In our home, “DIET” is a four letter word. Like many teenagers, I became obsessed about diet and body image, partly fueled by glamorous magazine ads, television and marketing. As I’ve grown older I’ve gained a better body image, partly due to maturing and developing healthy habits physically and emotionally. Having my body change back and forth six times through pregnancy has also been a humbling experience. Through those changes I surrendered expectations of what I thought I should look like and enjoyed every stage. Three years post partum, I’m my healthiest physically and emotionally with my body. It didn’t happen overnight though.
As a yoga instructor, I’ve learned to practice exercises that help me to take my focus off my environment and reflect on how I respond to outward influences. We live in a stimulating culture that beckons us to live by our senses, many of those visual. When we rely on images around us as our reality we will most likely feel let down. Our culture overall places a great deal of emphasis on physical beauty, much of it non-verbal in computer edited images all around us. Our brains tell us this is not real but our hearts may be thinking we ought to measure up to these unrealistic expectations.
There are some simple things you can do to protect yourself from being overly influenced by our culture and develop a positive body image in the process.
- Look in the mirror less– I’m reminded of a visit my husband and I took to a resort. The bathroom had a makeup mirror in it. It was not just a mirror, it magnified your face about 50 times. All I could think of if I looked in that mirror was all the imperfections in my skin, yuck! If you look in the mirror a lot, you probably will see something each time that could be fixed, rearranged or smoothed out. Use a mirror less and your attention won’t be focused on your physical appearance.
- Limit the attention you give to advertising – The more attention you give to magazine and tv ads, displays in the malls and billboards, the more likely your subconscious will take this as a normal baseline. Give more attention to real people and relationships and you’ll see the world as it really is, including yourself.
- Question your thought process for making choices about your physical beauty – why do you want to wear certain clothes or trends? Make-up? Hair style? Is it because you really like them and the styles are flattering to you or is it because you’re following the crowd? The more you follow the crowd blindly without reflecting on who you are and what is best for you the more likely you‘ll be dissatisfied with your self-image.
- Ask your husband or a friend to affirm your beauty - I realize it takes the spontaneity out of the situation, but express to your husband how important it is to hear him tell you what he finds attractive in you. Most guys in general have a hard time verbalizing this, but with some coaching, he will most likely surprise you with some encouraging words when you least expect it. Your self-esteem should not solely depend on your physical appearance, but your beauty is what is unique about you. When you celebrate your individuality, it will bring lay a strong foundation for a positive body image.
- Get rid of clothes that don’t fit you – Whether you are trying to lose or maintain weight, holding on to clothes that don’t fit you will just be a reminder of what you haven’t accomplished. In my case, I was insecure maintaining the weight I lost after childbirth and I kept the “big” clothes just in case. I’ve accepted my body image where it is today and finally got rid of the things just taking up space in my closet. If you want something as an incentive to lose a few pounds, keep an outfit or special pair of jeans, but skip keeping a whole wardrobe of clothes that don’t fit.
- Exercise, eat right and be content with where you are right now – Do what you can to be healthy today. Everyone has different body types and metabolisms so don’t look to what others are achieving. If you are doing all that you can to make good choices in diet and exercise, give yourself credit for that. Focus on your accomplishments as a woman, a mom and a wife if you’re married.
These are some simple things that don’t take a lot of time, but you’ll reap benefits far beyond the effort they require. I’m also motivated to model a healthy self-image for a big reason: my kids. For my daughters especially, I want to make sure that I’m not communicating discontent in my self –image (even though I might be feeling it some days) that will rub off on them. I’m surprised at how young girls start to say that they “feel fat” or they should lose weight (really, from a 2nd grader!). As women, we all have “feeling fat” days or low self-esteem, my hope is that my insecure feelings will not project onto my kids as “normal” thoughts of a mom. I also want my kids to have a positive body image and I need to model that to them.
When I focus less on myself, I find my body image becomes better. I know that beauty is not skin deep, it goes much further and we all have a lot to offer the world. When you take your focus off your physical body and focus on other areas of your life and you will naturally begin to have a better body image.