What Is Body Image?
Do you have a negative or positive body image? Body image is how you see yourself in a mirror or your mind. It is entirely possible to have bodily confidence even through the process of aging. While many women are much more confident and content with their bodies, at over 40, body image positivity is constant work.
Do you like how you look? A positive body image means that you are comfortable and happy with how you see yourself in a mirror and your mind. It means you accept yourself for who you are, not only for how you look.
A positive body image is essential for both males and females throughout life. How do you promote a positive body image for yourself and for others you care about or those who look to you for advice?
Whether you have a negative or positive body image depends on four factors:
- How You View Yourself
- How You Feel About the Way You Look
- Your Thoughts and Beliefs About Your Body
- Your Actions Related to How You Look
Body image begins forming when people are young and can change over time. Negative body image can lead to low self-esteem and depression, while a positive body image leads to high self-esteem and a positive mindset.
Read more about 10 signs you need counseling and 6 ways to cure depression here.
1. How You View Yourself
People view themselves based on memory, assumptions, and generalizations. If you have a positive body image, changes to your psychical appearance can change your body image from positive to negative. When you focus on how you used to look before you had a scar, gained weight, or your hair wasn’t gray, your memory of what you used to look like can cause a poor body image now.
Body image is also based on assumptions and generalizations that people hear and learn over time.
Common assumptions and generalizations in society today include:
- Blondes have more fun.
- Skinny people are always healthy.
- Muscles attract other people more than brainpower.
These assumptions and generalizations are not always valid, but it’s easy to believe them and base your body image on these misconceptions.
2. How You Feel About the Way You Look
Your height, weight, and body shape are not the same as your personality, character, and mindset. You are a whole person who is more than how you look.
Basing your body image on how you feel about your looks can lead to a negative body image, even if you have a good personality, character, and mindset. By discounting your mental and emotional capabilities and only focusing on how you look, you can distort your body image into a negative one.
You will feel more comfortable with your body when you work to stay healthy, active, and productive. Regardless of your body type, how you feel about your body image should be based on the benefits your body provides you, not on how you look. You can be healthy and happy no matter what body type you are.
3. Your Thoughts and Beliefs About Your Body
People often compare themselves to society’s images of what a successful person looks like. These comparisons form your thoughts and beliefs about your body and can cause you to have either a negative or positive body image. But what society finds beautiful changes, and can be different in different countries, cultures, and at different times in history.
Advertising, other people’s opinions, and cultural norms can affect your thoughts and beliefs about what is beautiful. Your thoughts and beliefs create standards for what you consider beautiful.
If your body doesn’t conform to these standards, you will have a negative body image. Challenge yourself to look at other ways to consider the beauty and accept yourself as beautiful no matter which standards you meet.
4. Your Actions Related to How You Look
Part of body image is how you treat yourself based on your feelings, thoughts, and beliefs. A negative body image can lead you to poor self-esteem and assuming that you don’t deserve to be treated well.
People with a negative body image often don’t try to improve themselves or create and reach goals because their feelings, thoughts, and beliefs about themselves distort their body image.
A positive body image leads to valuing yourself, regardless of how you look. High self-esteem affects your actions, making you more likely to take care of yourself to continue to feel healthy and happy. Your body image can also change your mindset and actions in other areas of your life.
If you have a negative body image, you are less likely to believe in your capabilities and skills. When you think poorly of yourself, you won’t take opportunities in life that can help you achieve your goals.
Body image encompasses your feelings, thoughts, and beliefs about how you look. Negative and positive body image also affects your actions toward yourself and in life.
How to Have a Positive Body Image
“How do I look?” People often ask others this question, when they should be asking themselves. People with a positive body image are confident in how they look, regardless of what others think. A positive body image starts with believing in yourself.
Having a positive body image means you are comfortable with how you look and understand that you are more than your physical appearance.
