Emerging from the cozy den of winter may leave you feeling wobbly and exposed. Here’s how to gird your self-image to prepare for bathing-suit-and-shorts weather.
Have you ever looked at an old photo of yourself and felt struck by the chasm between how critical you felt about your appearance and how good you actually looked?
No matter your body size and shape or how frizzy or flat your hair looked back then, does Current You see beauty and value that Younger You didn’t? Do you ever lament to that younger version of yourself, “Oh Sweetheart/Dude, if only you had known how lovely/awesome/dope you were!”
With the gift of hindsight, many of us realize that we “used to” waste a lot of time worrying about supposed imperfections and how we measured up to our peers, when really, we were just fine. And, if only we had known that then, we could have lived more authentically and had a lot more fun.
What if we could apply that same hindsight to our present-day vision of ourselves? What if we could benefit from the wisdom of our future selves and shrug off our undeserved self-loathing and discontent?
Read on for tips to reconstruct your body image and have more fun this spring.
What is body image?
Close your eyes and picture your body. What do you see?
Your body image is the subjective “picture” of yourself that you see in your mind or in the mirror. It may have little to do with how you actually look.
Body image generally encompasses these factors:
- What you think and feel about your body. What attitudes and beliefs did you learn from your culture, family and friends? How do those ideas affect your feelings about your body?
- How you experience and perceive your body. What does it feel like physically to move or rest in your body? How do you perceive the shape and size of your body and body parts?
- How you behave toward your body. How do you take care of, check on, alter or conceal your body? Do you check your appearance in the mirror a lot? Do you hide underneath oversized clothing?
Where does negative body image come from?
We may learn to dislike our bodies from a variety of sources, including our families, friends and culture. However, social media and mass media appear to play outsized roles in shaping our opinions about ourselves. These forms of media regularly expose us to “idealized” body shapes and features that may not even exist without filters, flattering camera angles and other distortions.
When we’re told over and over again by media, and possibly even people in our lives, that we don’t measure up, it’s hard not to listen.
Tips to boost your body image
The good news is that we can take steps to limit the influence of harmful messages about our bodies and improve the way we see ourselves. Try practicing these tips:
1. Limit your time on social media.
Research shows that we feel better about how we look when we spend less time comparing ourselves to other people on social media. A recent study found that limiting social media to 60 minutes a day for 30 minutes was enough to measurably improve participants’ self-reports of their appearance.
Consider taking a day off from social media each week and using that time for self-care, hobbies or connecting IRL with supportive friends. Try it and see how it feels!
2. Curate your media feed.
Mute or unfollow social media stories and accounts that make you feel less-than or uncomfortable. Skip over shows that glorify unattainable beauty standards. Seek out content that inspires and affirms you.
3. Practice gratitude for your body.
Spend a few minutes each day acknowledging positive things about your body. Here are a couple ideas to get you started.
Go for a mindful walk (a few minutes is fine!) and focus on the myriad of wonderful things your body can do. You might start by marveling at your feet and all the tiny adjustments they make to keep you upright. Your body does so many things effortlessly without you having to give a conscious thought.
Make a list of all the things you appreciate about your body, big and small. Here are some examples.
“I love my strong calves because they allow me to run fast.”
“I love my nimble fingers because they can play beautiful music.”
“I love my softness because it makes me extra huggable.”
“I love my strong back because it lets me give my children piggyback rides.”
4. Set boundaries in your relationships.
Let people know that you’re learning to focus on the positive aspects of all bodies and moving away from making comparisons and judgments.
If certain people continue to talk about bodies in ways that make you uncomfortable, it’s okay to ask them to talk about something else or excuse yourself from the conversation. If they refuse to accept your boundaries, you might decide that it’s best to minimize the amount of time you spend with them.
Keeping healthy boundaries is an important part of taking care of yourself!
Seek out clothes and accessories that make you feel comfortable and confident.
It’s hard not to feel good about yourself when you’re wearing a killer pair of shoes or a sick jacket.
When you look at yourself in the mirror, focus on the whole you and not individual pieces that you tend to pick apart. Conjure up the image you want to project to the world and beam it out there!
We hope these tips help you develop a more positive body image. You deserve to feel good about your body—the way it looks and all the wonderful things it does for you.
Sadly, negative beliefs about our bodies are often deeply ingrained, and improving them may require considerable time and effort.
If you or someone you love struggles from poor self-image or low self-esteem, you might benefit from talking to a professional. A licensed mental health professional can help you examine your negative thoughts and feelings and give you tools to think and feel better about yourself.
Call your doctor or contact Athena Care, for mental health care in Tennessee.
One of our Care Coordinators will help you get the care you need.
Rachel Swan, MS
Rachel has a Masters of Science in Clinical Psychology from Vanderbilt University, where she spent 16 years as a Research Analyst in the Psychology and Human Development Department.