Developing a healthy body image, a good relationship and perspective of your body, can be incredibly difficult. Daily we as a society are inundated with images of what a “good” body should look like, what is acceptable and what is not in our appearance. And we know that these unrealistic images and standards can increase an individual’s negativity about their own body.
In our work as eating disorder therapists, we hear often from our clients that finding peace with their body and feeling comfortable in their body feels like a far off, never-achievable goal.
We’re here to tell you that it is 100% possible to find peace with your body, to even LOVE your body. But it does take work and practice. Think about it this way, it took time to develop a bad relationship with your body and it takes time to change those thoughts and develop a good relationship with your body!
So here are our 5 beginning steps to take to begin to enjoy, love, and accept your body
- Don’t Diet!
We know this seems counter-productive because the initial reaction can be that if you don’t love your body, change your body. But body image is much more about how we feel about our body, not what it actually looks like. Dieting in order to change your body does not accomplish actually starting to love your body, but instead can feed back into the negative cycle or negative loop. The diet industry is just that, an industry. Feed yourself nutritious, delicious food. Care for your body through many different avenues of self-care. From this self-care practice, you can begin to experience your body in much gentler, kinder way.
- Involve Yourself in Activities that Make You Feel Good
When we’re feeling negative about our bodies, what we tend to do is pull back from social situations or from activities where our body feels like it might be more exposed. (think- going to the beach, to a pool party etc). However, when we do that we end up focusing more on the negatives about ourselves and our bodies. Allowing yourself to get lost in an activity that you enjoy such as swimming, playing volleyball, talking with a friend, reading a book/magazine etc, helps to distract yourself from the negatives and see the ways that your body can move and be enjoyed!
- Find and Wear Items of Clothing that You Feel Comfortable In
This can be a difficult one because going shopping and finding the right clothes that you feel comfortable in can be overwhelming. But the first thing to think about and recognize is that it’s often times the judgment about what we feel we “should” be wearing (the styles) or the size that we “should” be that cause this to be the most overwhelming experience. Sizes don’t matter! They change from store to store and season to season. Cut the tags out of your clothing, let the number go and wear clothing based on how it feels on your body not what you think it “should” be.
- Recognize a Few Areas of Your Body That You Are At Peace With
I know this can be a difficult one. Often times finding one or two areas that you like (or even feel okay about) can feel almost impossible. But I guarantee that they are there. Sometimes the easiest way to find those areas of yourself is to pay attention to the areas of your body that you’re using while engaging in activities that you enjoy. Maybe it’s your arms that help you hit the volleyball, your eyes that help you read, your mouth that helps you talk to your friends, your legs that kick while you swim …each of these areas serves as a place where you can begin to practice enjoyment and acceptance of your body and yourself. These thoughts can then be used to break the negative thought cycle that you may find yourself stuck in. When you feel upset about a part of your body, talk back to that and say “and I really also enjoy this part about myself.”
- Find and Use Supports That Build You Up Emotionally
Body image is not just about your body, it’s about how you feel emotionally as well. Having a friend , family member or therapist who can listen, encourage, and be emotionally present can also help to alleviate negativity that you are feeling. How we feel emotionally directly impacts how we feel about our body. You may find that if you’re stressed about something in your life, you may also be experiencing a bad body image day. The two are directly linked. Having someone to share those feelings with can create relief and shift the anxiety.
This list is not exhaustive, but it is a good starting off point. There are so many more ways to begin to feel comfortable in your own skin. Begin by practicing these things and see how there can be a shift for yourself and your own experiences of your body!