Body image is the perception that a person has of their physical self and the thoughts and feelings that result from that perception. These feelings can be positive, negative or both and are influenced by family, friends, social pressure and the media. Body image is closely linked to self-esteem. Low self-esteem can lead to eating disorders, substance use and suicidal thoughts. Eating disorders are unhealthy relationships with food that may include fasting, constant dieting, over exercising, or binging and purging.
To promote a positive body image:
- Be positive and kind. Treat yourself as you would someone else. When you look at yourself, instead of zoning in on your so-called trouble area, find something you like about your body and give yourself a compliment.
- When it comes to exercise, set performance-based goals. Don’t think of exercising as simply burning calories and improving how certain body parts look in the mirror. Instead, take a look at what your body can do. Make it a goal to perform 12 push-ups, 15 box jumps, or run 3 miles at a certain pace. Choose to focus on becoming the strongest version of yourself.
- Focus on your natural talents. Everyone has unique physical talents and abilities, such as jumping high, running fast, or upper body strength. Everyone has non-physical talents as well, like singing, playing an instrument, math, being hilarious or conscientious. Remember what YOUR gifts are.
- Don’t compare yourself to others. Understand that every body is unique and there is no need to constantly fix things on your body to look like something else. As you look in the mirror, describe yourself with words like beautiful, clever, strong, self-assured, optimistic, amazing, and badass.
How to make it happen:
To start, I chose 3 of the 10 Will Powers for improving body image written by Michael Levine, PhD and Linda Smolak, PhD. I love these 3, but please follow the link if you’re interested in learning more. I often hear women comparing their bodies to someone else. Remind yourself that every body is different and I guarantee that “someone” is comparing her body to another as well. This unhealthy cycle needs to stop.
- I WILL think of three reasons why it is ridiculous for me to believe that thinner people are happier or “better.” I will repeat these reasons to myself whenever I feel the urge to compare my body shape to someone else’s.
- I WILL exercise for the joy of feeling my body move and grow stronger. I will not exercise simply to lose weight, purge fat from my body, or to “make-up” for calories I have eaten.
- I WILL list 5 to10 good qualities that I have, such as understanding, intelligence, or creativity. I will repeat these to myself whenever I start to feel bad about my body.
If you’re a parent:
As a parent, you are a role model. Unfortunately, parents can also forget how much their actions and words can impact their children’s lives.
Eating disorders are influenced by many things however, a mother’s attitude regarding body image significantly influences how children view themselves. If a child believes their mother wants them to be thin, they are two to three times more likely to worry about their weight. Thin is not the goal for yourself or your kids.
End the negative food talk. Don’t say “I can’t eat white potatoes because they have too many carbs ” or “That cookie will go straight to my hips.” These statements are wrong and misleading to kids. Talk about how food is energy. Just like a car needs gas in order to run properly, our bodies need food to fuel us for our day.
Compliment children on their talents and accomplishments – a little praise goes a long way, especially when it’s well deserved. Children want to make you proud and spend time with you more than anything else.
Children and teens should know that weight gain and body changes are normal processes of growing.
Try to avoid criticizing or applauding yourself or others about weight or shape in front of your children. Focus on those other adjectives discussed above that don’t involve body size and degree of thinness.
Be a critical viewer when looking at social media and whenever the entertainment industry in involved. Inform your kids that the body size and shape of those portrayed in media are far from ideal. About 5% of the population actually has this slender body type.
Remember one positive thought in the morning can change your whole day!