How healthy is your body image? Let’s pretend you’re taking one of those personality-in-a-bottle-style magazine quizzes. Which type would be most like you?
Gal number one feels pretty good about her body. She understands there are areas she would like to improve upon, but is committed to working on it, and doesn’t let it dictate her value or self-worth. Gal number two doesn’t feel horribly about her body, but is prone to unrealistic expectations and unhealthy comparisons, particularly when stressed. Gal number three has never been happy with her body. She maintains unrealistic expectations for her body type, is constantly making unhealthy comparisons, and completely equates undesirable parts of her body with her value or self-worth. Which one is the gal to be? Ding-ding-ding, it’s pretty clear number one is the “it” gal, yet having such a healthy body image can seem difficult to attain, at least all the time.
While we’re seeing a wider range of “acceptable” body types than we have in the past, the media is still saturated with messages that dictate the ideal type, and we can’t help but be impacted at least a little. And if you struggle with self-esteem, you are even more vulnerable to the negative impact those messages can have. In true heroic style, it’s a battle we all must fight.
Consider my shopping situation gone awry. It started out great. The store was practically empty, I eased through the aisles, and found really cute pieces—a pencil skirt and crop top to name a few with inspiration just oozing as I put together outfits in my head. After about fifteen minutes of lugging around clothes on my sagging arm, I felt relieved when the sales girl offered to start a fitting room for me. I followed closely behind her still snatching clothes to fit the outfits I imagined. I stepped into the fitting room with high hopes only to be deflated by the glaring lights, which highlighted every bit of imperfection I didn’t even know I had. Or maybe I just chose to forget them because my mirror at home is more forgiving and doesn’t remind me. I pulled a fitted top over my face, tugging at it knowing it shouldn’t be this hard to get on, but I still hoped for the best. I looked in the mirror, and ugh! It was not the image I had in my head. Does this mirror make me look fat? I thought, because the mirror in the other store didn’t make me look like this. And thereafter, my entire shopping experience took a straight nosedive to hell. All my outfit plans crumbled, and I started to feel the F-word. Yep, there you have it, I felt F-A-T, fat, and from that point on I vowed never to eat another bad thing, committed to exercising way more than I had been, and promised myself I’d never be fatter than this. (Keep in mind that I’ve experienced different versions of this scenario multiple times.)
Does that ever happen to you? It can be such a bummer, and if you’re not careful, it can ruin your day. But the good news is that just because you’re having a bad moment doesn’t mean you have to have a bad day. Maintaining a healthy body image is not so much about feeling great about your body all the time, as much as it is about being able to bounce back when you’re feeling less than stellar about your body. Here are a few tips that may help you bounce back more quickly:
1. You are more than the sum of your parts.
I’ve met with many girls that struggle with significant anxiety over their bodies. They believe life would be so much better if only their legs were “____er” or their lips were “___er.” While many of us want to improve our looks, we place ourselves at risk for depression when we equate our looks to our self-worth. What other parts of yourself do you value? Maybe you’re funny, a really good friend, or smart. All of those qualities deserve to be celebrated, and unlike your looks, do not necessarily change with time. I’d say that’s pretty valuable.
2. Comparison is the thief of exercising.
Many people are quick to compare their bodies to others. It’s like forbidden fruit: we know we shouldn’t do it, but we do. There’s just something about seeing another person with the body you want. It’s right there, in your face, but feels so unattainable. If you let your thoughts sink deep enough, you may even feel life has been unfair to you for “allowing” her to have that body while you suffer with yours in silence. Meanwhile, the girl you are envying is comparing herself to someone else—it happens to the best of. Why? One explanation is that comparison is easy and making changes to your body image is hard. It’s easier to fantasize about looking a certain way and resolving there’s nothing you can do about it, than it is to make the necessary changes to get there.
But these types of comparisons come at a cost. They make us feel poorly about ourselves, and hinder us from focusing on what we can do to improve our body image like exercising and eating healthy. The key is to the focus on you, and what you can do to feel good about your body. You want more curves, figure out a plan of action to get them. You want less thighs, there’s a plan for that too. Yes, you’ll still make comparisons, but the more you focus on you, the less you’ll make them, and the freer you will feel to get on with other things—like being fab.
3. Don’t hate on your healthy regimen because you don’t follow it exactly.
If you are trying to make healthy changes to your body, great. But don’t give up if you fall off track for a day, two days, or three months. Being healthy is a process and sometimes life happens. But the mere act of putting together a healthy diet or exercise plan puts you in the mindset you need to start making desired changes. And it’s a way better alternative to just moping over what you don’t like about your body.
4. Buy clothes that fit.
Many of us get caught up on the sizes of clothing. I’ve certainly had my share of discomfort when I have had to go up one dress size. But while it may feel good to buy your ideal dress size, it doesn’t feel so good when you try to wear it and it doesn’t fit. It may be helpful to know that standard clothing sizes are loosely defined, and what was a size 8 in a store several years ago may not be a size 8 today. Sizes also run differently in different stores and even among similar garments in the same stores. So if you focus on buying clothes that fit no matter the size, you’ll be comfortable in your clothes and move better in them—no better way to boost your body image.
5. Do unto yourself as you would do unto others.
Unless you’re a total jerk (which I know you’re not), you probably don’t criticize your friend for what she ate or berate her for not looking a certain way. In fact, if she is a friend, you likely admire her for many different qualities. You may even like her figure, big or small, just because it works on her. So if we wouldn’t dare single out a friend’s body type and use it against her, why do we do it to ourselves? Just as we can admire a friend whose body type may not necessarily fit neatly into some ideal, we can also admire ourselves whether we are satisfied with our bodies or not.