What do you feel when you look in the mirror? Gratitude? Acceptance? Contentment? Or disappointment and shame?
Poor body image is an issue that many of us struggle with. It doesn't matter how many articles we read that tell us it's what's on the inside that counts; standing in front of a harshly-lit changing room mirror can make us feel defeated.
Because body image, how we do and should look, envelops us.
Our first assessment of people is based on how they look. Advertising preys on self-doubt, encouraging us to perceive a problem (our body size, skin tone, dress sense) and then gratifyingly provides the solution (weight loss and muscle toning programs/equipment/food-like-substances, make-up/cleansing regimens/spa treatments/laser clinics... and clothes. Lots of clothes).
And we can be so cruel. To ourselves and to others, with a particular, special focus on women. It doesn't matter if you're fat, skinny, muscly, soft, hairy or bald... there is a brand of body shaming to fit your type.
It really annoys me.
Culturally, we have this perverse notion that poor body image is a sign of modesty. It's not. And people, especially women, who accept and appreciate the way they look can be perceived as narcissistic. They're not.
Feeling badly about the way we look can be a devastating blow to our overall self-confidence, affecting multiple aspects of our lives. Which is why it is important to re-frame the way we view, think and talk about our bodies.
The following are 10 tips that helped me get over my body shame and start genuinely appreciating this life vessel I inhabit. None of them, I repeat, none of them, involve taking a mirror selfie in a bikini.
1. Avoid offending media.
What we read and watch has a huge impact on how we feel about ourselves. Because of this, I am very particular about the magazines and websites I will look at. Fashion and gossip media are right out. I avoid TV programs that are blatantly image-focused. I try to avoid ads. Any shows I do watch are online and I've installed an ad-blocker.
2. Consciously seek out media that reinforces positive self-image.
I gravitate towards travel, wellness and entrepreneurial media and magazines. I love reading about the interesting things that people, and women in particular, accomplish.
3. Stay away from shopping centers and department stores.
Those places are insecurity dens. Everything from the lighting, to the music, to the shiny floors and the golden ratio clothes mannequins is designed to make you feel dirty and inadequate. It's a highly successful form of manipulation. Because when we feel inferior, we are much more pliable to the whispering suggestions of display windows. Shopping centers aren't only sucking your money, they are also sink holes for body confidence.
4. Avoid conversations about appearance.
Whenever someone starts to talk about the way they look in a disparaging way, I deflect. I prefer to focus on how the person is feeling. Have they been sleeping well? Have they been feeling fitter and stronger since they started exercising? How are their energy levels? Getting caught up in a conversation about the way someone else looks, whether they have put on weight and so on, inevitably leads to thoughts on our own appearance. Which can be unhelpful if we're trying to feel better about ourselves.
5. Touch your body gently.
Think about the last time you got a haircut and the hairdresser massaged your head. Or the last time you got a spa treatment. Or your obliging lover gave you a shoulder rub. Or the last time someone gave you a really good sink-into-it hug. Touch is an incredibly powerful way of reinforcing the way you feel about your body. And if you're touched gently, with love and care, you will feel incredible. So, try to practice gentle love and care with yourself. Wash your hair the way the hairdresser did. Wash your face the way a beauty therapist would. Give yourself a massage when you're applying moisturizer. It feels good. And it reinforces a positive, kind relationship with your body.
Meditation is an incredibly effective tool for clearing away unhelpful thought cycles. 10 minutes. 5 minutes. 1. Whatever. Just sit, close your eyes and breathe. If you want you can breathe on a body acceptance affirmation such as "I love and accept my body just as it is right now."
7. Eat respectfully.
Eating respectfully means accepting and being mindful of the nutrients that your body requires to function. It means eating plenty of good food and ditching sugary and pretend foods that compromise our digestive health, our hormonal balance, our mood and energy levels.
8. Not obsessively.
The flip side of eating respectfully is to move past the binge-fast guilt cycle. If you eat something unhealthy, please don't punish yourself or try to restrict caloric intake. Healthy eating and body respect is not about food deprivation. It's about food celebration.
9. Replace a negative thought with a positive one.
When you look in the mirror, try to replace any negative thoughts that are pushing their way through like an unwanted whitehead with an affirming thought about the way you look or feel. Replace a disapproving scowl, with a confident smile.
10. Find a purpose.
People who have purpose are too busy getting stuff done to worry about how they look. In the end, creative expression, passionate parenting, effective leadership and growing the best-goddamn-tomatoes-in-the-neighborhood is far more satisfying than making sure you look good in an outfit at all times.
My final word on the matter is that positive self-image is a habit, not an attribute. I don't always feel great about every aspect of the way I look, but if I'm feeling less than supremely confident, I pull my shoulders back, hold my head up and fake it 'til I make it.
How do you feel about your body? Do you have any additional body-positive tips to share?
Linsey is a writer, a law student and a passionate believer in the power of people to radically alter the direction of their own lives and of the planet, simply by ending the guilt, anger and self-flagellation and introducing bountiful amounts of self-lovin'. You can find more of her stumblings and moments of light over at linseyhart.com.