Almost everyone struggles with body image. Regardless of your actual size or shape, odds are that there’s at least one area of your body that bothers you. Your relationship with your body is a huge and complex (and political) topic, but there are plenty of practical, actionable ways you can start improving it.
Recognise that you’re your own worst enemy
I was recently complaining about a mild rosacea flare-up to my facialist, and she said, “Just remember that no one sees your skin the same way you do. You’re being way more harsh that anyone else would be.” Her comment stopped me in my tracks because I realised it’s applicable to the entire body. No one else sees your body the way you see it. No one else is as cruel to or critical of your body as you are. This can be a surprisingly freeing realisation.
Body image can be a slippery slope for most people. You make one mistake with your diet or exercise routine, or with the way you treat your body, and you think, “Well, I guess everything’s ruined now, so I might as well stop trying.” It goes without saying that this is a really unhelpful mindset. If you’ve treated your body poorly in the past, that doesn’t mean you need to keep treating it poorly. Forgive yourself for your unhealthy behaviours, and focus on making healthier, more positive choices moving forward.
I first encountered the phrase “intuitive eating” on Instagram, and my first assumption was that it was another list of dieting rules wrapped in a pretty package of empowerment and self-care. Then I noticed the bagels. And the cupcakes. And the glasses of wine. Having struggled with my own sometimes disordered relationship with food, I recoiled a little at what appeared to be a free pass to eat whatever you wanted and declare yourself an intuitive eater.
Build a solid foundation
This is going to sound simplistic, but one of the best ways to feel better about your body is to take good care of it. Here are some of the most important things you can do:
Exercise. This isn’t necessarily about losing weight; this is about finding a way of moving your body that you genuinely enjoy.
Eat well. Be conscious about what you’re eating, but also about how you’re eating. Take the time to prepare healthy and delicious meals for yourself (or get them made for you). Slow down as you eat, and actually savour your food.
Drink plenty of water.
Take active steps to reduce stress.
You already know all of these things, but odds are that you’re not actually doing them. The power of these foundational tools just can’t be underestimated. They really can make a huge impact on your relationship with your body.
Pamper your body
Beyond the basics, when was the last time you did something truly kind and pampering for your body? When was the last time you slowed down and made an effort to really connect with your body and treat it well? If you’re like most people, it’s embarrassingly difficult to think of an answer. But the better you treat your body, the better you will feel about it. Here are some possibilities to consider:
Get a massage or go to a spa.
Take a bath.
Go on a long walk in nature.
Treat yourself to fancy body lotions or oils.
Hire a personal trainer.
Buy clothes that fit well and make you feel good.
Be mindful about media
We are bombarded with images of the exact same kinds of bodies every single day: thin, white, healthy and cisgender. Even if you rationally understand that bodies are infinitely more diverse than what we’re exposed to, you still start to develop subconscious expectations that your body should look that way too. Unless you want to live in a cave for the rest of your life, you’re not going to be able to prevent yourself from seeing this “ideal” body image all over the media. But you can unfollow the Instagram accounts, stop buying the magazines, and stop looking at the celebrity photos that actively make you feel bad about yourself.
Compliment other people’s bodies
As you’re going about your day, take the time to look for the good in other people’s bodies. Compliment them, just to yourself. (Not out loud.) Like I said, we’re our own worst enemies when it comes to our body image, so odds are it’s a lot easier for you to find the beauty in other people’s bodies than in your own. The act of searching for that beauty naturally helps you start to appreciate diversity, and develop a gentler mindset towards the human body.
Talk to your body
One of my favourite tools for changing your relationship with your body is to talk to your body. Check in with it throughout the day. Give it compliments. Talk to your body about the fact that you’re trying to change your relationship with it. If you catch yourself insulting your body, try out an exercise I developed called the Five-To-One Body Talk Rule. Every time you catch yourself saying something negative about your body, force yourself to stop in that moment and say five positive things about your body.
This technique was inspired by the work of the Gottmans, two researchers who have spend decades studying what makes romantic relationships work. They found that healthy, lasting relationships had a balance of five positive statements for every one negative one. I use that same balance for body talk.
Touch your body
If you aren’t comfortable with your body, you may go to great lengths to avoid touching it. But that only reinforces the idea that there’s something wrong with your body. Instead, try touching your body on a daily basis. Take a little extra time in the shower, or putting on lotion. Learn some self-massage techniques. Put your hands on your body as you talk to it. Masturbate! If you can get more familiar with your own body, and find more pleasure in it, you’ll naturally start to feel better about it.
Gratitude is a bit of a buzzword these days, but most people don’t apply it to their bodies. Try spending a few moments each morning or evening thinking about what you’re grateful for about your body. For example, maybe you have really cute toes. Or maybe you’re thankful you’ve never had any mobility issues. Practising gratitude on a daily basis helps you realise that your relationship with your body is not just about how your body looks. It’s also about all of the things that your body does for you on a daily basis.
Honour where you are
You don’t need to have a perfect relationship with your body; no one does. It’s OK to be honest about the fact that your relationship with your body is a struggle. It’s OK to acknowledge your insecurities, your frustrations, your fears, and your bad days. Instead of making perfection your goal, think instead about effort. If you can put an active and ongoing effort into improving your relationship with your body, even throughout the tough times that you’ll inevitably run into, you’re going to be much more successful than if you go into this expecting to feel 100% confident, 100% of the time.