Working as an eating disorder therapist and a therapist who works with teenagers, body image is something that I talk about almost on a daily basis.
Body image is how one perceives their body and it can be a positive or negative view.
How we view our bodies and the positive or negative thoughts we may experience towards them happens for a number of reasons. The most common reason I hear for a negative body image is: societal views.
We are all impacted by societal views in one way or another. In regards to body image, we hear a lot about an “ideal body”, diet fads and fitness regimes. What society doesn’t realize is how this effects the ways in which we talk and feel about our own bodies and more importantly, feel about bodies other than ours. These comments can become the inner dialogue for our peers and can fuel thoughts of comparison and negativity. A negative body image can and will impact a person's self-esteem and self-confidence.
In my work with clients, we speak about how to challenge negative body image thoughts and work toward body neutrality and eventually, body positivity. This work can take time because we are constantly bombarded with comments about food, weight and bodies; however, the hard work is rewarding when a client can start to view their body in a more positive light and they start to feel better about themselves.
Here are 7 ways you can work towards a more positive body image
Clean Out Your Social Media
Social media can be a HUGE trigger for folks. There are so many accounts geared toward fitness regimes, diet plans and even some pro-eating disorder accounts that it can be hard to get away from body image talk. Unfollowing these accounts can make sure that what you are taking in everyday is more aligned with your goals and how you want to view yourself. Following body positive accounts can also change what you see on your feed and promote more positive thinking, examples: @bodyimage_therapist and @thebodypositive.
Work on Body Appreciation
Our bodies do SO MANY things for us. We are able to be on this planet because of the body we are in. If we look at all that our body is capable of doing, rather than how it looks, it can shift the focus from negativity to gratitude. An example: I am able to hang out with my loved ones (whoever they may be). Our loved ones don't care about the body we are in, they love us for who we are.
Focus on What You like About Yourself
We are so much more than just a body! We are living, breathing, wonderful humans and have so much more to offer the world than just our physical body. Shift your thinking to who you are as a person, what you offer to your circle and the goals you have in life. An example: I'm a funny person and I make people laugh. That's a much more positive way to think and can boost
self-confidence, as well. (And who doesn't love funny people!)
Wear Clothes that Fit You, Instead of Changing Yourself to Fit the Clothes
We are not meant to fit into sizes. Going shopping and focusing on a specific size can be a recipe for negative thoughts and low mood. Shifting the mindset to finding something that fits your body and that you feel good in will make you feel more confident in the clothes and start to challenge those negative body image thoughts. Focusing on style is a wonderful way to express yourself, as well.
Challenge Thoughts of Comparison
Comparing is something we all do with multiple areas of life. Potentially having a negative thought of "I don't look like her", "He's more muscular than me", "They're more attractive than me", will fuel a spiral of negative thoughts about yourself. Challenge yourself to redirect your thoughts to something else which will help reduce the amount you compare and the significance of what/who you are comparing yourself to. The thought is simply a thought, it doesn't have to effect your mood.
Surround Yourself with Body Positive People
Make your circle a body positive circle! Keeping people around us who lift us up rather than drag us down is SO important. Currating a group of people that think about bodies in the way that you are working toward, can help in the journey to body positivity. Setting boundaries with people who make body comments is a wonderful step as well. Being able to say "I don't want to talk about that" or "please don't make comments on my appearance" is extremely difficult and it's something you can speak about with a licensed counselor if you need assistance.
Do Something Nice for Yourself
Take the time to go for a walk, watch your favorite TV show, get your nails done or read a book. Doing something nice for yourself and your body will help foster a love and appreciation for yourself as a whole being. It will allow the space to shift the focus toward gratitude for your body rather than hate for how it looks.
Ultimately, what I try to work on with clients is understanding that their sense of worth is not attached to their physical appearance. This is a difficult thing to learn and combat because of how programmed our society is to tell us otherwise. It can be difficult to change your thinking and might feel weird at first, but in time, you will get there. Try one, a few or all of these tips and see if it starts to make a difference in how you view yourself and your body.
If you or someone you know is struggling with negative body image and its effects, please reach out. You deserve help.
Stephanie Polizzi is a licensed psychotherapist (LMHC) in Scarsdale, NY at Peaceful Living Mental Health Counseling.