How you feel about how you look greatly impacts how you feel about yourself in general, and how you feel in regards to other people. Many people who are unhappy with the way they look often have very low self-esteem, and this effects how they get along with other people.
Taking steps towards choosing a positive body image at the beginning of your journey towards better health will make everything easier (and more pleasant along the way).
The Ideal Body Is a Media Myth
In my previous article, I discussed Healthy Body Image and Fat Phobia, and the pervasive disconnect in our culture that makes it difficult to hold a positive body image, even though it’s clear that reality for the majority isn’t what we see on TV and in magazines.
People are always comparing themselves to other people and to an imagined ‘ideal.’ Of course that ideal can’t be reached in one person. It’s also in the eye of the beholder: even women and men don’t agree on what the perfect body looks like.
When people feel that their body type falls far from the mark, they tend to beat themselves up emotionally. Not only does this way of thinking lead to higher incidences of depression and anxiety in people with negative body image, but they often become dependent on outside validation. They become emotionally dependent and many don’t feel in control of their own emotional well being.
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. If you are suffering from a negative body image, always keep in mind that such a negative body image is learned behavior. When you are dealing with learned behavior, be aware that you can unlearn such behavior. Here are just some of the most basic steps you can take in choosing a positive body image.
Step 1: Realize That You Read Things Into Your Body Type
If you are feeling bad, or you are thinking you’re fat and unattractive, it is because you are reading certain meanings into what you are seeing.
There are three different somatotypes, or general descriptive categories of body types. They serve to illustrate the wide variety in what is “normal”.
- Mesomorphs are larger-boned, bigger in general, husky, usually muscular, robust, thicker-skinned.
- Ectomorphs are the opposite, appearing more frail, delicate, thin-boned, angular, lean or even perhaps “skinny”.
- Endomorphs tend to be rounded and soft, have a prominent abdomen, be prone to body fat, have a rounded head and limbs.
Psychologically, there is no difference among these body types, although there were once theories that they also defined personality. What is different is how we choose to interpret what we see. Be aware of the signals you’re getting when you look at yourself in the mirror, and how you subconsciously intercept and twist the signals to produce a negative message. There is nothing inherently or intrinsically negative about a big body type. You are just reading that interpretation into what your eyes are perceiving. Be aware of this.
Step 2: Actively Interrupt Your Interpretations
When you are looking yourself in a mirror and your mind is sending you negative signals, consciously and actively interrupt the interpretation process. Instead of thinking to yourself ‘I am fat’ or ‘I am unattractive’ or ‘I wish I was thinner’ or ‘I need to get to the gym so I can look better,’ choose to tell yourself, ‘I look natural,’ ‘I accept myself,’ or ‘I am not a victim of other people’s expectations.’
Find something positive to say – treat your body like a friend. This takes a lot of practice, but the more you do it, the better you will get at it. Be aware of the messages you’re reading into your self-image, and actively change the narrative.
Also try to notice yourself being judgmental about other people’s appearances too as you go about your day. Are you noticing facts, or are you interpreting them and adding a story that may not be true?
There’s a big difference between thinking ‘she’s overweight’ and ‘she’s a lazy slob’. You don’t know if she’s lazy – she may have an undiagnosed thyroid problem. She may have already lost 200 pounds and is courageously working on reaching her goal weight. Ask yourself what facts you’re sure of, and practice not taking your narrative further.
Also practice forcing yourself to mentally state something positive (and true) when you catch yourself being critical… ‘she has lovely skin’. Creating the habit of treating others more fairly in your mental chatter will hopefully help you do the same for yourself.
Step 3: Actively Work On Self-Acceptance
Make it a habit to look into a mirror and repeat a message that helps boost your self-acceptance. When looking at your physical image, consciously work to break the wrong connection between your appearance and certain judgments. When you look at your body, repeat to yourself and say ‘I am a lovely person.’ Alternatively, you can say ‘I have a lot of love to offer,’ ‘I am a caring and valuable person.’ Some people like writing these reminders on sticky notes and putting them right on the mirror.
Focus on breaking the connection between what you ‘should’ look like and the positive character traits these physical signals supposedly represent. Instead, create new associations between the best of your ideals and how you actually look. This is the first step to total liberation from our old habit of basing our self-worth on what other people say about our physical appearance.
Why Work On A Positive Body Image?
When you’ve set a goal to become fit and healthy that includes weight loss, it can be easy to stumble over self-sabotaging behaviors and habits. Appreciating your body and working with it, instead of against it, sets you up for success with weight loss, better health, and overcoming any chronic health issues you may be struggling with.