Take a look in the mirror.
What comes to mind?
Nicole Walter, a licensed professional counselor at
Henegar Counseling Center, shares her thoughts on body
image and some actionable ways to better appreciate your body.
By Mary Beth Wallace
If those thoughts are positive – perhaps “Wow, I’m having a fantastic hair day!” or “I am rocking this new pair of jeans!” – that’s great! But if harsh critiques or long-standing insecurities surface, you may be struggling with your body image. Although common among women, body image issues can be damaging to your physical and mental health. Nicole Walter, a licensed professional counselor at Henegar Counseling Center, shares her thoughts on body image and some actionable ways to better appreciate your body.
There are many factors that shape a person’s body image. Past experiences, interactions with family members and peers, and culture, specifically the media, all play a role. For countless women, these societal influences have done more harm than good. “Women are often judged and valued by their appearance,” Walter explains. “Many people have a very narrow version of what an acceptable body image is, which only a small percentage of women are actually able to achieve. It’s common for women to experience conflict over the fact that they want to fit into what is deemed the most attractive by what family, peers, or the media says, but they can’t due to their body type (which very well may be normal and healthy).”
Believing that you aren’t attractive or acceptable due to your shape or weight takes a toll on your self-worth, breeding discontent and shame. “If you grew up in an environment where appearance and weight are tied in with your value and worth as a person, it becomes challenging not to feel shame about who you are as a person,” Walter shares. “These cognitions that state that you must be a certain size, weight, or shape to be valuable or accepted by others create a lot of tension and hurt.”
If left unaddressed, a poor body image can lead to one or more harmful coping habits, including over-exercising, restricting food, purging, self-harm, and isolation. What’s more, your own body image concerns can send a powerful message to those around you – your daughter, your niece, your friends – perpetuating the vicious cycle of scrutiny and discontentment.
Fortunately, improving your body image is possible. The following practices can help you begin the path toward self-acceptance and a healthier relationship with your body:
Be kind to yourself. Notice how you talk to yourself about your body – what messages do you give yourself when you look in the mirror? “Is there any way that you can be kinder or more compassionate to yourself?” Walter asks. “Instead of engaging in negative self-talk, try commenting on what makes you feel good about yourself.”
Reflect on what your body is capable of. “For example, thank your legs for taking you from one place to another. Your arms can drive you places, hug people, and allow you to feed yourself. Your body is strong and able to do some incredible things,” Walter says.
Find realistic ways to take care of your body. Incorporate movement that you enjoy and that works for your lifestyle, whether that’s going for a walk, riding your bike, or signing up for a dance class. Nourishing your body well with a variety of whole foods (and avoiding dieting, restriction, and rigid food rules) is another great way to care for your body.
Surround yourself with people who will encourage you, no matter your shape or size. Befriend those who accept themselves and take care of what they were given, and who will help you do the same. Similarly, don’t allow teasing or degrading comments about weight or body shape to be acceptable among your family and friends.
Talk to a professional. Walter explains, “Seeing a therapist can help you explore some of your deeply rooted beliefs about who you are and how you feel about your body. A therapist can help you begin to rewrite some of these messages in a way that goes beyond positive self-talk. He or she may help you better understand where you came up with these beliefs and some strategies to help change them, especially if you have used unhealthy coping skills to deal with the beliefs.”