By Kelsey Brown
It was the night before costume day in the 4th grade and I didn’t have anything to wear. I called my mom begging for her to get me something on her way home from work. She came home shortly after with a Pocahontas costume and I ran upstairs to try it on.
I came down the stairs a few minutes later and informed her that I would not be wearing the costume to school the next day because “it made my butt look like it was the size of Lake Michigan.” Yes, I was 8 years old and comparing my derriere to a great lake. To this day I’ve never actually seen Lake Michigan, but I’m fairly certain that my statement was slightly hyperbolic.
Four years later, I struggled with Anorexia. At 12 years old my life was reduced to the number of calories I consumed, how many minutes of exercise I got and what my arm looked like compared to the girl sitting next to me in class. I pored through fashion magazines wondering what on earth was wrong with me that I didn’t look the way those women did.
Through countless hours of family and individual therapy and the eventual aid of antidepressants, I recovered from anorexia. While I have never fully relapsed and have maintained a normal weight since, it has been a consistent struggle to build and uphold a positive body image.
I have no desire to go back where I’ve been and have worked hard to avoid negative self-talk and self-harming behaviors (sometimes more successfully than others). I have had to regularly challenge the belief that I am not good enough as I am.
Body Image Blues
In a society obsessed with thinness and beauty, it can be difficult not to be hyper aware of your weight and beat yourself up over how you look. Whether you’re not skinny enough, pretty enough, tall enough or strong enough, there are a million reasons you can find to feel negatively about yourself.
My story isn’t rare. Over 80% of 10 year old girls are afraid of being fat. Recent research reveals that this isn’t just a female phenomenon with more adolescent boys turning to weight lifting and substance abuse to increase size than ever before.
Negative body image as a real issue with real consequences. It is associated with feelings of shame, self-consciousness and anxiety about one’s body and oneself. Those with negative body image are at a greater risk for developing eating disorders, depression and low self-esteem. Possessing a negative body image is also linked to things like smoking, alcohol abuse, early onset of sexual activity and obesity.
The often-criticized media is not the only one to blame for the catastrophic body image crisis. While magazines and advertisements idealize unrealistic body types, a societal focus on appearance, diets, and weight loss is also at fault. Perhaps more importantly, the comments of family and peers can have a huge effect on a person’s body image and self-esteem.
While it is tempting to believe that fixing your body will fix your body image blues, a negative body image is a product of disordered thinking, not a disordered body.
If you are tired of beating yourself up when you look in the mirror and obsessing over what you must improve about your physical appearance, it’s time to take a break from looking at your body and take some steps towards improving your body image.
How to build a better body (Image!)
While squashing every negative thought before it forms can be difficult to do, here are some steps you can take to challenge those thoughts and replace them with positive, body affirming beliefs.
· Coach yourself into loving your own body.
o Create daily or weekly affirmations and stick them wherever you will see them (mirror, dashboard, etc.).
o Write in a gratitude journal (and include stuff about your body).
o Ask yourself every day “what is one thing I love about myself right now?” Find new ways to answer it regularly.
· Check your expectations.
o Is your goal weight size realistic for you? Aim to make goals that reflect your unique genetic makeup and lifestyle, not ones built on the appearance of others.
o Would losing ____ amount of weight really make you totally and completely happy? Why or why not? Dig a little deeper into beliefs like this.
· Actively avoid comparisons.
o Catch yourself when you compare yourself to other people (negatively or positively). Is your stomach your trouble area? Ever notice how the first thing you spot in others is a tight and toned stomach? When comparing, you’re often pitting the worst of yourself against the best of others.
· Avoid negative body talk.
o Quit voicing judgments about bodies, others or your own! The more you accept other bodies the easier it is to accept your own.
o Compliment one person a day – and mean it!
· Find the joy and beauty in honoring your health.
o How do you treat things that you love and value? Your body deserves nothing less. Choose exercise that you enjoy that leaves you feeling invigorated and strong. Instead of viewing exercise as a form of punishment or atonement, conceptualize it as a way to be kind to your body. If you don’t know what you like, try things out! Any form of movement will do.
o Choose foods that are enjoyable and nourish your body. Instead of focusing on all the things you can’t have, focus on all the delicious and healthy things that you can enjoy. You are valuable and worthy of eating well and exercising, prove it with the actions you take to honor your health.
· Educate yourself! Here are a few books and blogs that will help you uncover what lies beneath your body image issues and find a place of body acceptance and overall health.
o Books –
- Women, Food and God – Geneen Roth (I cannot recommend this
book highly enough!)
- Intuitive Eating – Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
o Blogs/websites –
The beautiful thing about creating a better body image is that you can follow these steps, take out the word image, and it will still remain true. If you are honoring your body by feeding it healthy and delicious foods and exercising in a manner that is comfortable and enjoyable the body will run more efficiently and effectively.
Over time, these mental and emotional changes will lead to long-term physical improvements that crash dieting and sporadic bursts of exercise never will (If you’re interested in this concept check out the book Intuitive Eating).
If you’re sick of beating yourself up every time you look in the mirror, commit to building a better body image. Start now.
This can be an extremely daunting task. It takes time and effort to change your thoughts, attitudes and beliefs, especially those you have about yourself. Start slow. Pick a technique or two to begin today and build from there. Through every step of the process thank yourself for taking the time and effort to learn to love and value your body.
When you value yourself enough to treat yourself well, both your mind and body will respond. With your health, the only positive change is one that ensures the long-term wellbeing of both your body and your mind and learning to love yourself is an integral first step.