Body Image—Not What You See, But How You Feel

Cultivating a Positive Body Image at Every Age

Can you learn to be grateful for who you are inside and out?

“If you can learn to like how you look,

and not the way you think you look, it can set you free.”

— Gloria Steinem

Let’s talk about body image. Tara is 5’ 5”, weighs 132 pounds; her hair is the color of chestnuts and her lips naturally want to curl into a smile. She has square shoulders, small breasts, and a little pooch at the edge of her thighs that comes from her mother’s side of the family. 
When she stands in front of a full-length mirror this is what she sees: a too-short woman, at least fifteen pounds overweight whose hair is dull and boring and whose nose and lips are too thin. What about collagen? she thinks again, pouting her lips and imagining a mouth like Liv Tyler or Uma Thurman. She pushes her breasts together, looking for some sign of cleavage, and turns away in self-loathing when she views her thighs. 
Tara’s mother looks in the bathroom mirror each morning and pulls back the skin on her cheeks and throat, trying to get an idea of how much better she’d look with a facelift. Are the wrinkles around her mouth deeper this morning? She smiles to flatten them out. It looks like a smirk. 
Meanwhile, Tara’s friend, Doreen, is counting calories and adding up fat grams. She’ll skip breakfast again this morning. Go to the gym instead.
“A woman’s relationship with her body is the most important relationship she’ll ever have,” says health and fitness expert Diana K. Roesch. How sad that in our culture it is primarily not a loving relationship. Our body image is, rather, a relationship grounded in insecurity, fear, self-doubt, shame, guilt, low self-esteem, and all too often, self-hatred. 
Do you relate to any of this? I know I do. Constantly I have to shift my body image from negative to positive. And I regularly have to remind myself that the goal is not the size of the pants I am wearing or the number on the scale.  It’s how healthy, vibrant, and beautiful I feel that matters.  That’s the body image I consciously focus on and strive every day to project. Because, most days, I’m lucky to feel great!

The Most Beautiful Thing You Can Wear is Confidence

But most of us don’t habitually wear confidence.  When it comes to our body image, we more often wear self-criticism and self doubt. It is estimated that over 8 million Americans have an eating disorder – seven million women and one million men.

  • One in 200 American women suffers from anorexia
  • Two to three in 100 American women suffers from bulimia
  • Nearly half of all Americans personally know someone with an eating disorder

I can tell you, I have NEVER had a client who doesn’t have a body image issue of some kind!
If you have been around me much, you know I often share the statistics from a survey conducted by the Dove Foundation, only 4% of all women worldwide believe we are beautiful.  That’s from a study of over 10,000 women in 10 different countries! It sounds alarming, but all you have to do is ask around and you will find this is painfully accurate.
Ours is a nation that starves, diets, purges, binges and exercises to the point of creating serious health problems, sometimes even causing death. And most of us are at least dissatisfied and at worst even hate some parts of our bodies. 

I Challenge You: Turn the Self-Loathing to Self-Loving!

We are about to enter the holiday season and so many of us dread the temptations to eat, drink and be merry.  Why? Because we don’t want to gain a few pounds – and our body image will take a dive.
Well, why not set an intention now to enjoy the season, focus on friends and family, giving to others and giving to yourself?  Why not focus on self acceptance instead of self criticism?
I know it is easier said than done.  I too have to work on this and remind myself of this over and over again. Like all change, it won’t happen overnight. It begins with small, positive steps that eventually turn into habits.

How to Cultivate a Positive Body Image

Here are some steps you can take to get started on the path to a beautiful body image:

  • Find at least one thing you like about your body. Write it down. Tomorrow, find another. Start a new journal called Things I Love About Me.  I promise it’s just like gratitude: put your energy into positive thoughts and see the difference it makes.
  • Practice good posture. Hold your head high. Straighten your shoulders. This is an incredibly simple way to look ten pounds thinner and – at the same time – instantly feel more strong and confident.
  • Tell your body how much you appreciate its amazing abilities. Really, your body is like magic – show it some love.
  • Get rid of all the clothes in your closet that you don’t like (or that are uncomfortable.) In other words, love everything you wear. Going forward, don’t buy it if you don’t absolutely love it.
  • Define beauty for yourself. Don’t let other people – including the fashion media – define human beauty for you. Accept your own brand of beautiful. Realize that you are beautiful just the way you are.
  • Nourish your body with a healthy diet, regular meals, and lots of water. Being healthy is a better objective than being thin. Healthy is happy. Happy is always beautiful.
  • Slow down and remember to breathe. Take time to reflect on what motivates you, what gets you up in the morning, who inspires you. Mindfulness gives you the kind of serenity that every culture recognizes as beautiful.
  • Move your body. In addition to exercise, add some play. Dance, jump, enjoy the physicality of your body.
  • Pamper yourself with beautiful clothes and soothing beauty rituals.
  • Post signs all around you telling yourself how beautiful you are, inside and out.
  • Tell your friends how beautiful they are, inside and out. They will thank you for it.

The way to a positive self-image begins with a conscious choice to make peace with, accept and love your body. 
I welcome your thoughts and comments.  Share with us what steps you are going to make to turn toward a more positive body image.

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Leslie

    Such an important message for every woman and the daughters many of us are raising! I find it very helpful to focus first on health – both body and mind. When we’re at our healthiest, we’re naturally happy and glowing from the inside out. That’s the best kind of image to put out in the world.

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