or to gain approval and love.
Below are some things you can do to help achieve a more positive body image:
- Start by writing your body a sorry letter.
- Follow it up with becoming more conscious of your emotions around negative thoughts and behaviours.
- Ask yourself what happened right before the onslaught of unkind thoughts or binge eating?
- What initial emotions triggered these thoughts or your desire to reach for unhealthy food to comfort?
- What emotions would you be feeling or issues would you be facing if you weren’t so busy ruminating over your body shape?
It is time we started LOVING our body and truly tuning into its needs.
When this happens, a major shift occurs. The restriction, the bingeing, and the overexertion stop. This takes genuine commitment and although we cannot transform an entire society’s view of body image and beauty, we can change our own. So much time has already been wasted on negative thoughts. It's time you set yourself free!