It takes continuous practice to maintain a positive body image. Think of it as a skill that needs attention and sharpening.
And that’s a great thing. It means that you can lift a low body image at any time. While it’s not easy, there are practical, concrete ways you can improve how you see your body — and yourself.
Below, Joyce Marter, LCPC, a psychotherapist and owner of Urban Balance, LLC, a multi-site counseling practice in the greater Chicago area, offers five ideas to do just that.
1. Quiet your inner critic.
Everyone has an inner critic. But some are harsher and louder than others, spewing a slew of negative thoughts about everything that’s wrong with your appearance. Over time, instead of viewing these thoughts as the distorted beliefs that they are, you start to view them as stone-cold facts.
Fortunately, you can learn to quiet your inner critic. According to Marter, “You can choose to detach or unplug from those destructive thoughts.”
How? “Pay attention to your self-talk and notice negative or critical thoughts you are having,” she said. Ask yourself if you’d say these same statements to your best friend. If not, according to Marter, these messages are coming from your inner critic — a psychological product of voices from the past (perhaps a critical parent or partner) or your deepest insecurities.
After noticing these thoughts, practice replacing them with encouraging and supportive sentiments, she said. Compliment yourself, cut yourself some slack and be compassionate.
Having a go-to mantra also helps. Marter gave the following examples: “I am a human being and I am doing the best that I can.” “I deserve to take good care of myself.” “There is no perfect body, only good health.”
2. Surround yourself with positive messages and people.
It’s hard to accept, appreciate and love your body in a society that pushes weight-loss pills and tricks and shames anyone who doesn’t fit the skinny standards. These never-good-enough messages stalk us from our car radios to the grocery store aisles to the TV channels in our own homes.
So it’s especially important to surround yourself with positive messages and people, and to avoid focusing on and criticizing other people’s bodies.
This also includes surrounding yourself with positive thinkers, according to Marter. She referred to Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth as a good example. “He talks about the need for us to detach from our egos and connect with our essence — or our soul or the deeper entity within.”
Such positive messages are key to body image and might even have a broader impact. “Perhaps if we all work on that process of connecting with who we truly are on a deeper level and letting go of our physical imperfections, we will come to a place of peace and acceptance with our own bodies and selves, and our society will eventually shift to be accepting and open and focus on the aspects of life that truly matter.”
3. Identify “healthy beauty heroes.”
If Marter starts feeling insecure about getting older, she thinks of older women who are aging with grace (and she’s not referring to wrinkle-free faces). If she feels unhappy with her weight, she thinks of the larger women in her life who are beautiful.
Also, consider your role models in general. Whose accomplishments, creativity, compassion, intelligence or ambition do you admire? This helps to remind us of the more important qualities we might want to focus on and cultivate.
4. “Take care of yourself like you would your own child,” Marter said. A positive body image isn’t only about liking your looks. It also means practicing good self-care. “As adults, we need to be our own good parents and take care of our minds and bodies as we would take care of somebody we love very, very much,” Marter said.
Good self-care includes everything from getting enough sleep to seeing the doctor to feeding your body nutrients to participating in fun physical activities to taking a break.
5. Enjoy your body.
In the midst of bashing your body, you might forget that it actually helps you experience a variety of positive sensations. That’s why Marter suggested engaging in activities that help you feel pleasure in your body.
These are some of Marter’s suggestions: enjoy a good stretch; get a massage; take a bubble bath; feel the breeze through your hair; appreciate the softness of your bed; be physically intimate with your partner; let loose on the dance floor.
For more tips, check out my body image blog Weightless.