Part 1: How to Stop Hating Your Body and Start Loving Yourself
I’m too fat. I’m too skinny. My butt is too big. I have no curves.
How often have you heard these things from your friends? What about from yourself?
I imagine your response to friends and family is reassurance that their body is beautiful and they have nothing to worry about. But I’m guessing your response to yourself isn’t the same. So why the double-standard?
Body image, self-esteem, and self-worth in general are all things that people struggle with from time to time (some of us more than others). Where does this come from? The answer is likely complicated, but I believe that the media, and in particular social media, has contributed significantly to the decline in self-esteem in women and men.
A study done at Simon Fraser University found that women who used the internet more often were more likely to be dissatisfied with their bodies (Ghoussoub, 2017). Furthermore, a study in Ontario concluded that 30% of females and 25% of males between 10 and 14 years old reported that they had dieted in order to lose weight in the past (National Initiative for Eating Disorders, 2017). These numbers suggest that our self-image begins to decline at a young age and can persist into adulthood, for both women and men.
Think about when you were between the ages of 10 and 14 years old. I know for me, I was never happy with my body at that age. And looking back on photos now, it’s difficult for me to understand why – my body seemed perfectly normal.
Having said all that… what do we do about it? It’s difficult to pinpoint the cause of negative body image, as we have so many factors influencing us: the media, friends and family, how we were raised, the food industry, etc. But regardless of where those negative thoughts come from, there are a few things we can do to help.
Stop Trying to Compare
Social media is filled with success stories of weight loss, athletes, and models showing off their products and bodies to the world. While these stories and images can be inspiring, they can also lead to a great deal of comparisons, which can then lead to negative self-esteem.
If you find yourself saying “I wish I was more like him/her”, or “I’m not as good as him/her” while cruising social media, it might be a good idea to shift gears a little bit. Maybe try filtering what you see so that you see posts of people who can lift you up rather than making you feel down about yourself. This may be more body-positive blogs, or just accounts that focus less on body image and more on other values or interests that you have. Taking a break from social media altogether might be something to think about as well, as for some of us, the pressure to be like others and compare ourselves can become too much.
Remember, your journey is uniquely yours. No one else has been through what you’ve been through with the tools that you have, surrounded by the people you’re around. You have to decide what you want your journey to look like, and it doesn’t have to (and probably won’t) look like anyone else’s.
You are More than Just the Way You Look
Who are you? How would you describe yourself? You might include your age, your family, your occupation… do you include your weight? While we may not explicitly describe ourselves to others based on our weight, many people have their identity tied to their size.
Perhaps you’ve always seen yourself as the chubby one in your group, or you’ve always been known to be petite. We can get really fused to these ideas and it can be difficult to step away from that and envision ourselves as anything else.
Your identity is tied to a lot of different, least of which is likely your appearance. Whether you are tall, short, thin, or heavy-set, the important aspects of who you are are unlikely to change. So the next time you find yourself focusing on the negative aspects of your body, try refocusing to the positive aspects of your personality and who you are.
Having said that…
Appreciate Your Body
Our bodies are amazing things. From our digestive systems breaking down food and nutrients to fuel our bodies, to our musculoskeletal system that allows us to move around, we’re a lucky species!
We often neglect to focus on what our body can do for us, and instead focus on how our bodies look. Think about it, for most of us, our bodies allow us to: breathe automatically without thinking about it; digest a wide array of foods; fuel our bodies for intense exercise; support our bodies through walking, sitting, twisting, and other movements; grow a baby inside a woman’s body; and so much more!
These things are all amazing, and even if your body can’t do some of these, it can still do unbelievable things. Rather than focusing on how your body looks, remind yourself of what it can do for you, and what it’s capable of. Want to get stronger and be able to life your body weight? Great! Go for it. With some training, time, and effort, you can do that.
Instead of having goals that focus on how you look or the number on the scale, try for some goals related to your physical abilities, such as being able to walk or run a certain distance, lift a certain amount of weight, or be more flexible. For example, I’ve recently shifted my fitness goals from looking at the number on the scale, to working on my cardiovascular fitness, and I’m currently training to do a 10km run in August.
Reframe your Self-Talk
This is probably the hardest one. We are often so hard on ourselves, especially when it comes to our personal appearance, and we constantly put ourselves down. So how can you change that? Well, when we truly believe the negative things that we say about ourselves, it can be difficult.
The more that we put ourselves down, the less positive we feel, and the less likely we are to make changes to our routines in order to improve on our habits. Picture this: you’re on Instagram late at night, and see a model who you feel is more fit than you. You resolve to diet so you can be more like her. The next day someone brings donuts into the office, and you have one. You feel terrible after and criticize yourself for not being successful for even one day of the diet. You view the rest of the day as a write-off, because what’s the point anyways? Then that night you’re on Instagram again and the cycle continues. The worse we feel, the more we restrict, the more we restrict, the less realistic it is and the more likely we are to fail. The more that we fail, the more discouraged we get, etc. We have to be able to break this cycle, and it starts with our self-talk.
Think about how you talk to yourself when you look at your body. Would you talk to a friend in the same way? I’m guessing the answer to that is no. Why not? Is it because you don’t want to hurt their feelings? Because you think they’re wonderful regardless of how they look? Take some time to think about some of these things, and see if you can apply them to your own self talk.
Another tip that can be helpful is to repeat positive affirmations to yourself. Think about some of the things that you like about yourself; these can be general or specific. Repeat these things to yourself each day, and even more general things, such as “I am beautiful/handsome”.
Even if you don’t fully believe these things right away, they can be a powerful tool for giving yourself confidence.
Try out some of these tips to see if you can improve your relationship with your body, and if you can be kinder to yourself. It may take some time for these changes to take effect, but it may help to take some importance off of your appearance and instead put it on your abilities, values, and personality traits.
It’s great to be positive about your body. But what if you’re so positive about your body that you end up inadvertently reinforcing unhealthy habits? This can happen as well, and will be the topic of the next blog in this series. Stay tuned in April for its release!
Ghoussoub, M. (2017, February 20). Women with higher internet use report increased body dissatisfaction, study finds. Retrieved from CBC: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/women-with-higher-internet-use-report-increased-body-dissatisfaction-study-finds-1.3991513
National Initiative for Eating Disorders. (2017). Canadian Reearch on Eating Disorders. Toronto: NIED.
RP, MACP, CPT