Ahead of Body Confidence Week, which starts today, Abi Jackson shares her top feelgood tips.
1. Be your own best friend
We can be incredibly mean to ourselves, telling ourselves we're "disgusting", and "a disgrace". When you're ashamed of your body, it's easy to fall into the trap of believing you're not worthy and don't deserve to have fun. A useful trick is simply to speak to yourself as you would a friend.
Imagine your friend was feeling insecure about themselves and how they look – what would you say? You'd reassure them they're beautiful, remind them of their many good points and that they're wonderful and valued.
Maybe you'd offer to accompany them on walks or to a gym class, if they're stuck in an inactive rut. How about becoming your own best friend. After all, you don't punish and hate your friends for having so-called flaws (and by flaws, I mean being human), so why punish and hate yourself?
2. Shift your focus
I have always loved swimming, but there was a time when the sheer dread of getting changed and wearing a cossie in front of other people dominated the activity.
School swimming lessons induced intense anxiety, and I wasn't the only one inventing elaborate excuses to get out of them. The thing is though, it's normal to feel slightly uncomfortable being seen in swimwear – we're used to being far more covered up.
And that's ok. Learning to accept a degree of discomfort can be a healthy thing, as it frees us up to realise it's not that big a deal. It's when this discomfort gets so distorted that it spills over into everyday life, becomes all we can think about and stops us taking part in activities we might enjoy, that it's a problem.
Reminding myself why I love swimming, really focusing on the peacefulness of the water, how amazing it feels to master that tricky stroke, how invigorated I am after a good dip, has meant that gradually, worrying how I look while doing it has become less and less important. Now I recognise that swimming gives me confidence, rather than sapping it.
3. Don't confuse perfection and confidence
This is something that takes many of us a long time to truly realise – 'perfection' does not equate confidence, and vice versa. Firstly, the notion of perfection is a dangerous one, because it doesn't really exist.
We all know those glossy ads in magazines are photo-shopped, celebs spend hours in make-up before hitting the red carpet, and super-models are paid to sell products, not set weight-related benchmarks for the rest of us.
Secondly, and far more importantly, is that it doesn't need to exist, because you really do not need to be perfect. Many of us go through phases of thinking, 'If only I had slimmer thighs/a smaller nose – then I'd feel confident'. That friend of yours who already has the "perfect" thighs and nose though, you can guarantee they've had her own set of insecurities to contend with. There is nothing wrong with recognising that physical appearance and confidence are closely linked – that doesn't make you shallow – and doing things to feel better about your body, like exercising and choosing clothes that make you feel good, are all useful. But remember that perfection and confidence are two very different things; perfection is irrelevant, but confidence is something you can actively pursue.
4. Widen your horizons
A big part of building body confidence, funnily enough, is to stop thinking of it as body confidence. Instead, think of it as general confidence.
Addressing things on the outside – be that losing weight or getting help with a skin complaint that's affecting you psychologically, for example – might help you feel better about yourself, but we can all benefit from working on our inner confidence, too. When we're confident on the inside, we're better equipped to deal with whatever life throws at us. Challenges are a normal part of life, and some of these – like illness, injuries and even pregnancy – may alter how we look, so it's important that your self-worth starts from within.
Broadening your horizons – taking up hobbies, learning a new skill, embracing things you're passionate about – is a great start. Developing interests will help you build on values beyond the physical; like trust, creativity and humour. It will also help you get "out of your head" and engage with the world.
5 Be a team
Our bodies can really let us down sometimes, can't they? From zits popping up before a big date to more serious stuff, like the tumours and heart attacks that strike without warning. But, no matter what, you and your body are a team.
And sometimes, we don't give our bodies enough credit – they do amazing things, and work hard for us. Nurturing that connection teaches you to respect your body, and in effect, respect yourself as a whole too. You don't need to live like a saint but getting into the habit of regular exercise, eating well and getting enough sleep and making time to relax, will boost your body and mind.