You can work at your body until every inch of it is toned, tanned, firm and fat-free.
But if you don’t truly believe that you look great, then it won’t count for much! Research has clearly demonstrated that women who meet the super-slim body ideal are just as likely to be unhappy about their looks as women who do not, which shows that it isn’t so much down to what your body looks like but how you feel about it that counts.
Unfortunately, women are up to 10 times more likely to have a negative body image than men. This is unsurprising when you consider how much emphasis is placed on the ‘thin is beautiful, and beautiful is good’ message in today’s media. In a study in which people were asked to rate how ‘nice’ a person was according to photographs, more negative adjectives (such as ‘lazy’ and ‘greedy’) were attributed to the less attractive and fatter subjects. Looks are everything in today’s society, and since few of us live up to (or, at least, believe that we live up to) society’s ideal, we are facing a national epidemic of bad body image.
Feeling negative about your body is bad news, but the problem tends not to end there. Body dissatisfaction can have just as serious an impact on women’s physical and emotional health as excess weight, say psychologists from the National Institute of Public Health in Quebec, Canada. There is undoubtedly a link between negative body image and eating disorders, but body image disturbance is also associated with a loss of sexual desire, depression, anxiety, and social introversion, as well as feelings of low self-esteem, failure and irritability. That’s a high price to pay for being at war with your body! But how can we get out of this vicious cycle? Certainly not by dieting, sweating and pummelling your body into the shape you think it should be…
The body beautiful
We’ve probably all spied a woman walking down the street, turning every man’s head as she passes. We may not think that she is particularly attractive, but if she feels good about herself, she will ooze body confidence and sex appeal. How we see ourselves is not a reality but an illusion. Body image exists only in our mind’s eye, and it changes from moment to moment. That’s why you can feel ‘fatter’ ten minutes after eating a slice of cake, when in actual fact you couldn’t possibly look any different. Accepting this is an important first step in becoming more body confident. You could then try the following exercises, which will also help you on your way to boosting your body image.
Become more familiar with your body – for example by looking at your body in the mirror after you’ve had a shower – and focus on aspects of yourself that you like. Acknowledging something you like about your body will shift the emphasis away from the bits you may not like. Also, reflect not only on the parts of your body that you like, but on why you like those bits as well. This will help to challenge your thought processes on what makes someone beautiful or acceptable.
Imagine seeing yourself through the eyes of one of your friends. How would you describe your body if you were to look at it as an outsider? Think about this and write down a description, being as honest and accurate as you can. You’ll probably be a lot kinder if you’re looking at yourself through someone else’s eyes – so use these more realistic judgements when you’re casting a critical eye over yourself.
Be alert to your ‘bad body’ triggers
What makes you feel bad about your body? Try to identify your triggers so that you can rationalise why you feel bad when such situations arise. If, for example, seeing your ex-partner’s new girlfriend always makes you feel bad, acknowledge that and tell yourself you are the same person – and that you’re the same size as you were five minutes before you spotted the other girl! Many simple triggers, such as using a communal changing room at the gym or in a store, can also be easily avoided if you continue to feel bad in those situations.
Research shows that people who regularly exercise generally have better body images than those who don’t. Experts think this is partly down to being more ‘in touch’ with their bodies through being active – but exercise also ensures that you experience your body from the ‘inside’ rather than the ‘outside’, and helps you to appreciate its myriad abilities. If you exercise more then you’re also likely to become less judgmental of others’ body shapes and sizes. However, you should beware of seeing physical activity as simply another way of manipulating your body into how it ‘should’ be.
Look after yourself
Spend some time looking after your body and making yourself look good. You may not be able to slink into a pair of size eight jeans, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fabulous hair or killer nails! Whether it’s self-administered care, such as rubbing in a luxurious body lotion or keeping your legs stubble-free, or external maintenance, such as a soothing massage or a wash and blow dry at the salon, taking care of your body will tell your subconscious mind that you care about your body and respect it.
Open your eyes
When you feel negative about your body, you tend to only spot those around you who you perceive as being ‘better’ than you. So, open your eyes and really see everyone – and then you’ll realise just how many shapes and sizes there are!
A final point…
When following our suggested tips, remember that boosting your body confidence doesn’t mean that you can’t want to lose weight or tone up or improve your fitness – it simply means that when you do so, you’ll see your body as an ally rather than as the enemy.
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