“You look like you gained some weight.”
This comment by a family member instantly made me feel self-conscious. It was around the holidays, and instead of enjoying the company of loved ones, I found myself eyeing each side dish like an adversary.
While passing by mirrors, I secretly peeked at how I appeared from different angles. Had I really put on a few pounds? If so, where was it obvious?
I immediately compared myself to images of the “perfect body” catalogued in my brain for these moments of self-torture. These images were collected from years of magazine, television and social media consumption, which highlighted similar visions of an effortlessly toned and curvaceous woman with glowing skin.
In this sport of body degradation, I know I am not alone. According to DoSomething.org, 91% of women are unhappy with their body shapes.
How do you feel about your body? Unhappy? Frustrated?
If so, these emotions are not your fault. Most people struggle to feel good about their appearance. We are inundated with messages of how our bodies should look and function every day from our friends, family and media.
But even in the midst of all these negative messages, you can learn to appreciate your body for exactly what it is — imperfections and all. This practice is known as body acceptance. Body acceptance is a personal endeavor of exhibiting unconditional love for your body through thoughts and actions. It is making peace with your body in all its forms.
For many women, learning to accept your body takes lots of practice; you may be working against years of negative habitual thought patterns about yourself. Try the following do’s and don’ts to get started.
- Try to suppress all negative thoughts and emotions. Suppressing thoughts and emotions about your body is not the goal of body acceptance — and it’s likely impossible. It’s OK to admit that you don’t like something. Negative thoughts do not make you a failure at accepting your body. They can help identify areas to reconsider. Instead of suppressing a negative thought, take a moment to gently consider and challenge it. Is it true? How can I appreciate that part of my body?
- Ignore healthy lifestyle habits. Just because you accept your body does not mean that healthy, disease-reducing lifestyle habits do not apply. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise weekly. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and whole grains. Following the lifestyle recommendations of trustworthy organizations is key to living a healthier life. Plus, exercising can boost your mood, reduce stress and improve your sleep, all of which may help you feel good in your body.
- Compare yourself to others. In the age of magazines, television and social media, we are inundated with peeks into other lives — or at least the parts that are posted and published. This can lead to comparison. But remember that others are only showing you a snapshot of perfection. It is important to be mindful of the media you consume. Pay attention if your mood shifts after watching a certain show or scrolling through certain Instagram posts. If it negatively affects how you feel about yourself, tune out.
- Practice gratitude. Gratitude is the practice of giving thanks. It is appreciating what you have. How do you show gratitude for your body? Think of the ways your body works to help you every day. For example, it may allow you to transport yourself from place to place, or let you feel the warmth of a cozy fire or the embrace of a loved one. Once you have thought of a few things, take the time to say thank you for that function. This simple act can help you focus on the larger picture of all things your body is and does for you.
- Build a network. To be successful, it is important to build a supportive network. Surround yourself with people who uplift you and speak positively. Your friends should include people who will encourage you to practice healthy habits. A part of having support on your journey to body acceptance also includes setting strict boundaries. If someone makes mean statements about your body or the appearance of others, you have a right to let them know it makes you uncomfortable. This practice will ensure that you have a safe space to let your body flourish.
- Seek professional help. The way we feel about our bodies is often also linked to life experiences. This can be comments other people have made or more traumatic life events. The past can make those negative feelings we have about our bodies feel almost insurmountable. If this is the case, it may be time to talk to a licensed professional. A mental health professional — a psychologist or licensed therapist — is trained in how to help you work through life experiences and relationships to meet your goals. You may wonder if your problems with your body are worth the effort of finding and regularly seeing a therapist. But you will be in a relationship with your body every day of your life until you die — it’s worth it to make that relationship a healthy one!
- Take care of yourself at every shape and size. Understand that no matter your shape or size, every day is a good day to take care of yourself. This can include various forms of pampering, such as getting your nails done, putting on a cute or comfortable outfit, or moving your body through exercise. You are deserving of all the good things that life has in store. Truly embody that sentiment and live out every day with that mindset.