Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Body image tips

Body image is a big issue for every woman it seems (and of course for many men as well). So many times I have heard perfectly lovely healthy women say hateful things about their bodies or about certain aspects of their appearance, while completely ignoring their good features and the fact that they are standing right in the same room! I'm not saying I am perfect in this regard, but I certainly succumb a lot less to negative thinking about myself and my self-worth than I used to.

I was sharing these tips with someone via email, and decided they might be relevant to readers as well. These are some things I have learned that help with getting past negative thoughts about myself and my appearance. Be forewarned, some of them are pretty shallow, but they might work for you, too.

1. Compare yourself to someone else who you believe doesn't look as good as you -- NOT to be mean, but to realize that hey, you actually look really great in comparison to some people (at least in your own opinion) and should appreciate what you do have! This is what I always think when someone I know is complaining about having a little tiny bit of fat in front of someone who is very overweight; this is not only extremely insensitive, but also downright spoiled. While there will always be someone more beautiful (even if you are the most gorgeous woman on earth), there will always be someone less beautiful (by the world's dumb standards) as well. So why not use the "glass half-full" method here?
2. Think about the things you do have. I know the Pollyanna approach can seem annoying, but it's actually very appropriate here. For example, I always hated my legs my whole life (once I learned to compare their appearance to the "ideal" anyway). Then my father had an accident and became paralyzed from the waist down. While I still don't love how my legs look, it's pretty hard to justify obsessing about their appearance now that I realize the sheer significance of legs! They allow me to do so many things I love to do (or rather, loved to do before having a baby and losing all my free time): dancing, snowboarding, wakeboarding, roller-blading, etc. So I have learned to value function over appearance, at least to some extent, and it's the same with any part of the body. I think this is a very important lesson.
3. Imagine that _______ (insert your name here) is your little sister, or your own daughter perhaps, and begin telling her the sorts of things you would say to your sister or daughter. Be positive, be supportive, be encouraging, and treat her as the precious, valuable person she is! Somewhere along the path from childhood to adulthood we learn to treat ourselves worse than we do anyone else -- even the people we don't like! You would never stop someone in the street and say "you're fat! you're ugly! why aren't you more like that woman over there?" So why is it okay to do this to yourself?
4. Limit exposure to toxic messages. Once I read that there was a study done that showed women felt significantly worse about their appearance after looking through a women's magazine. How bad is that?! Media geared toward women (this includes TV, magazines, websites, lots of books) is often directly or indirectly about getting women to feel bad about themselves so they will buy some kind of "beauty" product or dieting device. Don't buy into this. If the only way to hang onto your few shreds of self-worth and self-confidence is to turn off the television and avoid magazine counters then by all means TURN OFF THE TV AND AVOID MAGAZINES! Remove the negative images and messages from your life and you will finally have the chance to start nurturing some positive thoughts about yourself.
5. Remember the biological function of your body. After having a child and breastfeeding I realized that women's bodies are designed to do many important things. The goal of a breast is not to look like a gravity-defying grapefruit, but to produce sustenance for a baby; the goal of a woman's belly is not to be concave and tight as a drum, but to create a nurturing environment for growing an entire human being in 9 months. Whether you like it or not, if you are a woman then these are the biological goals of your body.
6. Don't forget, we all die and decompose in the end. So even if you are 5'10" with a model's body, or a male body-builder with perfect muscles, flesh is still flesh and after we're dead and buried (assuming not cremated of course) this flesh (beautiful or ugly!) decomposes and becomes dirt again. So what is all the fuss about? Enjoy your body and what it allows you to do and where it allows you to go.

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