Body Image. What a loaded subject, right? Many of my clients desire a positive body image, but what does positive body image mean? I’ll be using the over-arching definition that body image means your perceived sense of what you look like. Thus, positive body image would mean feeling good about your perceived sense of what you look like. In America, this usually means how beautiful you are, what you weigh and your size. However, I would like to honor the fact that certain cultural groups in this country seem to have less of an issue with body image than others. Unfortunately, for the general population, body image ranks high on the list of life concerns.
Society’s Role in Body Image Development
Society has brainwashed us to be inflexible with what beautiful is and isn’t. We can all agree that we start getting these messages very early on in life. Think about it for a second, Disney princesses are typically very beautiful by societal standards. And the villains? They’re almost always hideous. I do think that boys and girls get different messages from society, but the main idea is true no matter what. You’re not good enough.
According to Meaghan Ramsey, former Global Director of the Dove Self-Esteem Project, around 10,000 people are googling, “am I ugly?” every single month1. Data is showing that 8 out of 10 women in America don’t like what they see when they look in the mirror. And who knows how many of these ladies are actually seeing their true image. Studies show that up to 50% of women in this country have a distorted body image.
You Are Not a Statistic
I’m not claiming that there is one single way to work on your body image. Many different tools are out there for people, and I encourage you to try ones that you think will best suit you. Later, I’ll even mention some of those tools that I have found to be extremely helpful with my clients. However, I believe there is one critical step that we tend to skip over. Most people seem to be striving for POSITIVE body image right out of the gate. I agree that a more positive body image is great for the long term, although, in the beginning, I encourage people to consider forming a body image. Not negative, not positive. Just a body image.
I phrase it like this: if you want to love the person on the outside then you have to love the person on the inside. If you want to love the person on the inside, you have to know the authentic person on the inside. You have to know the self apart from the values of society. Apart from the values of your family. You can use as many tools as you want to try to find positive body image, but unless you understand the self and honor the true self you will run the risk of never truly finding positive body image.
Body Image Resilience
When a person is true to their value system, they build what I’ve come to understand as body image resilience. Body image resilience is a term coined by Lindsay and Lexie Kite, founders of Beauty Redefined. It means our ability to become stronger because of the difficulties and shame that we experience in our bodies, not in spite of those things2.
Let me give a personal example to explain.
I’m an American with strong Eastern European heritage and my skin tone is rather pale. I do not tan well at all. For real, I went to an hour-long softball game once in the eighth grade and burned so bad that I had water blisters on my arms and thighs. I always felt extremely self-conscious of this because our society highly favors tan skin. I actually started tanning in a tanning bed when I was 14 and tanned for 12 years. When I was 26-years-old, I noticed three sun spots on my face. I remember looking at my reflection and thinking, “Aimee, if you don’t knock this off you could get cancer” and my next thought was “Is this worth getting cancer for?!” I haven’t been back to a tanning bed, which I feel really good about. It’s much more in line with my personal values about health.
However, I’ve got to tell you that I’ve run into quite a few waves of criticism from others about my decision. The first summer after breaking up with tanning beds, I remember coming out to a pool and having someone say, “Put your sunglasses on, Aimee’s coming out!” and “You’re so pasty you look like you’re glowing”. I wish I was kidding. It was hard at first, I remember there were urges to go back to tanning beds. But I didn’t, and that felt very empowering. My resilience was just starting to bloom, which gave me more confidence to live within my value system in other areas. I had started a foundation, which made positive body image tools much easier to utilize.
Change the Way You View Your Body
There are many tools available which will promote positive body image. Here are just a few to get the ball rolling…
1. Surround yourself with others who talk positively about their bodies
I can’t stress this one enough. Take a second to evaluate who you spend time with. If you surround yourself with people who are criticizing themselves, it puts you at a higher risk for doing the same. I’m not suggesting cutting everyone out who tends to be negative in this way. However, I do recommend reflecting on how much time is spent with people like this. It might be time to start setting some boundaries.
2. Time to clean your closet
Here’s my encouragement to you: I truly believe you should be able to walk into your closet without the lights on and pick a top and bottoms and know that you will feel comfortable. No judgment if the pieces match or not! All too often we keep clothing in our closets that consciously or subconsciously make us feel bad about ourselves. We let cloth and thread dictate how we feel.
3. Give your scale an extended vacation
Or just throw it out. Again, here’s an object with no heart or soul, and we give it the power to dictate how we will feel about ourselves. No thanks.
4. Clean up your social media
A great place to start is to consider how many social media platforms you participate in and then to go through all the people you follow or are friends with. Do these people make you feel good about yourself or not? This is just skimming the surface people, we can target social media apps all day long, but in the long term, I suggest people consider their relationship with their entire smartphone. Baby steps, baby steps.
5. Engage in self-care
I have to mention again that I think these skills are more effective when you have already started to figure out what body image means to YOU. When you give yourself permission to be you, you open up the possibility of figuring out what you value in ALL areas of life. This includes self-care. There are a lot of stereotypical ways that we think of self-care, but perhaps you benefit more from non-traditional ways of self-care. Ways that align more with your values. If you want the most effective ways to self-care, you have to know yourself pretty well. Embrace who you are!
Don’t get me wrong, the body image road is not linear. Giving myself the permission and freedom to start the journey and not have to reach heights of positivity right out of the gate was the toughest and most rewarding step. You can do this, no one knows you better than you!
Emotion and emotional expression play a fundamental role in our daily lives.
Let me paint a picture for you. The average member of today’s society has become immersed in technology, navigating life behind the confines of computers and smartphones, and learning more and more how to disregard reality. Not only that, we have developed an ability to sit in a crowded room and mentally “check-out” unaware of what is going on around us, our attention captivated by the digital device in front of us. This is how we communicate in the 21st century.
My Advice to Clients
How to Survive (And Thrive) During the Holiday Season
1. Identify your values
2. Set boundaries
3. Limit social media use
4. Create a coping skill tool belt
It’s 4:45 pm on a Friday. After a particularly long, grueling work week, all you can think about is how nice it will feel to spend some much-needed downtime with your friends. As you begin powering down your computer, you notice a new email in your inbox from your boss. You click open the email to find a short and extremely vague message…
As humans, most of us would like to believe that we are capable of making sound, rational decisions even during times of stress or uncertainty. In reality, research shows that many of our decisions are tainted by past emotional investments, leading us to employ flawed logic when trying to make important decisions. One bias, in particular, referred to as – sunk cost fallacy – is particularly problematic, often causing us to make decisions that are not in our best interest.