You can have a positive body image by following these recommendations from psychologists and doctors:
1. Appreciate All Your Body Can Do
How much you appreciate your body depends on your perspective. Do you think that you’re too tall? Consider how easy it is for you to reach things on high shelves. Do you think you’re too short? Shorter people often have an easier time getting things on lower shelves. Too often, people base their body image on what they can’t do instead of what they can.
You may be a great dancer, no matter what you weigh. Your hair color doesn’t determine how well you cook or if you’re good at math. People with scars and birthmarks still have friends and fall in love. Your body, and mind, can do great things, regardless of how you look.
2. Take Care of Yourself to Feel Good
The goal of healthy eating and exercise should be to make you feel good. A healthy diet improves your energy, physical ability, and protects against disease. You get the benefits of healthy eating no matter what your body looks like.
Savor the foods you eat, and you will find that less is often more. Enjoying a treat is healthier than binge-eating because you’ve denied yourself.
Exercises like stretching and walking help improve how you feel and move. Playing group sports is a healthy social activity that benefits your body and your emotional connection to others.
You can have a positive body image by taking good care of yourself and feeling confident in your health. Participate in physical activities that combine enjoyment with exercise, like social group sports or walking your dog.
Taking care of your body to promote health, not how you look, promotes a positive body image. When you feel strong and healthy, you will also feel better about yourself. People who believe they are healthy and appreciate what their bodies can do are more likely to have a positive body image.
Avoid fad diets, extreme exercise, and dangerous ways to lose weight like laxatives. These methods can harm your health instead of making you feel and look better. Continuously going from one extreme diet or exercise routine to another focuses your energy on how you look, not on how you feel. The healthier choice is to eat and exercise to improve and maintain your health.
Don’t forget to have enough sleep. Read more about 5 essential health benefits of getting enough sleep here.
3. List What You Like About Yourself
You are more than how you look. If you don’t like yourself as a person, your attitude will be reflected in how you view your body image. Make a list of 10 things you like about yourself that don’t have to do with how you look.
Do you smile often, are you a fast reader, or are you great at babysitting? You can also find things that you like about your body and face, such as your cheekbone, your eyes shape, etc. You can have a positive body image when you look at yourself a whole person, not just your external appearance.
4. Surround Yourself with Positive People
To promote a positive body image, spend your time with positive people. Positive people uplift and support each other. Consider joining a volunteer group. Volunteers are often made up of many different body types, yet they work together and help and respect each other.
Spending time with people who have a negative body image can affect how you feel about yourself and your appearance. Negativity leads to more negativity. Don’t spend your time with negative people, especially with those who are obsessed with their looks.
Find friends that accept you for who you are, not how you look. Positive people lift each other’s spirits and find the good in situations, while negative people can destroy the image you have of yourself.
5. Do Something Nice for Your Body
You deserve to relax at home or in the spa, walk through the park, or get a massage, regardless of how you look. Doing something nice for your body improves your body image. Having a positive body image means you care enough about yourself to treat yourself well and enjoy life.
6. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
Remember That No One is Perfect. Most people have something about themselves they would like to change or improve. Having a positive body image allows you to live your life and reach your goals without letting how you look to stop you.
Remember that there is no one definition of beauty. People with all types of body styles succeed in life. Remind yourself that you can accomplish your goals by believing in all the things your body can do.
7. Beware of Advertising
Don’t compare yourself to the images you see on social and other media. Companies create advertising to make you feel like you need their product to feel beautiful. Your body image shouldn’t be based on what shampoo you use, a number on a scale or what they said makes for a beautiful person.
Society bombards people with images and comparisons that promote a negative body image if you don’t meet those standards. Advertising is designed to make you believe that you need select products to look good.
Who you are is not defined by how you look. There is more than one way to look and feel beautiful. Comparing yourself to other peoples’ standards can lower your self-esteem and promote a negative body image.
8. Wear Clothes You Like
Choose the clothes that you enjoy, not what society or advertising tells you is best. Your personal style should reflect what makes you feel good. Don’t punish yourself by wearing clothes that don’t fit or styles you don’t like to try and look good.
