Society shapes us in many ways. From our interactions, to our personal development, and even other peoples’ perceptions of our bodies as a reflection of our self-worth, society plays a significant role. The media in particular has increasingly become a platform that reinforces cultural beliefs and projects strong views as to how we should look. As we get bombarded with perfect images of others and seek out those same idealized characteristics in ourselves and don’t find them, our self-esteem begins to plummet. It’s easy to fall into vicious cycle that breeds negative body image and discontent.
As our personal dissatisfaction grows, so do the risks. The greater our disappointment with how we measure up when compared to societal or media-supported norms, the more negative our body image becomes, and a greater risk for extreme weight or body control behaviors occurs. Body image concerns and eating disorders go hand in hand. For young people, it’s often the early dissatisfaction with their appearance that leads them to conclude that losing weight would enhance their looks and make them feel better about themselves. And as adults, it’s vitally important that we carefully consider the role we play regarding our children and their body image. If you’re obsessed with counting calories or dropping a dress size, you may be inadvertently passing those attitudes on to your kids. Instead, teach them to love and appreciate their bodies.
How can you build a strong, positive body image? Positive body image involves understanding that healthy, attractive bodies come in many shapes and sizes, and that physical appearance says nothing about one’s value as a person. Here are a few steps that can help you achieve this level of acceptance:
- De-emphasize the numbers.What’s on your scale doesn’t say anything meaningful about your body as a whole or your health. Eating habits and activity patterns are far more important.
- Appreciate your individuality. Whether you are thin, large, short, or tall, embrace the individuality of what you were blessed with and work with it.
- Stop comparing yourself to others. You are unique, so you cannot get a sense of your body’s needs and abilities by comparing it to someone else.
- Get moving. Exercise makes us feel good. Walking, swimming, biking, dancing—there’s something for everyone. Find what you love and get going.
- Be picky about your company. Spend time with people who have a healthy relationship with food, activity, and their bodies.
- How much does your self-esteem depend on your appearance? If you base your happiness on how you look, it’s likely to lead to failure and frustration, and it may prevent you from finding true happiness.
- Recognize that size prejudice is a form of discrimination. Shape and size are not indicators of character, morality, intelligence, or success.
A positive body image can emerge when you accept and celebrate who you are, and when you let go of negative societal or media- perpetuated conditioning. You have the power to choose to love yourself and to cultivate happiness from within your body, mind, and spirit.