Luckily there are ways you can cultivate a positive body image no matter what size or shape your body is.
Even if you’ve experienced:
- Preoccupation with your body weight or appearance
- Comparing your body to others
- Anxiety and self-consciousness related to your weight or your appearance
- Obsession over food in an attempt to manage your weight
- An eating disorder
If you can relate to any of these, you may be struggling with a negative body image.
What is positive body image?
Having a positive body image doesn’t necessarily mean you love the way your body looks. A positive body image involves being able to view your appearance objectively and separate your value from your physical features. Someone with a positive body image may have an easier time recognizing and appreciating everything their body does for them.
According to Lindsay and Lexie Kite in their book, More Than a Body, “Positive body image isn’t believing your body looks good; it is knowing your body is good, regardless of how it looks.”
Can you have an eating disorder without body image issues?
Yes. Body image and eating disorders can be connected, but not everyone with an eating disorder will have a negative body image. Just as not every person with a negative body image will also have an eating disorder.
Having a poor body image can contribute to an eating disorder, but it doesn’t guarantee one:
- Eating disorders are caused by a variety of genetic and environmental factors.
- Body image disorders, such as body dysmorphic disorder, can also occur on their own.
Body image struggles are associated both with restrictive eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, and binge eating disorders. And yet, if you struggle with how you view your body, there are ways to cultivate a positive body image whether you have an eating disorder or not!
Tip #1: Understand the causes of your negative body image
It’s important to keep in mind that having a negative body image is not your fault. It likely came about from a variety of factors outside your control. Our culture often overemphasizes physical appearance, including smaller, slim, and toned bodies. It often fails to acknowledge that health and well-being are not dependent upon weight or size.
In the U.S., the weight loss industry rakes in about 3.4 billion dollars a year… a contributor to both negative body image and eating disorders.
Many businesses profit off of this country’s diet culture, the yo-yo dieting it promotes, and our own negative body images. We are bombarded with the newest fad diets and slimming exercise programs that make us obsessed with our physical appearance instead of our actual health.
The impact of weight bias on body image
The stigma surrounding weight and health is not limited to the influence of cultural beauty standards. Weight bias is even prevalent in the healthcare industry. Medical professionals commonly overemphasize the impact of weight on health. They may even inaccurately attribute a variety of health concerns to excess body weight. Weight bias is often rooted in the BMI scale, a body fat percentage estimation that was based on lean, white European males. BMI is not meant to be used on an individual basis. Studies also show that it is fairly common for healthcare professionals to view people in larger bodies in an unfounded negative manner.
Understanding where your negative body image comes from may allow you to empathize with yourself and realize your negative view of your body is likely a result of cultural wounding rather than your own doing. This can also allow you to recognize the unhelpful thoughts and beliefs regarding the appearance of your body that are rooted in biased, nonsensical cultural norms.
Tip #2: Curate your social media exposure
- How does the media you consume make you feel?
- How does it impact you?
- Does it do more harm than good?
These questions are something you may want to dive into, especially if you struggle with body image and eating disorders. As mentioned above, social media is great for promoting ideas and practices like those rooted in diet culture.
“Influencers” contribute to your critical thoughts about your body
Many celebrities and influencers promote weight loss products that they have never even used. It’s important to keep in mind that the fit and skinny celebrities you see online are photoshopped. They can afford a very expensive diet, doctors, procedures, and products that allow them to achieve naturally unattainable appearances.
And yet, even with awareness of how we are being deceived, it’s still difficult to think positively of our bodies when we are constantly exposed to unrealistic media. Try filtering out your feed as best you can by unfollowing the accounts that bring down your self-esteem. Maybe check out some accounts that promote positive body image. It also could be a good idea to take a break from social media altogether and see how that affects your overall well-being.
Tip #3: Practice self-compassion
Negative body image can stem from unkind, overcritical thoughts we internalize and think or say about ourselves. Being compassionate towards yourself can allow you to be more accepting of your body despite its imperfections.
Self-compassion can include something as simple as self-care. Taking care of your body is a good first step to learning to appreciate it. Self-care doesn’t have to include a 10-step skincare routine or structured exercise routine. A good place to start may be a regular shower, getting enough sleep, daily movement, taking some time to rest, or doing activities you enjoy.
A simple self-compassion exercise you can try right now:
You can cultivate self-compassion with specific exercises, such as self-compassion affirmations. A simple way to incorporate this is to lay your hands over your heart and say outloud to yourself, “May I be kind to myself. May I learn to accept myself as I am,” or any other kind expression you need to hear. It may sound and feel a little silly at first, but after some practice, you may start to really hear and abide by these phrases. For more self-compassion exercises and resources, feel free to check out self-compassion.org.
Tip #4: Find pieces of yourself and your body you like and appreciate
This can be physical attributes you like about your body, but more importantly, think of things outside of your appearance that you value about yourself. Maybe that’s pieces of your personality, skills you possess, or all of the activities your body allows you to take part in. Ask yourself:
- What are you proud of yourself for?
- Why do you value the things that you do?
Lean into these things and try to shift your focus away from criticism. Maybe try writing them down and posting them places you will see them to remind yourself of these things.
Tip #5: Move your body in ways that you enjoy
Movement and exercise are good for mental and physical health, but may also help you recognize and appreciate the things your body is capable of.
Move in ways that you enjoy, for example:
- Going for a morning walk or run,
- Hitting the gym
- HIIT workouts
Do whatever makes you feel good! This can help you recognize ways in which your body can bring you joy and help you appreciate what your body can do.
If you struggle with negative body image, whether you have an eating disorder or not, remember to be patient and kind to yourself.
It isn’t easy reframing the way you view and think about your body, but there are so many steps you can take to cultivate a healthier relationship with yourself that can result in a positive body image. Try implementing these tips every day and find out which ones work best for you!
Author: Blog post written by student intern, Ellie Rising