Messages about “getting the perfect beach body” and “it’s time to lose that extra weight for bathing suit season” often flood social media, TV, and radio each year when summer rolls around. Numerous studies link body dissatisfaction (for both women and men) to mass media. We have been conditioned to believe our self-worth comes from our physical appearance and this can skew our own body image.
Societal norms have been born out of “diet culture,” a $60 billion dollar industry that continues to convince society that the “perfect body” is the key to being likable and successful. Diet culture continues to reinforce the irrational belief that your value as a person is determined by the shape of your body.
Body-positive messaging, however, struggles to overcome these harmful norms and encourage a positive body image.
What is Body Image?
Body image is how you perceive your own body and what it looks like. It includes what you believe about what you look like, including assumptions, generalizations, and emotional feelings. Body image also includes how you feel about your body shape, height, weight, how you move, and more. All of these aspects of body image can be affected by society and the messaging put out about how people should feel and view their bodies. Having a healthy body image where we’re not too negative about ourselves is important to our mental health!
What is Negative Body Messaging?
As a therapist, I specialize in those struggling with eating disorders, poor body image, or both. I am all too familiar with the negative body messages people, and especially women, hear day in and day out. “You’re fat,” “You ate too much today,” “You need to lose those last 10 lbs,” and “I am never going to be good enough,” might sound all too familiar.
Although it may seem easy to spot negative body image, there are some signs to help tell if you or someone else is struggling with body image issues. Some signs of negative body image include obsessively looking at yourself in the mirror, making negative comments about your own body or comparing yourself with others, frequent feelings of envy for others’ appearances or body type, and generally feeling like your body isn’t good enough.
Your self-esteem and belief that you are worth more than your physical appearance can be harmed by these body-shaming messages. Finding peace and a positive body image can feel impossible while being surrounded by these messages or being plagued by these thoughts yourself. Unfortunately, this negativity is reinforced multiple times a day through magazines in the checkout line, social media, daily conversation, and beyond.
What is Body Positivity and How Do You Work Toward it?
Body positivity goes beyond what your body looks like physically. This positivity comes from several different factors, including:
- Believing in yourself — when you believe in yourself, you might not need the constant reassurance to validate your decision-making. You own a sense of confidence that no one can take away from you.
- Trusting your body — when you trust your body, you trust that taking care of your body means it’s going to take care of you.
- Feeling proud of what you accomplish each day — this may sound silly, but feeling proud of yourself is leads to feeling positive about your body. When you feel proud you feel accomplished, strong, and believe in yourself.
- Having a happy and balanced relationship with food and exercise — when you don’t feel like you have to control what you are (or aren’t) eating, and you don’t hold the belief you have to stick to a workout schedule no matter what, a balanced relationship with food and exercise is much easier.
Tips for Creating Body Positivity
Now that we’ve established what body positivity is, here are some tips for creating body positivity in your day-to-day life:
Replacing negative thoughts
Although it can be difficult to replace negative thoughts, being mindful and aware of those thoughts can help make a habit of challenging them. For example, reminding yourself of things like: “I am going to do my best today and that’s enough,” “It’s ok to skip the gym tonight if I’m too tired,” and “I don’t have to order the salad, I can order what I am feeling hungry for,” can help diminish negative thoughts about your body.
Letting go of the ‘shoulds’
Pay attention to how often you are saying “should” and “shouldn’t” to yourself. “Should” statements are full of judgment, potentially setting you up to feel like you are not good enough or have failed at something. “Shouldn’t” statements can keep you from doing what is best for yourself physically and mentally.
Permission to feel proud
Practice allowing yourself to fully feel proud about something you accomplished and own it. This remains true for accomplishments of any size, like just getting through a tough day.
Find something each day to express gratitude for. Research has found that being grateful and practicing gratitude increases your overall well-being. It decreases the chance of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Gratitude can increase your satisfaction with life and allow you to experience an increase in happiness. Practicing gratitude can influence how positively you feel about yourself.
Although we started off talking about “bathing suit season” and the impact of societal messages, body positivity is an important practice throughout the year. Recognizing how society continues to impact how we feel about ourselves and being aware of negative thoughts is a huge step forward toward finding peace.
Body positivity is about loving and appreciating yourself everyday. It means talking kindly to yourself, listening to what your body is telling you, and fully believing in yourself. Doing this year round can help you feel happier and more positive in every season. It’s about simply being comfortable being YOU. And remember, there’s no wrong way to have a body.
Body positivity can be hard to develop, though, if you’ve been struggling with body image issues. Finding a therapist who specializes in body image issues or eating disorders can help you develop strategies to think more kindly about yourself and be more body positive.