I’m going to ask you a question: what part of your body do you hate?
I bet you had an answer in a nanosecond.
In fact, I bet you’ve stood in front of the mirror and stared at the body part, despising its unwelcome attachment to you. You’ve probably tried to suck it in, tighten it, look at it from a more flattering angle — all in an attempt to make yourself feel better.
Maybe you even have multiple body parts you can’t stand. Maybe you hate your entire body. If so, you aren’t alone. Repeated studies show that the vast majority of women don’t like their bodies. According to a Glamour magazine survey of more than 300 women of varying sizes, women have 13 negative thoughts about their bodies a day on average. That’s about one negative thought for every waking hour.
The current media ideal for women’s bodies and overall appearance is achievable by less than 2% of the female population.The average female fashion model wears a size two or four, while the average American woman wears a size 12 to 14.
We are bombarded with an unrealistic ideal about our bodies. Young women today see more images of exceptionally thin and beautiful women in one day than our mothers saw throughout their entire teenage years. It’s no wonder that 8 out of 10 women are dissatisfied with their appearance.
But this focus on body image isn’t just a female issue. In fact, surprisingly more men worry about their body shape and appearance than women do about how they look.
According to a study from the Center of Appearance Research at the University of the West of England, more than four in five men (80.7%) talk in ways that promote anxiety about their body image by referring to perceived flaws and imperfections, compared with 75% of women. And 38% of men would sacrifice at least a year of their life in exchange for a perfect body – again, a higher proportion than women.
The study revealed that men have high levels of anxiety about their bodies and that some resort to compulsive exercise, strict diets, laxatives or making themselves sick in an attempt to lose weight or achieve a more toned physique.
Says Dr. Phillippa Diedrichs from the Center, “These findings tell us that men are concerned about body image, just like women. We knew that ‘body talk’ affected women and young people and now we know that it affects men too.”
Our focus on our seemingly flawed bodies distracts us from enjoying life and focusing our mental energy on more important pursuits. But more disturbingly, our negative body images lead to a much more debilitating issue — low self-esteem.
Self-esteem relates to your feelings of worth. If you have a healthy amount of self-esteem, you view yourself as inherently worthy, acceptable, and valuable. You are able to love and accept yourself in spite of your imperfections.
When you have a negative body image, and you continue to feed that negative image with disparaging thoughts, you begin to associate your essential worthiness with your outer appearance. You come to believe that because you are too fat, too bald, too wrinkly, or too whatever, you are less valuable as a person.
These feelings of low self-esteem are reinforced every day when you look in the mirror and focus on your flaws, when you look at images of celebrities on TV or the internet, and when you hear others complaining about their own bodies. We are taught that anything less than the media ideal is unacceptable.
You can stop this cycle of negativity and reclaim your worthiness. Here are 6 strategies to boost your body image and self-esteem:
1. Get the facts.
Just knowing that everyone around you is dealing with negative body image issues is enough to create a more realistic perspective and give your self-esteem a boost. We are all being duped by the same media messages. We are all fighting the same invisible monster.
Even if you believe your particular body issue is worse than most, just look around you more carefully when you’re in a crowded area (on the beach, in a city, etc.). You’ll be hard pressed to find perfection. Be realistic about how rare a “perfect body” really is.
2. Stop comparing.
Maybe your best friend happens to be in that small percentage of people who wear a size 4. Maybe your golfing buddy still has all of his hair. Yes, there are people in your life who appear to be closer to the media ideal than you might be. But you have to make a conscious choice to stop focusing on this reality.
You have amazing qualities to offer your friends and associates that have nothing to do with how your body looks. You may have enviable qualities that your size 4 friend or hairy-headed golf buddy wish they possessed. When you catch yourself comparing your body to someone else’s, remember how fleeting and superficial these differences are. Everyone, even beautiful models and actors, will lose their perfect appearances over time.
3. Stay away from the mirror.
If you find yourself staring at your flaws and obsessing about them, just stop. Allow yourself just enough time in front of the mirror to get ready in the morning, but don’t waste your time wishing and longing for something different.
Or if you happen to catch yourself stepping out of the shower, be bold and look at your naked body in the mirror. Rather than shaming yourself, offer yourself total acceptance. Look at all of the parts you hate, and offer yourself love and kindness instead. Your body deserves more from you. It’s been your reliable partner all of your life.
4. Focus on health before appearance.
Rather than striving to be more physically perfect, commit to being more physically fit. That’s an attainable goal for everyone. Learn what a healthy body weight is for your height, and work toward maintaining or attaining that weight.
Find a fitness program you enjoy, and learn how to create a daily fitness habit. Pay attention to everything you put in your mouth. Resist empty calories and junk food that does nothing to help your body. Choose a diet heavy on fresh fruits and vegetables and lean protein. Drink a lot of water daily and get enough sleep at night.
Simply by taking control of your health and exercising daily, your self-esteem will soar. You’ll feel better physically, and you’ll feel better about yourself.
5. Change what you can.
If you have a body image issue that is severely impacting your self-esteem, and you can do something (within reason) to improve the issue, then by all means do it. If you are overweight, you can certainly take action to lose weight. If you have problems with your teeth, you can go see a dentist or orthodontist.
Maybe there’s something you’ve always felt embarrassed or uncomfortable about that requires some minor surgery to change. If you feel it will free you from self-consciousness, and it isn’t life-threatening, then go for it.
However, there is a diminishing point of return with procedures and surgeries. This is especially true as we age. At some point, you must gracefully allow nature to takes its course and accept your aging and changing body.
6. Live a passionate life.
The best self-esteem booster is to create a life so full and passionate that you don’t have time to think about your appearance and body image. Rather than filling your time fretting about your body, take your body on an adventure instead.
Find work you love. Surround yourself with interesting people. Travel to amazing places. Offer your time and talents to those who can use them. Life is fleeting, and appearance is even more fleeting. Make the most of every minute and design your life to maximize your experience of it. This mindset will make you wildly attractive to other people.
How is your body image? Has it negatively impacted your self-esteem? What strategies have you used to manage your negative thoughts about your body? Please share your experiences in the comments below.