What's Your Body Image?

Are you punishing yourself for being imperfect?

Getty Images/Tony Latham
Do you love your body? I can hear you saying, "Well, I like my arms but my thighs are too big and I have this spare tire and..." No, that isn't loving your body. Having a healthy body image means you feel good inside your own skin, despite any flaws you may have. Sounds good, but how do you make that happen? Start by understanding what body image is and how you can change it.

What is Body Image?

  • How you feel about how you look
  • How you see yourself
  • How you think others see you
  • How you feel in your body.

Body image is influenced more by self-esteem than how we actually look. Imagine it like this: I have some jeans that fit me perfectly and, whenever I wear them, my husband says "Those aren't very flattering." After I kick him in the shins for saying such a thing, I realize he's right--I have other pants that are more flattering. But, I feel like I look good when I put them on and because of that, I don't care how I look to others. I'm convinced it's possible to feel this way all the time, even without the jeans and you can too.

Are You Punishing Yourself?

Talk to people around you and you'll find that most are unhappy with their bodies. Even worse, they may punish themselves for not having the perfect body by:

  • Denying themselves food
  • Obsessing about eating or not eating and never enjoying a meal
  • Obsessing about exercising or not exercising instead of enjoying being active
  • Following diets that never work
  • Worrying about how they look rather than their health and quality of life

Wouldn't it be nice to love your body so much that you want to take care of it? To exercise and eat right, just because it feels good? Wouldn't it be amazing if you were comfortable in your own skin and didn't give a hoot about what other people think?

It sounds impossible, but it isn't and you don't even need a perfect pair of jeans to do it.

Next page: Improve Your Body Image

Working on your body image is a long-term job. Many of us have spent years comparing ourselves to models and Hollywood stars and we're so used to putting ourselves down that it's a difficult habit to break. You can start with these steps:

  1. Stop nitpicking. When you pick your flaws apart with all the intensity of a brain surgeon, you only increase your anxiety at not being perfect. Try to see your body as a whole and concentrate on what you love about yourself. Start by taking a walk and feel how your body moves. Swing your arms, feel the power in your legs and take a moment to appreciate how strong your body is.
  1. Eat. Food isn't the enemy and, in fact, eating regularly will actually help you with your weight loss goals. Remind yourself that you really can control yourself and eat healthy. Start by cleaning out your kitchen and getting rid of foods that are too tempting to have around. Then stock up on healthy options so you always have something to nibble on.
  2. Get real. No one is perfect and, unless you're at a model photo shoot, you'll notice that perfect bodies are few and far between. The real world is not Hollywood. Start by doing some people-watching. Find a quiet place where you can sit and watch people walk by and notice all the different sizes and shapes you see. We're all unique and that's what makes us interesting.
  3. If you can't say anything nice... Think of the negative things you say to yourself each day. Would you say that to your best friend? Your child? Your worst enemy? Write these thoughts down and, each time you think them, remind yourself you don't deserve that kind of treatment anymore than your friends do.
  1. Find the perfect jeans. Okay, so this one's pretty tough. But, filling your wardrobe with clothes that make you feel good can go a long way towards improving your body image. Start by going through your closet and giving away anything that doesn't fit well or that makes you feel worse about your body.
  1. Exercise. It's a proven fact that people who exercise have a higher self-esteem. The more you exercise, the more you'll build confidence and appreciate your body. Try to get some activity every day and you'll boost your mood as well.
  2. Lighten Up. Are your imperfections so important that they deserve all that attention? When you find yourself obsessing about your body, ask yourself how important it really is. Remind yourself to stop taking things so seriously because, trust me, no one else is.
  3. Take it with a grain of salt. The media shows perfect bodies all the time but that perfection is usually due to lighting, tailored clothes, professional make up artists and airbrushing. It's all a fantasy. Put a moratorium on celebrity magazines for awhile and focus on the real people in your life.
  4. Get a life. If you obsess about your body, you probably spend a lot of time talking about it. If you have a well-rounded life, you'll have interesting things to talk about instead of the 2.31 pounds you gained. Start by getting back to a hobby you've given up or just doing something you truly enjoy - reading a book, walking the dog, seeing a movie, etc.
  1. Treat yourself well. You only get one body and one life. Imagine yourself at 80 years old - do you think you'll care about the size of your thighs? Most likely, you'll be so glad they still work that you'll thank them--saddlebags and all. Each moment that passes is your life--how do you want to spend it?

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