Improving Body Image

Susan Justitz Ph.D

If you are among the millions of women who does not like the way her body looks, join the club. Over half of the American population doesn’t like what they see in the mirror but this does not have to mean you don’t like who you are. Our body image refers to everything about us; our physical appearance along with our emotions and how we feel inside ourselves is what makes up our body image. So although what you see in the mirror every day constitutes part of our body image, there are other things you will need to work on in order to improve your entire body image. Here are some body image improvement tips:

Comparisons are bad.

As women it is natural that we compare ourselves with the girl walking down the street or the neighbor next door. But just because it is natural does not mean we should do it. It begins to take its toll as you make comparisons with yourself and others; and in all reality it does not and should not matter. Every woman is different and should celebrate their differences. Every woman has her own strengths and weaknesses. Don’t focus on what you are not by comparing yourself with every other Jane on the block. Focus on what you are and what you can become.

Look for your strengths.

Everyone has strengths; even you. Try finding parts of you that are your strengths; your talents. Don’t just look at your physical features. There is much more to you than what is on the outside. Look deeper. Can you paint? Did you graduate from college? Do you make others happy? Are you a great mom? These are the things that make the difference; not whether or not you have great legs.

Positive self talk.

Take a moment and listen to the things you say inside your head. Are they nice things? Or are they destructive. Just like a small child loves it when you praise their good behavior, so does your mind. If you could record some of your self talk you may hear things like “why did you do that? You’re such an idiot!” You are what you think, so start thinking good things about yourself so you can begin to change your body image.

Be realistic.

Let’s face it, chances are you’re not going to ever look like that Victoria secret model hanging up in the mall; and why would you want to? Be happy with what you look like; you are unique. Stop pretending that you’d be happy if you just lost ten pounds; or if you could just fit into that size three. When you stop trying to be someone you are not and be happy with the here and now, you will begin to see a change. Don’t live in a fantasy world; embrace who you are and the great things about you right now!

Be Healthy.

The word healthy encompasses so many things. To have a healthy body there a many things you can do. Let’s look at two of them: Exercise and Diet. The recommended daily amount of exercise is 20 minutes; that’s it! Go for a walk, start yoga, or go on a bike ride. You will start to feel your body not only lose inches, but lose all the negative self talk. Your body will thank you for getting some physical activity by helping your brain feel better. Improve your body image by taking a good hard look at your diet. What are you eating? Or not eating for that matter. Are you getting your recommended daily doses of fruits and vegetables; milk products; etc? Changing your diet to improve your body image does not mean you have to cut out everything good. Moderation is the key; so watch your intake and moderate your serving sizes.

Strive for a Healthy Body

Make it your goal to become healthy through regular activity and proper nutrition. Don’t focus on weight, body size, and shape. Think about health, fitness and enjoying yourself.

Focus on Your Positive Points

Do not define yourself only by your appearance. Develop and nurture the many gifts, skills, and abilities that make you unique. Admire and accentuate the things about you that you feel good about. Remember that beauty is a state of mind that has infinite definitions.

Limit Your Exposure to Negative Images from Your Environment

Research shows that the acceptance of negative images (from media, friends, family, etc.) poses more risk than being exposed to those images. Try to reject negative images from the environment by limiting the amount of time you spend with them.(For example, people who judge you based on your appearance, magazines/television/movies focused on one standard of beauty, etc.)

Take Notice of All the Cool Things that Your Body Can Do

Remind yourself of the many things that you can do with your body – walking, running, jumping, dancing, breathing, laughing, hugging, smiling, etc. Practice them daily! Involve yourself in activities that help you tune into your body, such as yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, etc.

Develop a Positive Social Support System

Surround yourself with people who are confident and encourage you to be your best. Build a network of friends, family, and co-workers who enjoy life and participate in your healthy lifestyle. Get a walking buddy or a lunch partner with healthy eating habits. Limit time spent with and place limits on people with whom you feel self-conscious and inferior. In addition, try to avoid those who point you towards unhealthy habits.

Devote Time and Energy Towards Helping Yourself and Others

Have a plan of action for those times when you may feel low. Turn your focus on helping and not hurting yourself. What can you do for yourself that would be positive? Make your day better. Take a walk, catch up with an old friend, play with a pet, etc. You may even turn your thoughts to making someone else’s day better. Helping other people often makes us feel better about ourselves and our situations.

Keep in mind that this is not a complete list. There are many other things that you can do to boost your body image. In fact, most of us are already contributing to our own positive body images without even realizing it. How often do you focus on your actions and who you are as a person instead of how you look? Do you ever say, “Good job, self!” or compliment yourself during the day?
By no means does this list include everything you can do to improve your body image, but it can be a starting point for action. Use it as a guide for creating a new, positive, encouraging perception of yourself. If you already have a positive body image, this can reaffirm the healthy habits you already have.

Your body image defines who you are so make it more than just your physical appearance. It sounds so cliché but people love you for what they see on the inside. Improve your body image by starting with what matters most.