It's so important to avoid negative body image, no matter what your age or your gender. Girls, boys, women, and men can all suffer from a negative self image. It's tragically common, but you can absolutely avoid it. Embracing yourself, learning to see your flaws as the special attributes that make you a unique individual, and loving every part of yourself will definitely take time, determination, and a lot of effort on your part – but avoiding a negative body image is possible, I promise. I say this as someone who's gone through a long, hard journey herself. Improving your body image doesn't happen overnight, but all it takes is that first step, and here's some advice that can really help you.
1. Ignore the Numbers
In many cases, negative self images begin with weight. I know that telling you to ignore the scale is easier said than done, but doing is will help you avoid negative body image. Your health is not necessarily based on your weight – neither is your self worth or your beauty. If you are unhealthy, if your at risk for heart disease, diabetes, or any of the other problems associated with weight, then absolutely, getting healthy is important. However, being skinny does not guarantee health, nor does it guarantee beauty, and having curves doesn't mean that you're unhealthy or ugly. Forget about the numbers on the scale. Focus on how you feel and what your body is telling you.
2. Ditch the Diets
In much the same vein, you need to ditch the diets. Eating and being healthy are lifestyle choices. Conversely, diet begins and it ultimately ends. By constantly dieting, you're focusing on your body in a negative way. Eating cabbage soup for a week or hot dogs on alternating days won't make you lose weight. Those methods won't make you healthy, either. Avoiding a negative body image begins with realizing that you have to make different lifestyle choices, rather than jumping to a new diet.
3. Target the Cause
If you view your body negatively, there is a reason. Maybe it's insecurity or low self esteem caused by something completely unrelated to your weight. It's also possible that you've gone through something traumatic at some point in your life. These things are often painful to talk about, but it's important that you do discuss them with someone. In cases like this, a trained counselor, therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist can help you so much. Even if you talk to someone with whom you're comfortable, whether it's a friend, someone in your family, or a member of your clergy, you'll benefit so much.
4. Pinpoint Your Emotions
Back to things like insecurity and low self esteem, there are emotions behind your self image. If you want to avoid negative body image, you have to consider why you feel the way you feel, and which emotions are really the culprit. Why do you feel like there's something wrong with you? Why do you focus specifically on your thighs, your chin, your stomach, or your hips? You may be avoiding other feelings, so it's important to get in touch with them. Again, talking to someone will help, but you can also begin with deep self reflection.
5. Fight the Stereotypes
Society has definite ideas and ideals about beauty. You see them every day: on television, in movies, staring at you from glossy magazine covers. Each day, we're told what's beautiful and what's not. There's no room for disagreement or differences. However, all of that is bollocks. Beauty has no boundaries, no set definitions. Furthermore, if it only exists outwardly, on the surface, it's not beauty at all – it's just a pretense, a pretty package. You can wrap up a bag of poo using pretty paper and ribbons, but it's still just a bag of poo. That's not to say that women like Anjelina Jolie, Megan Fox, or Gwyneth Paltrow are bags of poo, it just means that they are not the end all, be all of beauty. True beauty comes from the inside and enhances what's on the outside – in fact, it shines through everything, it makes you beautiful no matter what you look like. Forget about those stereotypes, don't judge yourself by anyone else's standards. Remember women like Adele, Mo'Nique, Kate Winslet, Cass Elliot, Beth Ditto, Mia Tyler, Marilyn Monroe, Eleanor Roosevelt, and so many others.
6. Forget the Flaws
Guess what? Everyone has flaws – every person reading this has at least one, and likely more. The girl writing this has several herself. But guess what else? Flaws aren't imperfections. They're attributes. Whether you're nearsighted, have braces, freckles, a muffin top, love handles, a flat chest – they are not imperfections. They're the characteristics that help make you who you are. Don't hate them, embrace them! Make them work for you, or work to get rid of them in a healthy, involved way. Don't obsess, don't get crazy, just make lifestyle changes that make you feel better about yourself.
7. Focus on the Positive
Similarly, you need to focus on the positive in order to avoid negative body image. What do you like about yourself? I may not ever get to meet any of you or even see you, but by the comments you leave and the things you say, I know that there are a lot of confident, funny, intelligent, compassionate, strong women frequenting this site. If I can see those things through text on a computer screen, what attributes can you see when you look in a mirror? Or when you take time to consider your personality? Here's an assignment: spend some time with yourself today, and name five personality traits you like about yourself, five characteristics pertaining to your character you find admirable about yourself, and five physical attributes you think are positive. My guess is that you'll actually be able to double those numbers if you're really honest with yourself.
Finally, improving your body image involves listening. You have to listen to yourself, your mind, and your heart – the real you, deep down, the part that recognizes how great you are. Listen to your friends, family members, and other loved ones when they tell you that you're wonderful, beautiful, strong, loyal, witty, smart, and all around fantastic. Listen to compliments – and accept them, don't dissect them. Really listen to these things and you'll start to see a difference every time you look in the mirror.
To avoid negative body image, it's essential that you learn to love every part of yourself. You may seek to improve yourself, but the key is understanding that you are beautiful just as you are, that you're worthy of love, and that it's within your power to better yourself. Your self worth does not depend on your weight, the color of your hair, skin, or eyes, or the fullness of your lips. You're beautiful, you're deserving, you're awesome. Lose weight to be healthy, not to be skinny. Eat right because it's good for you; don't starve yourself. Color your hair because you want to experiment, not because you think you have more worth as a blond or a brunette. See where this is going? In your experiences, what helped you learn how to love your body?
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