It’s possible to accept and love your body without fitting into the stereotypes that Hollywood and the fashion industry dictates is ideal. It’s not about extreme dieting techniques and spending hours at the gym risking possible injury and resulting in neglected responsibilities. Don’t get me wrong. Healthy nutritional habits and regular exercise should be part of your life’s routine, but accepting your body is key to living a productive, happy, and fulfilling life. Imagine your body is a family member, child, or friend. If you set the same standards for your own body as you would for a child, you will be more cognizant of the way you treat it.
1. Limit your exposure to media about beauty
Do you ever feel bad about yourself after a visit to the hair or nail salon because you’ve spent the time flipping through the fashion magazines? According to MirrorMirror.org, “the average female fashion model wears a size two or four, for instance, while the average American woman wears a size 12 to 14.” It’s difficult to avoid comparing ourselves to the images that we see in the magazines, but you must understand they don’t represent the average American woman.
You might know about the famous study by Anne E. Becker, Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine and Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School about the impact of Western television on Fijan adolescent girls. If you’re unfamiliar with this study, it concluded that there was a dramatic increase of disordered eating among girls in Fiji during a three year period in which Western television programming was introduced. This study reinforces the thoughts that media exposure to images of beautiful women has a profound effect on the self esteem of women — especially adolescent girls.
Limiting your exposure to the fashion magazines and television programming about fitness and beauty will result in improved body image and acceptance. Try something different. During downtime, try listening to TedTalks; read a fun or inspirational novel; or work on a hobby such as drawing, knitting, or writing. For example, divert your attention to something inspirational or nurture your creativity.
2. Avoid processed foods and prepare your own meals
Processed foods are difficult to digest and they don’t offer much nutritional value; therefore, they leave you feeling sluggish and bloated. If you have low energy, you spend less time doing the things that you want to do, which can lead to a depressed mood and poor body image. When you feed your body the right way, it will love you back — like a trusted friend.
Your body will thank you if you limit processed foods and eat a simple diet. A diet based on fruits, cheeses, vegetables, nuts, eggs, seeds, fish, whole grains, and lean meats will give you energy and improve your mood. It’s easy — eat simple, fresh, unaltered, nutritious food. Humans were not meant to eat from a styrofoam package or aluminum can.
3. Understand Your Personal Healthy Weight
Striving to be a healthy weight will boost your self esteem and body image. Understand that your healthy weight might not be what you think it is. For example, if you’re attempting to emulate the images of the fashion models in the magazines instead of determining a healthy weight for your age, size, and body type, it can lead to a poor self image. If you want to understand how to calculate your personal BMI (Body Mass Index), you can refer to this handy BMI calculator at WebMD. If you find that your BMI is not ideal, understand that carrying extra weight or being underweight is risky for your health. The motivation for changing your lifestyle to lose or gain fat is based on health, rather than external beauty and societal pressure.
4. Reward your fitness accomplishments and accept your limitations
According to Rodale.com, researchers at the University of Florida Department of Applied Physiology and Kinesiology found that exercise improved body image — regardless of any physical, post-exercise changes. And body image improved regardless of how long or frequently the participants in the study exercised.
If you’re healthy and you can run marathons, participate in triathlons, or work out on a regular basis, reward your body by nurturing it with hydration, vitamins, and healthy foods. Feel great about your strength and motivation — and be grateful for your abilities.
If you have health challenges, injuries, or time constraints, accept and reward your smaller efforts. Don’t compare yourself to others. You don’t need extreme workouts to benefit from exercise. According to the American Heart Association, “walking for as few as 30 minutes a day provides heart health benefits” and “studies show that for every hour of walking, life expectancy may increase by two hours.”
5. Write down something positive every day
There’s some controversy about whether or not positive affirmations work. But common sense tells me that many of us have negative thoughts and hear negative things from others every day. How do you counteract those negative messages? Try creating positive thoughts and messages and recording them every day. Look in the mirror and find something about yourself that you love — your hair, your eyes, your nose, or even your toes. Write it down. Did a friend or family member compliment you? Then, record it. Remind yourself of realities — models are Photoshopped; perfection is a myth; you CAN run a 5K; or anything else that makes you feel good about yourself. Write it down and read it when you’re having a bad body image day.
6. Balance your inner and outer beauty
Would you love your spouse, partner, or best friend any less if they gained ten pounds? Then why do you love yourself less? Stop beating yourself up — your body does not define who you are. Think about the people who inspire you. Is it because of their amazing six packs? Most likely, no — think about role models such as Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Junior, or Steve Jobs. We admire them for their kindness, insight, perseverance, and creativity — not their outer shell.
7. Stop waiting to do things you really want to do until you lose weight
How many times have you avoided a beach vacation, a night out with friends or family, or a summer party because of your negative body image? Engaging in activities that make you feel good and connecting with other people can improve your body image. Trust me, your friends and family love you unconditionally for who you are — not your body size.
8. Wear outfits that make you feel good about yourself
When you’re feeling bad about yourself, get out of your pajamas and put on a flattering outfit. Avoid tight or overly-baggy clothes. My secret weapon is bootcut or trouser jeans, high heels, and a cinched or belted, tailored jacket. The flared leg of the boot cut or trouser jean balances out a larger, curvier hip. The cinched jacket gives the illusion of a smaller waist. And, of course, the perfect pair of heels can subtract many imperfections. I often go to Pinterest for style inspiration from real women like me. Find style that suits you.
You might be wondering how you can use technology to stick to these healthy habits. In a future post, I’ll explain how the LifeTopix app can help you record positive thoughts and messages, log your feelings about your body image, track your nutrition and exercise, derive correlations between your emotions and actions, and much more.
Please comment about how you maintain your healthy body image or about your struggles with it. Thanks for reading!