We all have a body image. Our body image is the way we perceive, think, and feel about our body’s looks and capabilities. It’s our general attitude towards our body. If we’re experiencing life with a negative body image, we’re judging our bodies through a constant, harsh filter of criticism and perfectionism.
A record number of young women and men are struggling with their body image in this day and age. Many of us find ourselves spending countless hours at the gym, denying ourselves enough food, only to engage in desperate overeating later when we cannot possibly ignore our hunger pans anymore.
At the end of the day, we may end up in front of the bedroom mirror, picking our reflections apart and vowing to eat less and go harder at the gym tomorrow. We scroll through social media and can’t quit comparing ourselves to both fit friends and Instamodels, even though we know better than to fall into the comparison trap. But the deeper we get into our Instafeeds, the worse we end up feeling about our muffin tops and that extra piece of chocolate cake we had at work.
A negative body image can affect us socially. We might decline going to the beach or on a date, because we don’t like the way our body looks – and we don’t want other people to see our perceived flaws. We fear other people might judge us just as harshly as we’re judging ourselves. Without being fully aware of it, we might even be badmouthing our body, running a constant inner critical monologue, calling it fat, ugly or embarrassing.
A negative body image is like a dark, rainy cloud over our heads, following us wherever we go. It affects our outlook on life, our interactions with other people and our self worth.
Have you ever looked at old photos of yourself, thinking, “Damn, I was HOT! What was I so worried about?” remembering how you at the very time the picture was taken felt unshapely, unattractive, not pretty/strong/thick/skinny etc. enough. Thinking back you may wish you’d just been able to enjoy yourself, your life and your body, instead of letting your negative thoughts rule your head and life. Chances are you may have been knee-deep in self-objectification and thus judging your body through a subjective, harmful filter.
We do deserve better, though. We really do. We deserve to stop this constant war between mind and body. We deserve to make peace with our body and really appreciate it for everything it is and lets us do. We deserve to be at one with ourselves and to transform any negative body image into a positive one, so we can truly experience life fully.
As a Psychomotor Therapist, I’ve specialized in helping my clients find self-acceptance and body peace. Below I’ve mapped out a five step process to help you make peace with your body. Making peace with your body does not happen over night, but I promise you, you can do it! Being accepting of yourself and having a positive body image is your natural state. Think of babies and how fascinated they are with themselves, even with their own bodily fluids. They are in a state of total and constant self-acceptance right from the get-go; they love everything about themselves. As grown-ups, we need to unlearn patterns of self-criticism and shame, that aren’t natural to us anyways.
1. Manage your stress levels.
If you’re in a challenging relationship with your body, the first thing to do is to manage your stress levels. When you experience mental stress, you’re more likely to focus on aspects of yourself that you’re dissatisfied with as a misdirected means of coping with the stress. Also mental stress strains on the mind/body relationship, which can lead to a perceived enhanced separation of body and mind. This can, in turn, create self-objectification, which often leads to a negative body image. Meditation, physical exercise, and journalling are great stress management tools.
2. Strengthen the mind/body relationship.
As stated above, a strong mind/body relationship is key to making peace with your body. We cannot separate the two. They go together like avocado and toast. A great way to strengthen the mind/body relationship is to listen to your mental and physical needs and act on them. If you feel tired, rest when you can. Surround yourself with friends and have fun if you need to. If you really need to stay at home instead of going out, honor this need. Your body is sending out cues all the time. By listening to and honoring these cues, you naturally strengthen the mind/body relationship. Even the tiniest cues matter: Are you sitting comfortably? Are you thirsty? Should you have gone to the bathroom about 10 minutes ago?
3. Get inside your body.
When we have negative body image, we’re self-objectifying and treating our body as if it’s a separate thing from us. We actually look at our bodies with the eyes of the world – looking at it from the outside. To make peace with your body, stop self-objectifying and shift your perspective from the outside to the inside. Move your body – dance, exercise. Use your senses. Feel how your body feels (not what it looks like). Focus on what your body can do – build strength, flexibility, endurance, or any other skill that helps you actually experience being “inside” your body instead of separate from it.
4. Speak kind words to your body.
Harsh, critical self-talk and a negative body image go hand-in-hand. This aspect is more crucial, than we might be aware of. Talking negatively to ourselves helps create emotions of shame, guilt and low self-esteem and keeps us locked in negative patterns of self-criticism. And the catch is – your body is actually listening to your words and feeling your thoughts. Instead, make a point of speaking to your body with love and kindness. For instance, every night before you go to sleep, put your hands on your chest and belly and thank your body for carrying you through life. Think of everything your body has endured, and it’s still here, trying to not only keep you alive, but to keep you thriving. Your body is never, ever against you, remember that. And so thank your body for everything it does to keep you well.
5. Fake it till you become it.
What we nourish, we come to love. Think of your body as a baby and treat yourself accordingly. This means nourishing your body with healthy foods. Make sure you get enough rest. Protect yourself from overstimulation. Treat yourself with loving kindness. Perform acts of kindness for your body such as yoga, meditation, or massages. Dance and express your emotions. Write a loving letter to your body or even a text, thanking your body for keeping you alive and for surviving everything up until this point. Make loving choices. Think: What would someone who loved their body do? Treat your body AS IF you love it, and eventually you WILL love it.
A big takeaway from body image work is that it’s really not so much about the body, as it is about how we feel about ourselves deep down. A negative body image is a symptom – of low self-worth, of stress, of having internalized other people’s objectification of us. From that perspective body image work is actually quite simple. It’s all about finding self-acceptance. With self-acceptance comes body peace, and it’s yours for the taking.
Photo Credit: Nigel Tadyanehondo