When you catch a glimpse of your reflection in a window, or see yourself in a new picture that a friend posts on social media, what thoughts immediately come to mind?
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Are they generally positive (I look so happy!), or more negative (Well, at least everyone else looks good)?
If they are positive, that’s great! But if they’re not, you’re not alone. Many of us struggle to feel happy with the way that we look, especially when it comes to our bodies.
While getting older may bring with it a certain sense of self-acceptance and the ability to reject the unrealistic beauty ideals that we see around us, aging also brings with it a new set of challenges to our self-esteem. You know — the messages and products that encourage us to “minimize those wrinkles” and “cover up those grays.”
“You can be reading a magazine and on one page there’s an article about how to love yourself the way you are, and then you flip the page and there’s an ad for a diet plan or an anti-aging cream,” psychologist Ninoska Peterson, PhD, points out.
All of those messages can be discouraging. But making some tweaks to your thought patterns can help you get back on the road to a positive body image. Start with these ideas from Dr. Peterson.
Show some appreciation
A good place to start is to refocus your self-talk. Rather than nitpicking over the appearance of your body, try recognizing and appreciating the amazing things that it does for you every day. Appreciate that your strong arms allow you to carry your child and the diaper bag and the groceries up the stairs in one trip. Or that your skilled hands prepared an amazing dinner.
Record the positives
Here’s a little homework assignment: Write down five things you love about your personality. Easy, right? You’re a great listener and incredibly giving when it comes to helping others.
Now list five things you love about your body. “For most people, it’s easier to do the first, but it’s equally important to do the second,” Dr. Peterson says. Putting your feelings into written words (the old fashioned way!) helps you process your thoughts and commit things to memory.
Create little reminders
Dr. Peterson suggests writing positive affirmations, goals or words of gratitude on sticky notes or note cards and putting them in places where you’ll see them throughout the day – the bathroom mirror, your wallet or by your computer at work. Remind yourself of your positive qualities, skills and goals.
Commit to doing things that make you feel good
Life is about so much more than how we look. Yet, how we feel about our bodies can dictate our mood and our behaviors. Have you ever canceled plans when you’re feeling bad about yourself? Resist the urge. Spending time with friends who aren’t body focused may actually help quiet your own body dissatisfaction.
Occupy your mind
“We have another exercise that asks people to live their life as if they had 12 months, 5 days, one hour or 30 seconds to live,” Dr. Peterson says.
“In these circumstances, you would most likely focus on people, places and things that you love and that make you feel good – not on how your body looks.”
Don’t fear the mirror
If you have unhappy thoughts about how you look, you might find yourself dodging anything that shows your reflection. But, “avoidance breeds avoidance,” Dr. Peterson says. Ignoring those unhappy feelings won’t make them go away. She suggests noticing those negative thoughts that come to mind when you see yourself in the mirror, and applying the above tactics to turn them around.
Shut down the comparison game
Comparing your own body to others’ may be the quickest way to send your self-esteem plummeting. Instead, objectively admire the good qualities you notice in other people, and make a point to compliment them – it will make both of you feel good.
Feeling good at all sizes
It’s beneficial to love your and appreciate body no matter your shape or size.
In fact, if you’re overweight and taking steps toward a healthier lifestyle, research suggests that’s even more of a reason to work on building a healthy body image.
In one study of girls who were overweight, those with the highest levels of body satisfaction gained less weight after 10 years than those who were least satisfied with their bodies. Another study found that women who have obesity who improved their body image were also better able to self-regulate their eating.
There’s no wrong time to work on feeling more comfortable in your own skin.
Need more help?
If you ever feel that your negative body image is affecting you in a distressing or disruptive way, Dr. Peterson recommends bringing it up to your primary care physician. They can help you find individual or group treatment to help you work through those negative thoughts and start embracing your body just the way it is.