The truth is, most of us have negative body image sometimes. Some days we feel happy or neutral about the way we look and the body we exist in, and some days we might feel very negative about our body or the way we look. We might struggle with disliking our body because of something someone said to us, or the constant stream of photoshopped and unrealistic images of bodies in the media. Or we may just have a belief that there is something about our bodies that doesn’t measure up to our own or someone else’s standard. Sometimes this negative perception-of-self leads to missing out on fully enjoying an experience because we feel self-conscious, or we get caught up in negative self talk that leads to negative moods. If this is something that is holding you back from living your best life, you may want to consider some ways that you can manage these thoughts and feelings.
Be Gentle With Yourself
The first way you can deal with negative perception of your body is by focusing on being kind to yourself and your body. If we are feeling bad about our bodies or the way we look it may lead to being very critical and hard on ourselves. We might get caught up in self talk about why we don’t eat better, exercise more, find clothes that are more flattering and on and on until we feel like total garbage not only about how we look, but our actions and who we are as a person. Sometimes the best way to reset is to do something kind for yourself or your body. Take a bubble bath, put on body lotion, stretch or put on comfy clothes. Make sure you are drinking enough water, and feed yourself something that will make you feel great. Being gentle with yourself may include accepting that you are struggling with how you look and choosing to treat yourself how you would treat a friend who confides they don’t like they way they look. Be kind in your words(thoughts) and actions. Give yourself permission to take care of your body and be kind and gentle.
Focus On "My body is an instrument, not an ornament." by Lindsay Kite, in her Ted Talk https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDowwh0EU4w&feature=youtu.be
This is an idea that can really shift your mindset, because our culture often reduces people to bodies. The truth is we are so much more than the body we live in! Your body is simply a vessel that allows you to learn, teach, serve, connect, grow, think, work, move, and love. When you are struggling with the way your thighs or arms look try to focus on your body as an instrument that allows you to live an amazing life. Your legs carry you as your work, exercise, and travel. Your arms are an instrument that allows you to hug a friend, reach out to a partner, or hold a baby. You can focus on your body as an instrument by serving others, connecting with loved ones, engaging in exercise that makes you feel strong and empowered. It’s easy to get caught up in viewing our bodies as something to be looked at and admired because that’s what the media often focuses on, but when we use our bodies to engage in the important parts of life that make us feel great those messages don’t matter as much.
Get Inspired to Live (and Love) Your Life
Try surrounding yourself with people and organizations that inspire you. If you are surrounded by and engaged with organizations and people that are really meaningful for you about it’s harder to get hung up on distress over how your body looks and let that hold you back. This is a huge advantage of living in a time when we have so much access to social media because we can use our social media to focus on things we are passionate about. One of my favorite sources of body positivity that focuses on humans as more than bodies is Beauty Redefined(link). I follow them on instagram and they post amazing quotes and clips that inspire me. For you, it might be something totally different like rock-climbing, woodworking, a non profit that works for a cause you believe in, looking at or petting adorable puppies, home renovation projects, spending more time with family, learning about a place you want to travel to, or motivational words from a leader in your church but try to incorporate things on social media or in real life that inspire you to live your life. You may still notice some negative thoughts and feelings of discomfort about your body but if you feel inspired it might make the difference between discomfort holding you back and being able to push through those feelings and get involved in things that are really meaningful to you.
Challenge The Thought
Another way you can deal with negative perception of your body is by noticing and challenging your thoughts. It might be helpful to be mindful and try to notice the types of thoughts you have about your body or appearance. It makes sense that we will feel differently or have a different mindset if our thoughts are are “I feel so fat today” or “My body looks gross” like a broken record playing over and over again all day long. If we are able to notice these thoughts and how they are impacting our mood and behavior we can start trying to do something different. If you have a bad body image moment and the thought typically causes you to have spiral of further negative thoughts about yourself that lasts the rest of the day you can begin to address this pattern by challenging your thoughts with different rational like “I didn’t like the way I looked in that shirt, but I know I can find something I feel great in”. If you start feeling bad about yourself try challenging that thought with thinking of something you like about yourself or try to find an affirmation. One way you can challenge negative thoughts and behaviors as a result of negative perceptions of your body is covered in our video about Opposite Action (link).
