How to Improve Your Body Image
Body image has got to be one of the hardest things to work on. It is ingrained in us from a very young age to not only focus on our body, but to focus on everybody’s else’s body as well. On top of that, we are also taught that it’s NORMAL to hate your body. No one is shocked or appalled when some one brings up a part of their body they hate and absolutely tears it apart – in fact, usually, everybody else just chimes in!
Even though this is normal, it is definitely not helpful. We are bombarded with enough negative diet-y messages throughout the day, and for us to also be sending hundreds of messages to ourselves is way too much to handle. Think of every thigh squeeze, twist and turn in the mirror, negative word you think to yourself, and every step onto the scale as an insult to yourself. How many insults are you sending a day? 20? 50? 100? Imagine insulting somebody you love FIFTY times a day. You would never do that! Imagine the damage you would be doing to that person. That’s the damage that is being done to you and your psyche when you send constant insults to yourself.
This isn’t to make you feel bad. Remember, this is what is considered NORMAL in our society. You’re abnormal if you don’t chime in on the body-hating conversation in the breakroom. But it doesn’t have to be this way. It is hard, but it is possible to break the habit of body-checking and completely free up your mind from focusing all day long on what your body looks like. Here are some ways to do that.
1. Stop stepping on the scale.
What helpful information does that number give you? Is that number dictating how you will eat that day, move that day, feel that day? If so, does that ever feel helpful?
If you truly don’t care or feel like it doesn’t affect you, then great, why are you even keeping a scale around?
The number on the scale is an external source of information. The more external noise you have, the harder it is to listen to your internal cues. I’m sure you’ve had days where you felt amazing, your clothes felt good, you were proud of the way you were listening to your body, and then you stepped on the scale and that changed everything.
If you’re not ready to completely get rid of it, how about stepping on it less? Or, putting it somewhere out of reach or having some one hide it for you? Or, before you step on the scale, take a few moments to journal about what feelings you’re having as you desire to step on. You can still weigh yourself, but it may be super helpful to see what is going on that’s leading you to desire weighing yourself in that moment.
2. Reduce body checking
Body checking is the act of looking at your own body or some one else’s and analyzing it. With your own body, this can be literally pinching your skin, sucking in your stomach, standing in front of the mirror for awhile, watching your body’s reflection as you walk past a window, or any other form of overanalyzing your body in a negative way. You can also body check others, which would be looking at other women up and down and judging the way they look, either positively or negatively. Either way though, it’s negative, because you’re either saying something negative about their body, or saying something “positive” (wow they have amazing legs) but then comparing their body to yours which becomes negative (I wish my legs would look like that, then I could wear shorts like hers).
So how do you stop body checking?
You have to literally train yourself to stop. When you walk by a window, mirror, or any other reflection, avert your eyes. Keep them completely looking forward rather than turning to look. If you have to walk towards the reflection, pick a point to look at that isn’t part of your body and focus on that. If it’s part of your routine to stand in front of the mirror naked before getting into the shower, break that routine. Get undressed right in front of the shower, facing away from the mirror if possible, and get in. Cover your mirror if you have to! There is absolutely no helpful information that comes from staring at your body. The same goes for staring at other people’s bodies. Focus on their eyes and face, and stop yourself from looking downward. Physically turn away if you have to.
This is going to take some practice. If you find yourself body checking, stop, and then quickly chat with yourself about why that happened. What triggered that body check? Are your pants feeling tight and that made you squeeze your stomach? Did it send you into a downward spiral? If you notice that while lounging on your couch, your legs sprawled out in front of you are distracting – cover them up with a blanket. Or maybe you constantly stare down at your stomach and grab your skin. Put a pillow in front of your stomach. I’m not encouraging you to hide these body parts because they are disgusting and need to be hidden, but rather because while you work on learning to tolerate your body, it’s important to minimize the noise. If you hate your stomach, you won’t learn to tolerate it by staring at it. The goal is to get to a point where you don’t even notice it. But for now, cover it if necessary.
3. Wear clothes that fit
This is one really good practice to help you settle into your here and now body. I know your body may not be where you want it to be, and I know that you may be really frustrated at the thought of having to buy all new clothes. However, I often hear people say that they want to be able to not think about their body, yet at the same time they are squeezing themselves into the size they think they should be. No wonder you can’t stop thinking about wanting to make your stomach smaller - your jeans are literally cutting into your skin and sending you a constant reminder! Imagine what it would be like if you wore pants that fit well, and that messaging was just gone. Your mind is now free to focus on literally anything else.
If you can, buy a few key staples for your wardrobe that fit your current body. I’m not asking you to completely buy a new wardrobe, although that time may come, but for now as you are working through body image, it is immensely helpful if you have a sort of capsule wardrobe of clothes that fit. Put the clothing items that you own that really don’t fit away in a box or get rid of them completely. Whatever you are comfortable with.
When you go shopping, be mindful of the ways that you can be triggered. Go into the dressing room and don’t look into the mirrors at all until you have the item on. Then, quickly assess, “does this fit or not?” If while putting it on it’s slightly tight or comfortable, don’t waste another minute. Just take it off and move on. Try your best to not focus on the number on the tag and instead tune into yourself. Does this item feel comfortable? If no, move on. If yes, grab it and go.
I truly hope that implementing these 3 small but difficult practices can help free up your mind from focusing on your body image. Remember, in our world it is extremely normal to be upset with the way your body looks and to be focused on it. It doesn’t have to be this way, however, and the sooner you start practicing the closer you are to a life where your body size hardly ever crosses your mind.