Reclaiming Your Body Image

Your relationship with your body is a life-long relationship. For that reason, it is one of the most important relationships you will ever have. In spite of its importance, it is a relationship that is often characterized by negative emotion and thinking. How often when people are asked to describe their bodies or how they feel about their bodies, they focus on a feature that they don’t like or use language that reflects negativity. Ask yourself or a friend that question and see for yourself. Ask yourself or your friend to describe their body (or something about their body) in positive terms. Was there a struggle to come up with a response? If so, you are far from alone.

What is meant by “body image”? Many definitions of body image exist that may vary slightly but all get at the underlying idea at its core, reflected in the definition provided by “An intellectual or idealized image of what one’s body is or should be like that is sometimes misconceived” Essentially, it is how we perceive our own body regardless of how it actually is. We may perceive shortcomings, and this perspective has tremendous power over how we think of our bodies and of ourselves.

Our relationship with our body can change over time. There may be periods in our lives where the thought of our body (or a particular body part) evoked emotions such as resentment, wistfulness, disgust, shame, fear, or horror. At other points we may feel more comfortable in our own skin and have adopted attitudes that promote self-acceptance and self-compassion. It is important to note that we also may react to the objective data- you may have gained or lost weight. You may have just have gone through a body-altering procedure or gone through a pregnancy. You may be on a medication or experiencing a condition that affects your appearance or weight. It is so critical in those moments to be mindful of the messages that you are sending yourself about your body.

Adopting a healthy body image is the goal. If you are not quite there yet, how can you get there? Here are some key points to keep in mind while examining your relationship with your body:

Your body is yours

Your body is not the person sitting next to you’s body. Or that person on TV’s body. Your body is yours. Comparing your body with someone else’s body is going to reinforce feeling frustrated and unhappy.

Beauty is a state of mind, not a state of body

When you feel good about yourself and who you are, you carry yourself with a sense of confidence, self-acceptance, and openness that makes you beautiful regardless of whether or not you physically look like a supermodel.

Practicing gratitude for your body does wonders for your well-being

Appreciate all that your body can do. Celebrate the amazing things your body does for you every day, such as running, dancing, breathing, laughing, dreaming, etc. When you stop and think about it, your body is really incredible. Recognize that and then see how it feels. Expressing or recognizing gratitude takes us out of our narrow view of a situation and redirects our focus. This can feel good, all around.

Accepting your body and all of its “flaws” is powerful

When you learn to accept yourself in spite of your flaws, wonderful things will happen. The sense of dread, shame, insecurity, or whatever is weighing you down begins to lift. Love yourself the way you are right now, not what you used to look like or what you could have looked like. No body (and nobody) is perfect. Embrace that which make you “unique.”

Surround yourself with positivity

Positive people support you and make you feel good about yourself. It is easier to feel good about yourself and your body when you are around others who are supportive and who recognize the importance of liking yourself just as you naturally are.

Similarly, speak out against messages that you see in the media that make you feel badly about yourself or your body. You could write a letter to the advertiser to express your view, or simply talk back to the image or message. Turn this into a positive.

Focus on the things you LIKE about yourself. What are those things? Acknowledge this to yourself. Keep a list and remind yourself of these qualities often. Add to this list, as you become aware of more things to like about yourself.

Do what makes you feel good. And do good.

Shift your focus onto things that make you feel good about your body. Some examples include wearing clothes that are comfortable and that make you feel good about your body. Work with your body, not against it.

Use the time and energy that you might have spent worrying about how you look, what you weigh, etc and do something to help others. Sometimes reaching out to other people can help you feel better about yourself and can make a positive change in our world.

You are a whole lot more than a body.

Your values, accomplishments, actions, relationships, humor, thoughts, and other internal characteristics are at the core of who you are. You are a person, not a body (or body part), after all.

Fundamentally, the power to reclaim your body image as something that you are comfortable with comes from within. Often it make take outside support and guidance to get there. Achieving this can be worked on while in therapy or in other supportive environments. There is nothing petty or insignificant about seeking help for this. Because our thinking influences how we feel to such a large degree, its will do you so much good to refocus negative thoughts about your body and learn to be more comfortable in your own skin.

Photo by Elijah Henderson on Unsplash