Body image dissatisfaction is an unfortunately common problem. With media portrayals of perfect-looking people, it isn’t surprising. While there are campaigns to change representation in the media, it’s unlikely that is going to change all media. Even if it does, the beauty standards that have been previously set still exist in people’s minds. In addition, some people fit societal beauty standards, but they still don’t have a great body image. So what can we change? How can you improve your own personal body image?
First, if you have severe body image issues, my suggestion is always therapy. Therapy is just my go-to suggestion for any mental health problems or goals. Now I get that not everyone can afford therapy. It’s expensive and takes up time, but it can really make a difference in your life. If you are already going to therapy and want supplemental ideas to aid in that, or just want a few suggestions to amp up your body image, read on.
Sometimes it helps to determine the root cause of your negative body image. Think about what situations cause you to feel like your body image is at it’s lowest. Is it when you scroll through social media and compare yourself to others? When someone makes a comment about your appearance? Is it when you skip a work out? Are you a minority who isn’t represented in the media often? Are there certain scenarios that remind you of a time when you felt bad about your body image?
If you can figure out what messes with you the most, even just being aware of it may help. In situations where you know you may feel poorly about your body image, you can think to yourself “I feel like this because of ___” and start trying to shift what feelings are brought up by that situation.
Essentially, this is figuring out your triggers. “Trigger” is a term that has been abused by pop culture and social media. It is overused on the internet, which has taken away from its meaning. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines it as “a stimulus that elicits a reaction. For example, an event could be a trigger for a memory of a past experience and an accompanying state of emotional arousal.” Typically the term is used within the context of disorders such as PTSD. However, it can also be used for other mental health concerns, such as a negative body image.
If you’re in therapy for body image issues, your therapist will work with you on ways to improve it. One method that has worked for me in the past is called EMDR. Here’s an article on it from the APA. So starting at the beginning and figuring out where and when your body image dissatisfaction arose can help you move forward.
On the opposite side of figuring out what makes you feel bad, find out what makes you feel good! Do you feel happy and good about yourself when you do up your hair everyday even if no one sees? Are you more comfortable with your appearance if you wear clothes that are comfortable? Add some more of the positive stuff that improves your body image into your life. Even if it seems superficial, it can make a difference.
Make a Change
If your body image is negative and you’re not sure how to improve it, try changing something in your life. If you’re not the weight you want to be, start working out, see a doctor, change your diet. For some people, making an effort to change body image can change their mindset. If you start weightlifting with the mindset of “I want to look different” if you work at it, you can shift it to “this is fun. I want to be stronger.”
If you like the change enough, changing your mindset can become much easier. If you don’t try to improve either your mindset or yourself, you won’t get anywhere. Obviously I’m not saying go get plastic surgery and binge diet if you hate how you look. Just do something to show yourself that you do value your body and want it to be healthy. If you don’t take care of yourself, how are you supposed to feel good about your body image?
Think Outside of Yourself
Besides making changes for yourself, try thinking outside of yourself. Sometimes if you’re too internally focused, you can overanalyze your appearance and yourself in general. Some people think about themselves too much and become vain or egotistical. Others think about themselves too much and find every flaw in their appearance. One simple way to avoid that is to think of others.
I don’t mean value other’s opinions on yourself more than your own. I also don’t mean change your appearance to please others. But do things with other people. Volunteer to help others. Think less about you. Shifting your focus from yourself to others can help show that your body is fine and in the long run, your appearance doesn’t really matter. You probably won’t care as much about how you look if your thoughts are directed at other people or things rather than just yourself.
Comparing yourself to others is never going to serve you well. Even if you’re an Olympic athlete it isn’t necessary. Comparing yourself to another athlete uses up brain power you could be using to improve your own skills. Your body is never going to look like so-and-so on Instagram’s body. You’re two completely different people. Life isn’t a competition. Just because that person who looks completely different than you is pretty doesn’t mean you’re not. Focus on making improvements to your body image rather than how other people look.
Focus on the Positive
This point is much easier said than done. You’re probably like “If I was good at focusing on the positive I would have a positive body image already.” It’s difficult to find good things about your appearance if you hate it.
One post I’ve seen online is something along the lines of “appearance doesn’t matter. Your body is good because it works. “ For those who have physical problems and chronic illnesses, your negative body image may go even deeper than just appearance. It can be hard to be positive about your body if you feel like it doesn’t work how it should. When I’m feeling really down about my body image, I think things like “I hate how I look and I can’t even function normally with migraines, so literally everything about my body sucks.” It’s rough. Digging for positive attributes is challenging when you feel like everything is wrong. When you’re in a better mood, write down anything good you think about your body. If you get in a bad body image place, you’ll have all those things you listed when you were feeling good about yourself to reference.
It’s no easy task to go from being dissatisfied with your body image to being happy and confident. Therapy really is a great place to start, but you can also work on making small changes on your own.