How many of us are able to look in the mirror and feel 100% satisfied with what we see? Who remembers growing up and hearing the adults around them talk about needing to lose a few pounds to fit into their favorite little black dress or wishing that a certain part of their body was a different shape/size? Maybe we watched our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and sisters criticize their appearance. Maybe we listened to our best friends talk about having a “fat day” or maybe we quietly held onto our own feelings of feeling fat and dissatisfied. How do these feelings of discomfort, dissatisfaction, and/or insecurity shape us? How do they impact our day-to-day lives and relationships? How often do these feelings and experiences contribute to the development of disordered eating or eating disorders?
What is body image and do we move towards greater self-acceptance? Body image is defined by a number of factors. Body image is in part how you perceive yourself when you look at yourself in the mirror or picture yourself in your mind. Body image also includes the beliefs you have about your appearance (assumptions, memories, and thoughts). Body image also includes the experiences you have in your body and the experiences you have had about your body (National Eating Disorders Association, 2005).
Someone is likely experiencing negative body image when they experience feelings of shame, embarrassment, or discomfort in their own body. They may also see their own bodies in a distorted manner or believe that their body is flawed while everyone else’s bodies look perfect. Those struggling with negative body image may also believe thatdepression, social isolation, chronic dieting, and self-esteem issues.
Positive body image is when we are able to see our bodies accurately, when we feel comfortable and confident in our own skin, and when we are able to appreciate the vessel that we have been given to move through this world in. Those with positive body image are also able to recognize that their external appearance does not correlate with their character or self-worth and often refuse to spend any extraordinary amount of time obsessing about food, weight, or calories. I realize that this may all be easier said than done, but is something we can all make progress towards.
It is perfectly natural to have those days that are more uncomfortable (“fat days”) or where we just don’t feel as good. Here are some things that are useful to remember when it comes to body image: 1) Incorporate time for self-care. Take care of you, both inside and out; 2) Surround yourself with people who are supportive of who you are as an individual; 3) Invest time and energy doing activities that make you feel good about yourself (this can range from social time with friends to volunteer work); 4) Wear clothes that are comfortable and that you feel good in; 5) Consider removing the scale from your house if you have one; 6) This is a follow-up to items 4 and 5—remember that your value as a person is far greater than the number on the scale or the size of your clothes; 7) Make and keep a list of your strengths—those qualities that make you unique, special, and extraordinary; 8) Appreciate all of the things which your body can do—remember that your body is a vessel for your soul; and 9) Remember that beauty is a state of mind and not a state of your body.
For those of you reading this who are in the recovery process from an eating disorder, please remember that body image is one of the last issues which will be resolved in the treatment process. With that said, it is possible, and there is much hope for greater freedom and self-acceptance. We also must find ways to not only remember and value our own self-worth, but to embrace the friends, sisters, aunts, mothers, and grandmothers around us.
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