Developing a positive body image— or feeling positive about your body no matter what it looks like— is key to health, happiness, progress, and empowerment. When you feel self-conscious, it can be hard to focus on anything else or make healthy choices for yourself.

If you have negative feelings towards your body or appearance, you are not alone.

Around 90% of women say that they are unhappy with their bodies. Although women are especially affected by negative body image, men also report body dissatisfaction.

This Byte will present 5 steps for redefining body image , along with a practical game plan for each step.

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Recognize

Be aware of the many messages directed toward you that focus on beauty and physical appearance. Recognize how many of your thoughts and actions revolve around body image.

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The physical beauty standards we see represented in the media are always out of reach. We often see one version of "beauty": tall, young, thin, white but tan skin (or light skin for people of color) and skin that is blemish/wrinkle/pore-free. This sends the message that our value is in our physical appearance above all else. But here’s the truth: your reflection does not define your worth!

Game Plan

Take a break. Going on a media break can help you recognize all the appearance-based messages directed at you. Take a day, a week, or even a month to avoid as much media as you possibly can. Without this stream of idealized images, you become more sensitive to those that are unrealistic or that trigger body anxiety. You can then unsubscribe, unlike, unfollow, turn off, and turn away from media that distorts your ideas about body image and worth.

Quiz

Focusing on improving your appearance will lead to a more positive body image.

Reflect

Consider the impact that unrealistic body image ideals have had on your life.

Our media-driven culture relies heavily on objectification– or presenting individuals as body parts rather than as imperfect whole humans. This leads us to constantly monitor our bodies for what they look like to others. This preoccupation with what we look like, (even when we’re all alone) leads to feelings of low self-worth.

At an extreme, this can lead to disordered eating, opting out of social activities, self-harm, and dangerous and expensive cosmetic surgery.

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Game Plan

Take inventory of your beauty habits and routine, including the time, energy and money you spend on your appearance. Reflect on whether any of that time, effort, or money could be better spent on another activity or contribution to the world. Consider where your thoughts are as you go about your regular life.

Are you picturing what you look like while trying to exercise or grocery shop or ride the bus? Reflect on the fact that you are capable of much more than looking good.

How would your life be different if thinking about appearance didn’t take up so much of your mental energy?

Redefine

Redefine your idea of a healthy body image for yourself in more empowering ways.

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One powerful way to decrease self-consciousness and love your body more is through your own physical power. Your body is an instrument to be used for good in the world, and not a just visual ornament to be admired by others. You have the power to decide what a healthy body looks like. If your current definition isn't working for you, change it! Value your body for what it can do rather than what it looks like.

Game Plan

Skip goals that are appearance or numbers-based such as weight measurements and instead set a fitness goal. Base your goals on how you feel and what your body can do, rather than just what it looks like.

Run, swim, bike, or walk faster/longer than ever before. Do a certain number of sit-ups, new fitness classes, weight-lifting regimens – whatever you can and enjoy doing consistently. Work towards your goal with a friend and experience the rush of adrenaline together as your health improves in the process!

Quiz

Which of the following goals will help improve your body image?

Resist

Fight harmful messages that damage your body image. Use positive words instead.

We have the power to fight against impossible body image standards and the ability to define a positive body image on our own terms. Reject harmful ideas and replace them with messages that empower others and yourself. This is a continuous process that you can practice everyday.

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Game Plan

Speak up within your circles of influence about harmful messages that distort our ideas about body image. Resist making appearance-based comments about strangers, celebrities, family members, and even yourself.

Instead, use your words for good by complimenting others about their non-appearance-based strengths. Your words can have a major impact on those around you (and yourself) as you build body positivity.

Quiz

Complimenting others on their weight loss is a great way to promote positive body image in others.

Rise With Resilience

Build resilience in response to painful body image disruptions or setbacks.

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Resilience is the ability to bounce back from challenges in your life and become stronger. Apply this idea to body image setbacks such as a hurtful comment about your appearance, weight loss/gain, a health issue or injury, etc.

You always have a choice in how you respond to a setback, so why not respond in ways that will make you feel better about yourself?

Game Plan

  • Social Power: Break the silence surrounding negative body image. Unite with others to promote body positivity. Be vulnerable and share your pain to make connections that empower you and another person.

  • Mental Power: Critically consider the ways cultural ideals and media messages can warp how we see our own beauty and worth. Conscious awareness of these negative messages is the only way to actively resist them.

  • Spiritual Power: Access this by meditation, prayer, solitude, yoga, etc., to tap into the truth that your life has meaning and purpose beyond living as a decoration for the world.

  • Physical Power: Gain a more powerful sense of control and self-worth by using your body as an instrument for good rather than an ornament to be admired.

Take Action

Let’s recap your path to positive body image, at whatever pace you choose to tackle these steps.

  1. RECOGNIZE the many outward messages that harm your body self-image. Recognize how many of your thoughts and actions revolve around appearance. 

  2. REFLECT on what impact narrow beauty ideals have had on your life and take inventory of the time, money and energy you dedicate to appearance concerns.

  3. REDEFINE body image standards for yourself in more empowering ways by consciously focusing on how you feel and what your body can do. Set fitness and activity goals and skip the weight and appearance goals!

  4. RESIST harmful messages by turning away from any ideals that trigger body anxiety. Speak up about harmful media and talk to friends and family about more than their outward body image.

  5. RISE with RESILIENCE by responding to body image challenges in ways that exercise your mental, social, spiritual, and physical power, rather than distracting, hiding, or fixing yourself.

Relate to your body from the inside - how it feels and what it can do - not just how it appears on the outside. When you can appreciate your body as an instrument to do good rather than an ornament to look good, no one else's view will have the power to define or destroy your body image.

Which of these 5 steps will be your first on your journey to body positivity?

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This Byte has been authored by

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Margaret Proffitt

Learning Designer | Travel Junkie | Book Lover