By Lauren Presutti
Somehow, (no thanks to the media and unrealistic standards of beauty), we’ve ended up as a society obsessed with the shape, size, weight, curvature, shade, and smoothness of our bodies. Too thin, too big, too muscular, too scrawny, too tall, too short – it is sickening how much criticism pours from media influencers (and sadly, sometimes our own family and friends). Women are the most affected, although men deserve recognition, too! In fact, all genders (including non-binary and gender fluid individuals) are subject to unrealistic media messages about what the “ideal” body should look like. Life is hard enough and most of us already struggle with negative thinking patterns, so the last thing we need is to beat ourselves up over our bodies. Simply put, being at war with your body is not healthy. It leads to depression, anxiety, self-hatred, toxic competition, and a never-ending cycle of striving to be more perfect (a battle that you’ll never win).
The road to learning to fully love and accept your body is not easy, but it is possible if we work on self-acceptance and our commitment to stop comparing ourselves to others. We first have to acknowledge and accept that we don’t yet have a positive relationship with our body. If you’re struggling to love your body right now, it’s okay. It’s normal and valid. Because we live in a world that teaches us to be highly critical of our bodies, it’s not your fault that you’re struggling with body-acceptance. Please be very gentle with yourself and compassionately remind yourself that you were influenced by negative messages. It’s okay to accept that you currently have some negative perceptions. Healing is a journey and it takes time to shift to a healthier perspective.
There is no greater gift of self-compassion that you can give yourself than fully accepting yourself in the body that you have. To work toward this empowering goal, the following strategies may be helpful.
Consider WHY you want your body to be different. Think about what would actually change in your life. What would the advantages be? Most often, people report potential changes to their life such as, “If my body looked different, I would have more friends, a better dating life, a better job, more success, more accomplishments, more people would like me, etc.” The truth is, achieving those positive life changes usually has very little to do with what someone’s body looks like. Instead, achieving those changes has more to do with the way that someone is behaving, how they engage with others, their work ethic, habits, routines, and patterns. It’s healthy to confront WHY you want your body to be different and rationally think through what would actually change in your life. Remember, changing the way you like does not equate to happiness.
Stop equating your body to your worth. You are deserving of love, acceptance, affection, appreciation, respect, intimacy, praise, positive relationships, and confidence because you are a human and you exist. Not because your body looks a certain way. The only requirement to be deserving of love and acceptance is to be a human in the world. The fact that you simply exist is enough. Love and feelings of belongingness should be unconditional. It is not determined by what you look like. If there are people or situations that are making you feel otherwise, those are toxic influences and you should reevaluate whether those people or situations are worth your time.
Look at yourself as a whole person. The human body is one of the least interesting things about a person. The body is merely a vehicle to carry ourselves. What makes us who we are is much more defined by our personality, interests, integrity, kindness, honesty, creativity, sense of humor, ability to be a good friend, our motivations, desires, dreams, our values, core beliefs, and everything else that makes up our personhood. So important to your thought of the whole person and remember that other people see you for the multifaceted, complex, beautiful person that you are. There is no other human on earth that is exactly like you. Your body is not nearly as important as your character and qualities that make you a dynamic person worthy of spending time with.
Think critically about social and media messages. Pay attention to images, slogans, or attitudes that imply messages about “ideal bodies” because these are unrealistic and only lead to negativity. Protest these messages: write a response to the original poster about the negative consequences of spreading media that teaches people to dislike their bodies or simply “talk back” to the image or message in your own mind. You may also want to journal about these feelings. Ultimately, your goal should be to shut down negative inner thoughts about your body not being “right” because there is no such thing as a right or wrong body.
Wear clothes that make you feel good. Although it’s unhealthy to focus obsessively on your appearance, it’s okay to acknowledge that certain types of clothing make you feel better than others. Go through your closet and try on different things that you haven’t worn in a while. If you don’t feel confident in something, it’s okay to donate it. For the items that you love, notice what you like about them see you can keep an eye out for similar items when shopping.
Work with a therapist. Working with a trusted therapist is often necessary to truly recover from body-shame and develop long-lasting feelings of empowerment. Together, you and your therapist can reflect on your life experiences and identify interactions or situations that have made you question how your body looks. Learning to identify where your negative thinking comes from is a critical component of healing. If we can better understand ourselves and our emotions, we can take more control over them. Holding on to inner-criticisms without a safe outlet to talk about them is never healthy because it often amplifies our inner judgment. In addition, therapy provides a safe space the process earlier life traumas that may have led you to be highly critical of yourself. Working with a therapist also allows people to evaluate whether they had their emotional needs met as a child, team, or young adult. If you were ever emotionally neglected or struggled to feel “good enough,” that may be leaving your body-shame. Addressing these problems and feeling from emotional pain often reduces body criticism.