If you’re uncomfortable wearing certain clothes, your body image will suffer. Choose clothes that are comfortable and reflect your style, regardless of your body type.
People of all different weights can wear flowy dresses, dress shirts, and jeans, or any other fashion expression. Your body image will be more positive if you like and are comfortable with what you wear.
You can have a positive body image no matter what size, shape, or type of body you have. Treat yourself well and consider yourself as a whole person, and your body image will be positive.
9. Watch What You Say
How you discuss your body and your appearance can promote or discourage a positive body image. Constant complaining about your appearance can lead to low self-esteem. Even inadvertent statements make a difference. Consider how these different phrases make you feel:
- Your dress/shirt is pretty/handsome, versus that outfit looks great on you.
- My hair is too long/curly/straight/gray, versus I like how this hairstyle looks on me.
- I lost five pounds; versus I enjoy using my lunch break to walk outside.
In each of these examples, the first statement focuses on an object – clothes, hair, and weight. The second statements focus on the person and their feelings and wellbeing. Promoting a positive body image includes recognizing a person’s wellbeing, not only how they look.
The habits of promoting a positive body image will help build your self-esteem. When you have a positive body image, you can share your mindset with others and help them too.
Body image is a problem for thousands of people, and especially women. We are bombarded with what we “should look like” in so many ways, from media to societal expectations. This causes many to look in the mirror and hate what they see.
After studying health and wellness for quite a few years, I’ve come across practically every analogy and symbolic reference in the book for how we relate to our bodies. Some can be downright cringeworthy and uncomfortable at times. Perhaps my favorite analogy I’ve read to date was from an article in PBS’ “Perfect Illusions” series. It states, “Think of your body as the vehicle to your dreams. Honor it. Respect it. Fuel it.”
I love this analogy for so many reasons, but mostly because it emphasizes the truth behind loving our bodies – it’s not about looking a certain way or fitting into the dress size you want. It’s about taking care of and enjoying our bodies so that they are a positive life force to propel us where we want to go.
I also love that it doesn’t just instruct us to accept our bodies, like a half-hearted shrug in the mirror when we get dressed every morning. It challenges us to honor and respect them – something that is much easier said than done. But, if we can incorporate positive body image activities into our day-to-day self-care routines, we will slowly see our thoughts and feelings evolve in a beautiful, loving way.
Here are 3 positive body image activities to try:
1. Utilize list-making and constant reminders
Our lives can be busy, and we’re continually battling competing priorities. We don’t always have the time to do hours of positive affirmations and group sessions. Something that can be just as effective as these activities are keeping little lists around your environment to serve as constant reminders for your goal to love your body.
This might be on your mirror; this might be on your fridge, or maybe in your planner for work. Regardless of where they’re placed, consider keeping a “top-ten list” of things that are fueling your body journey. It can be anything you like about yourself that’s not tied to your weight or image.
As you read this list more often, these thoughts will become more natural to you, and you may even grow your list a mile long. Another list you might make is a list of things you’re grateful for that your body gives you.
Every day your body carries you to achieve your dreams and sends you forward into a new day. Consider writing down all of the things you’re grateful to experience because of your body like hiking, laughing, smiling, running, and hugging.
2. Show up your most authentic self
“Showing up” can be different for each person, but we must give our bodies the respect they deserve. This might be surrounding ourselves with positive people who build us up and make us feel loved in our own skin. Maybe “showing up” is wearing comfortable clothes and that makes us feel good. Lastly, it might be training yourself to become a critical consumer and viewer of social and media messages to discern what is healthy for you to let in and what’s not.
3. Curate your activities
Don’t just go along with what the diet culture is prescribing. Exercise for the joy of moving and feeling comfortable in your own skin, rather than exercising to lose weight or to punish yourself for enjoying the food and drink you had over the weekend. Remember that you deserve to do the activities you enjoy, like swimming, yoga, running, regardless of shape or size.
What is your plan to improve your body image? Please add your comment and I will be more than happy to reply your comment.