For a lot of us, summer is “swimsuit season.” It’s also the time of year when we ditch cozy sweaters for tank tops and long pants for shorts. So it’s no surprise that this time of year can be a little rough for those of us who may have trouble with body image – which, unfortunately, is the vast majority at one time or another. Here are a few tips to help you out when you start getting down on yourself. Give them a try and start taking steps toward loving your body today.
It’s often a pretty straight line from feeling negatively about our bodies to abusing them, through calorie restriction, emotional eating and the like. But you can stop this vicious cycle. When you notice that you’re having critical thoughts about your body, try to pencil in some time to take care of it. Maybe it’s getting a massage or a haircut. Or a less expensive option, like taking a long, relaxing bath or shower. Self-judgment, therefore, becomes an opportunity to turn the situation around and actively practice self-love.
Appreciate what your body does
Our bodies are not just decorative. Their purpose is to allow us to function in the world. So when you start wishing you had a flatter stomach or a more pronounced thigh gap (as if those were things to worry about!), remember all that your body does for you every day. It’s what allows you to get from one place to the next, to hug the people you love, to play with your dog. Your lungs keep you breathing, and your heart keeps beating automatically. It’s all pretty amazing when you think about it.
Find exercise you love
Forcing yourself to hit the gym every day, if that’s not something you enjoy, is a sure way to develop or perpetuate a less-than-constructive relationship with your body. This is the case because, when exercise becomes a chore, you may start resenting your body for needing it. You may become increasingly frustrated with the fact that you “have to” workout each day, and you might start envying those people who seem to need no exercise but never gain weight (which of course is likely not the case – we don’t really know what’s going on in someone else’s life). Instead, find exercise that you truly enjoy. Whether it’s jogging, hiking, biking or yoga, find something you love, and that will help you to appreciate your body and its strength all the more.
Enjoy your meals
For a lot of us, eating can sometimes feel problematic. If we’re struggling with body image, food can feel like the enemy. So maybe we restrict calories, or maybe we purge and binge. All of this tends to reinforce the negative feelings we have about our bodies. Instead, try to take at least one meal a day and really enjoy it. Slow down and eat at a table, not in front of your computer or in the car. Use your nice dishes. Light some candles. If you can’t do this daily, try to do it a couple of times a week. It will remind you that food is not the enemy, it’s what nourishes your body – and your body deserves the best!
Remember your strengths
To be sure, this is often easier said than done. It’s especially true for women when we’re constantly bombarded with images telling us that our value as human beings is dependent upon our physical attractiveness. And it’s very easy to internalize that message and to believe that the only way we can be lovable, worthy people is to have a certain type of body. But we all know that’s not true! When you start having negative thoughts about your body, bring to mind some of your other strengths that have nothing to do with your weight or appearance. Doing this often enough will help give you the confidence to realize that you are a valuable, talented, intelligent person, regardless of your physical attributes.
Talk to someone you love
We all know that, a lot of the time, we are our own worst enemies. We look in the mirror and see imperfections that others simply don’t (because they’re probably not there, or at the very least, they’re wildly exaggerated in our own minds). So if you’re getting down on yourself, wishing you had a more pronounced six-pack or more toned upper arms, talk to a friend or family member. The conversation doesn’t even have to be about your body image concerns (although if you’re up for that, go for it!). Just remembering that others love you and see you in a more positive light than you’re seeing yourself at the moment can do wonders.
With the omnipresence of social media, comparing ourselves to others is easier than ever, and potentially more damaging, since it’s pretty much going on 24/7. But remember, the “perfect” photos you see on Instagram may have been photoshopped. Or at a minimum, they’re likely making use of filters and ideal camera angles. If taking a social media break helps you stop measuring yourself against others, by all means, do it! If you’re unable to do so – a lot of us need to use social media for work, for example – try to keep in mind that those photos may not be what they seem. And even if they are, it doesn’t matter. Life is not a competition!
Retrain your brain
Thinking the same thoughts over and over actually creates and strengthens neural pathways in the brain. So by thinking negative thoughts about our bodies repeatedly, day in and day out, we’re actually training our brains to keep thinking that way. But this can be changed. We can rewire our brains. When you notice you’re having a negative thought about your body, stop yourself and consciously bring to mind something you like about your body instead. Doing this frequently enough can help to change your habitual thought patterns.
Hire a body image coach
You’ve likely heard the Einstein quote, “No problem can be solved with the same level of consciousness that created it” (there are different variations of the quote, but you get the picture). Sometimes, we just can’t get outside our own heads. We can’t make sense of our issues because we’re too enmeshed in them to really see what’s going on. If aliens landed and asked you what it’s like to be a human, you wouldn’t be able to answer, because you have no basis for comparison. It may be the same kind of situation with your body image concerns. If this is the case, working with someone who has a neutral, outside viewpoint can help you to gain perspective and move forward.
— Sarah Cooke