Building a Positive Body Image

One of the biggest struggles our youth is facing revolves around body image.  With warmer weather just around the corner, there seems to be constant pressure to look a certain way.  You often hear people talking about how they are exercising more during these spring months to get their “summer body.”  What a lot of people do not realize is how this affects others in a negative way.  For some people, positive body image is something that they really need to work on and something that does not come easily.  One of the first steps in the process of gaining positive body image is to understand what it means.

In simple terms, body image is how you see yourself when you see your reflection.  It can also be how you picture yourself in your mind.  There are a few things that go into our perception of ourselves.  First, it is what you believe to be true about the way you look.  This could be memories you have of yourself, things people have said about you, or simply assumptions of how you believe you are viewed to others.  The second part of this has to do with how you feel in your body.  It is not always how you think you look, but also how your body feels when you move.

Negative vs. Positive Body Image:

Negative body image, what we want to steer away from, consists of distorted thinking. With distorted thinking, people tend to see their body in a different way than others see it.  They often attach labels to their body and perceive it to be unattractive. Feelings of self-doubt and a lack of self-confidence is almost always associated with this.

Positive body image encompasses a true sense of your body and what it looks and feels like. People that reach the point of positive body image are able to appreciate their body for all that it does for them.  They are also able to acknowledge that there is much more to their character than their body appearance.  The feeling of confidence and comfort in your own skin is a true example of positive body image.

Going from negative body image to positive body image is not something that happens overnight.  Most of the time it consists of hard work and dedication to becoming a better you!  

How to Achieve Positive Change: 

The National Eating Disorders Association has compiled a list of steps that can help you achieve this type of positive change in your life.  These steps can be used as a first step in reaching your positive body image goals.  However, keep in mind the importance of seeking help from a professional when these issues begin to affect your day-to-day life and begin too difficult to deal. 

Listed below are steps given by the National Eating Disorder Association that you can utilize in order to achieve a better sense of self and a more positive body image.

1. Appreciate all that your body can do.  Every day your body carries you closer to your dreams. Celebrate all of the amazing things your body does for you—running, dancing, breathing, laughing, dreaming, etc.

2. Keep a top-ten list of things you like about yourself—things that aren’t related to how much you weigh or what you look like.  Read your list often.  Add to it as you become aware of more things you like about yourself.

3. Remind yourself that “true beauty” is not simply on the surface.  When you feel good about yourself and who you are, you carry yourself with a sense of confidence, self-acceptance, and openness that makes you beautiful regardless of whether you physically look like a supermodel. Beauty is a state of mind, not a state of body. 

4. Look at yourself as a whole person.  When you see yourself in a mirror or in your mind, choose not to focus on specific body parts.  See yourself as you want others to see you–as a whole person.

5. Surround yourself with positive people.  It is easier to feel good about yourself and your body when you are around others who are supportive and who recognize the importance of liking yourself just as you naturally are.

6. Shut down those voices in your head that tell you your body is not “right” or that you are a “bad” person.  You can overpower those negative thoughts with positive ones.  The next time you start to tear yourself down, build yourself back up with a few quick affirmations that work for you.  

7. Wear clothes that are comfortable and that make you feel good about your body.  Work with your body, not against it.

8. Become a critical viewer of social and media messages.  Pay attention to images, slogans, or attitudes that make you feel bad about yourself or your body.  Protest these messages:  write a letter to the advertiser or talk back to the image or message. 

9. Do something nice for yourself--something that lets your body know you appreciate it.  Take a bubble bath, make time for a nap, find a peaceful place outside to relax.

10. Use the time and energy that you might have spent worrying about food, calories, and your weight to do something to help others.  Sometimes reaching out to other people can help you feel better about yourself and can make a positive change in our world.

Author: Bianca Marcu, MA

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