Reach Out To Others
If you notice you have tried many of these things and are still struggling it might be time to reach out for some support. You can confide in a trusted friend or family member. It’s helpful to confide in someone you trust for support, or to help you figure out what else you can do. If you are engaging in unhelpful or extreme behaviors as a result of negative body image you likely will need to work with a professional such as a dietician, doctor, counselor or therapist. It’s helpful to have an objective third party individual to talk to because friends and family often express compliments or suggestions but aren’t able to understand the significance of how you feel or what you can do to really start feeling better.
I specialize in working with people with body image issues and insecurities and I’d love to help you. You can reach me at 435-799-5035 or email@example.com. If you need additional support, you can contact the National Eating Disorders Association helpline at (800) 931-2237.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDowwh0EU4w&feature=youtu.be https://beautyredefined.org https://www.facebook.com/familysolutionsutah/videos/237228546885330/https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/contact-helpline
In this video about practicing mindfulness in nature, I mention that mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment, on purpose, and non-judgmentally. The focus of your attention or the place you are practicing mindfulness could vary greatly but as long as you utilize these elements you are practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness doesn’t necessarily mean sitting on a cushion with our eyes closed thinking about nothing, or doing a specific breathing practice, or doing a certain type of meditation. Mindfulness could simply mean that we really focus as we enjoy a cup of tea or coffee, we notice how the sun feels as get our mail, or we take a walk focusing on how things look and sound right now, in each passing moment.
If you decide to start practicing mindfulness one huge element you will immediately become aware of is distraction. I typically get distracted within the first 15 seconds of trying to pay attention to something on purpose. It’s normal to get distracted, our brains are not automatically good at paying attention to something on purpose for any extended period of time. You might notice the urge to check your phone, feel restless in your body, or get lost thinking about the future or the past. While this can be frustrating in the beginning, it’s important to recognize that this is normal and an important part of the process. Practicing mindfulness is the equivalent of doing strength training with a particular muscle group. You have to do the exercise over and over again before the parts of your brain used to pay attention to the present moment get stronger. Redirecting your attention back to the original focus without judgement is a key to learning to use mindfulness. Be curious about your experience and gentle with yourself as begin focusing again.
So why would you want to start doing mindfulness after hearing it isn’t easy and that you have to practice before it gets any easier? I mentioned in the video that practicing mindfulness can help you feel calm and relaxed, be generally more focused, and can be important for your mental health. I would argue that if you are practicing mindfulness the goal is not to feel calm and relaxed, the goal is to be aware, but sometimes we end up feeling calm and relaxed as a nice bonus. Better focus is a common result of practicing mindfulness because you are able to exercise the “brain muscle” of paying attention which will lead to it become stronger and to the ability to use this skill across different areas of your life. I know from my own experience as well as working with clients that if you are able to be mindful for even a few minutes a day it can help us check in with how we are doing physically and emotionally. If we get focused on how we feel in the present moment we may notice we are holding unneeded tension in our shoulders or we might notice we are hungry and need a snack. If we take a few moments to check in maybe we realize we’re holding onto a difficult experience from earlier in the day and be able to let go and move forward more effectively. Being mindful throughout the day helps us check in and see how we are feeling and what we need so that we can care for ourselves.
Being in touch with ourselves in this way has also been shown to help decrease behaviors that we know aren’t serving us. We all get caught up in habits or patterns that don’t help us live our best lives, but when we try to control ourselves or push ourselves to change the behavior, we often aren’t successful. This is because the part of our brain (the prefrontal cortex) which is in charge of making decisions that are in line with our morals and values goes offline when we become stressed. So we might have good intentions to quit smoking or not use our phone while driving, but something stressful happens and we go back to a bad habit that we have been trying to work on. According to Judson Brewer, a psychiatrist who has studied the connection between mindfulness and addiction, the key is curiosity about what is going on in our bodies and minds from moment to moment. This curiosity of what is going on in the present moment helps us notice the urge to do the behavior, become aware that the urge will pass, and be able to let go of the thing that is no longer helping us and move closer to the life we want.
Author: Robin Hunt, CSW
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