What if we could challenge societal views on body image? What if we could approach the year as an opportunity for learning? An opportunity to think about ourselves in a more compassionate light? Could I impose a suggestion for this year? It’s body acceptance! Would you be willing to give yourself permission to have compassion toward yourself and your body this year? Will you stay with me and hear me out? I guarantee you, you’re worth it!
Healthy Body Image
A healthy body image helps to promote emotional well-being, confidence, self-love, and compassion for self and others. Often the negative views of our bodies are based on unfair, unrealistic expectations from larger society defining beauty. The truth is, less than 2% of the world’s population meets these so-called expectations, and this is most often related to genetics. Unsurprisingly, when we subject ourselves to such unreasonable “standards,” we end up feeling depressed, sad, angry, and develop a strong dislike, maybe hatred of self. Staying in this state of emotional being and thinking leads to risks of developing Eating Disorders, Depression/Anxiety Disorders, and potential for harming the self. You are worth more than this!
It does not have to be this way. There are ways we can change and even improve our body acceptance. It requires work and patience. If you struggle with compassion for the self and body acceptance, that did not happen overnight; thus, it is not expected to reverse overnight. We need to remember we are working toward progress—not perfection! Working on this does not have to be perfect either. It can be messy and topsy-turvy. We all get there in different ways, and that is ok!
7 Ways to Work on Your Body Image
Acceptance Does Not Have to Mean “Liking”
That’s right! We all get permission to not like things about ourselves and our bodies. The goal is not to love every little thing about ourselves or our bodies. The goal is to give ourselves permission to be human and to be more compassionate with ourselves. Do you know why? Yep, you’re worth it!
How can we practice achieving a neutral body acceptance? Notice I did not say “positive” body acceptance. That was purposeful. Reminder: It is okay to not always like your body image, and it’s ok to struggle with acceptance. We are human!
Be Aware of Influences
How much time do you spend on social media? How many different social media sites/apps are you on daily? What kind of messages do these sites give you? How do you end up feeling in general after you scroll through? How do you end up feeling about yourself afterwards?
This could be a place for some change. Maybe it is just limiting time spent. Maybe it is unfollowing, muting or blocking certain people. Maybe it is a hiatus. It does not have to be all or nothing, but just becoming aware of how these impact us can help us decide what is needed to best care for ourselves. I know I’ve had to step away from Facebook when there were heavy messages from friends about dieting and losing weight. It’s hard to read about others struggling with acceptance and giving into the messages put out by the diet industry.
The other part of this is the influence of those we are spending time with regularly. Do the individuals you spend time with engage in negative self-talk? Do they only offer compliments based on physical attributes? Become aware of these influences. Consider having conversations with others to set boundaries. Give yourself permission to play around with options and change your mind.
Engage in Movement You Like
Movement is a way to connect to the body and find out some of the wonderful things it can do. Movement is about doing things we enjoy and feel good doing! There is no expectation of what movement has to look like or how often it is done. It just needs to feel good and bring enjoyment. For me, yoga helps better connect me to my body. Yoga helps me stay grounded, mindful, and in the moment with my body.
Clean Out the Closets
If you put on a blindfold and reached into your closet or drawers, could you comfortably wear anything you grabbed? If not, it might be time to clean out! Gather up those items that are too small, too big, not your favorite, uncomfortable or collecting dust. Life is too short to wait for when that pair of jeans will fit again or when you might need that shirt if your weight changes. We can gain some extra joyful feelings in letting these items go by donating them to a local charity.
Ditch the Numbers and Diets
Sizes, inches, calories, points, ounces, pounds, BMI, steps, how many fruits, how many vegetables, how many meals? These numbers tell us nothing about our worth, values, or character.
How about practicing mindfulness with eating? Here are some tips to practice mindfulness while eating:
- Eliminate distractions while eating.
- Sit at the table when eating.
- Put food on a plate or in a bowl.
- Give yourself permission to eat what you like and enjoy!
Mindfulness can help you find out which foods you really like by helping you to really taste, feel, and smell what you are eating. Check out the “Intuitive Eating Workbook: Ten Principles for Nourishing a Healthy Relationship with Food”. For the general population, our CHI Health dietitians also recommend focusing on simply eating more balanced meals and staying away from counting calories or macronutrients.
Shift the Focus to Meaningful Attributes
As a society, we place great value on physicality. Let’s shift the focus away from comments on appearance and toward more meaningful attributes of each other. For example, instead of “looks like you have lost weight,” try a compliment such as:
- You’re a great listener.
- You’re so thoughtful.
- I appreciate you.
- You inspire me.
If conversations start to gravitate towards dieting, self-criticism or body shaming, try to shift the focus to another topic or set a boundary with the person to not talk to you about these topics.
Focus on what the body can do, instead of how it looks. Zoom the focus out to see the whole body and whole self, not just bits and pieces of the self.
Compassion and Gratitude For Yourself
As much as we work and try, intrusive thoughts can and will happen. It’s okay! Just acknowledge the thought, and let it float like a leaf through the air. Compassionately remind yourself that it is okay. This happens. Remind yourself of values, goals, and other qualities you possess.
The practice of gratitude is useful for many reasons. It helps us be grounded, present and mindful in order to appreciate various aspects of life, including our bodies. This year, try identifying one part or function of your body per day for which you’re grateful. It could be gratitude for having legs to walk, ears to hear, a heart that pumps blood throughout the body or eyes to see the inner beauty of a person.
It is easy to take the wonders of the human body for granted. Keep a gratitude journal or set aside time to meditate in gratitude each day.
Seek Support for Body Image Struggles
Whew, you stuck with me to the end! Thank you! I know that was a lot. It was important to me to make sure I provided as many different options and avenues as possible for addressing body acceptance. These are all things I have personally worked on and continue to work on regularly. I rely on and utilize some amazing supports to navigate through the ups and downs. There is no shame in asking and accepting help in this work!
Visit chihealth.com/behavioral to connect with a CHI Health mental health provider. We offer in-person and virtual therapy sessions with our team of licensed mental health therapists.
Originally Published June 2020. Updated January 2023.