Learning to love our bodies is a lifelong process. It can feel like an uphill battle particularly for us women who seem to be indoctrinated at a young age into the notion that our bodies aren’t good enough as they are. As a result, many of us have devoted countless hours and energy to dieting, engaging in punishing exercise routines, and analyzing our bodies’ “failings.” Imagine all the things we could do with that time and energy if we let go of the diet-culture mentality. Or if we gave our bodies permission to be the size they are biologically and genetically meant to be. It sounds lovely, right?
We may not be able to just flip a switch and suddenly start loving our bodies all the time (If you’ve figured out how, call me!!), but there are substantive, evidence-based actions you can start taking today that may loosen the grip body dissatisfaction has on your life.
7 Steps to Improving Your Body Image
Consciously Celebrate Your Body
A recent study found that the best way to improve body image is to reflect on, and specifically journal about, all the things your body can do for you. Feeling stuck on where to start? Consider one of these following journal prompts:
- What type of movement or physical activity does my body allow me to do?
- How does my body’s mobility add value to my days?
- What experiences am I able to savor as a result of my body’s senses? The smell of your baby after a warm bath? The ocean breeze on your skin the first night of vacation?
- How does my body enable me to communicate with those I love?
Practice Intuitive Eating
Intuitive eating means that we stop eating what we are “supposed” to eat. It means that we give ourselves permission to eat what actually makes our bodies feel good. Intuitive eating encourages us to pay attention to our bodies and start caring for them in the ways they ask to be nourished. When we practice intuitive eating, we’re treating our bodies with respect. Isn’t that what positive body image is all about? Last fall, Colleen Kokx wrote an article here at The Middle Edit about intuitive eating and if this is a concept that intrigues you, definitely go back and give it a re-read. If you want to learn more after reading Colleen’s article, take a peek at The Intuitive Eating Workbook by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.
Cleanse Yourself of The Cleanses
I’m not talking about a celery juice cleanse here, but rather a social media cleanse. Scrolling through social media channels and lamenting that your hair/abs/arms/(you fill in the blank) doesn’t look nearly as good as all the influencers and #fitnessgoals hashtags you follow is doing nothing for your overall health. In fact, science says it’s making your mental health worse. Higher exposure to body-focused folks (e.g. your sister-in-law who posts her fitness progress picture and post-gym green juice every. darn. day.) may be associated with poorer body image. So, consider this your permission to un-follow people who consistently post body-focused content and replace them with some body-positive accounts; exposure to non-body focused others is related to higher rates of body appreciation.
Control the Conversation
While you’re at it, clean out your IRL social life too. You may not be able to avoid holidays with that fitness-obsessed sister-in-law, but you can redirect the conversation. Try to talk about things less body-centric when you’re around her. “What podcasts do you listen to at the gym?” or “Tell me more about how [insert non-fitness related component of her life] is going!” Cultivate new friendships with people that are rooted in shared values and fun experiences. Rather than those with mutual hatred of a specific body part. You get to choose what enters your consciousness when you are intentional about the kind of input you expose yourself to.
Make Your Movement Joyful
Exercise, when approached from a place of self-care rather than punishment or corrective efforts, can be a great way to enjoy and appreciate your body’s abilities. Challenge yourself to engage in joyful movement or movement that feels good on your body, rather than movement designed with a specific outcome in mind. Joyful movement rarely looks rigid in a “Go to the gym every day at 6 AM no matter what” kind of way. Instead, it often looks like “My body is too sore to go to the gym today, so I’m going to take the dog on a long walk to enjoy the warm weather instead.”
Be Kind To Yourself
Practice self-compassion and give yourself a break. Your body should not look the way it looked when you were fifteen. If your pants don’t fit, buy new ones. Talk to yourself the way you would talk to a friend or loved one. Treat your body with respect. Do nice things for it, be it taking a bubble bath or getting a massage. Your body is an ally, not the enemy, so stop treating it like one.
A psychotherapist can help you challenge the distortions you may have regarding your body and reality check the messages you’re telling yourself. If you’ve made a pledge to yourself to be more body positive, a psychotherapist can also serve as a great accountability partner, calling you out when you’re slipping back into an unhelpful diet-culture mindset.
Are you ready to start being body positive? Let me know which step you plan on taking first!
This article is for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that it features the advice of a mental health professional. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional mental health treatment or diagnosis and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.
Brianna Clark is a psychotherapist at Eastern Door Counseling Center, serving New York’s Capital Region. Brianna’s main focus is working with young women struggling with life transitions, relationships, self-esteem, and identity. Her ultimate goal is to support her clients as they achieve more peaceful, fulfilling lives through a greater understanding of themselves and the world around them.