When it comes to bodies, our culture seems split between two seemingly opposite ideologies.
On one hand, there's the pervasive glorification of thinness, extreme fitness and the devaluation of all bodies that are not one or the other (or both).
On the other hand, there's a growing movement that emphasizes building positive body image -- aka the way we think about and feel in our bodies -- in the pursuit of living a healthier, happier and more balanced life.
I don't know about you but I'll take “healthier, happier and more balanced” over “endlessly striving toward an impossible ideal” any day of the week.
If you could use a nudge (or several) in that direction, then you've come to the right place.
Begin improving your body image and mental health by enacting the five following strategies on a daily basis. With enough practice, you'll find that even the most deep-seated body-loathing can be transmuted into a genuine appreciation for your own body.
1. Be extremely choosy about the media you consume.
When we read magazines, go online or watch TV, we're not just passively observing the content with which we engage.
That kind of content can have a strong influence on the way we view the world, other people and ourselves. Whenever possible, avoid media that valorizes an impossible beauty ideal or fitness standard, or that judges other people's bodies.
Instead, seek out media that advocates for a positive, balanced outlook on bodies and health.
2. Wear clothes that help you feel good.
The diet industry has made a habit of using clothing as a way to get dieters to stick to their diets. The thinking goes like this: You can buy those pants when you're able to fit into a smaller size. Or: When you lose the weight, you can finally start dressing the way you want.
Not only is this psychologically damaging, but it's blatantly untrue. You can wear whatever clothing you'd like right now.
As a major bonus, wearing clothes that are physically comfortable and feel like an expression of who you are can amplify a sense of feeling comfortable in your own body.
If you can't get over the size on the tag, consider simply cutting said tag out of your clothes. The number is much less important than how you feel.
3. Ditch the negative body talk (about your own and others').
In our weight-obsessed culture, it's not uncommon to run into disparaging conversations about bodies at work, at home or within our social circles.
If you're truly committed to developing a better body image, then you would do well to avoid at all costs. Don't perpetuate it against yourself, and don't join in when others start the body-hate train.
Instead, try changing the subject to ask about someone's weekend plans, or inquire about how they've been feeling. Shifting the conversation to a constructive topic will be better for the mental health of everyone involved.
4. Don't compare.
We live in a competitive society, and as a result most of us learn from a very young age to compare ourselves to others. This is made even easier by the social media machine. But comparing your body to other people's bodies is a sure way to feel worse about yourself.
It adds to a sense of scarcity that has all of us feeling like we're competing over limited resources when it comes to physical attractiveness instead of recognizing that each one of us brings something unique to the table.
So, don't do it. If you catch yourself comparing your body to other people's, try to consciously redirect your attention to something more positive.
As mentioned above, it's also helpful to stop consuming media that thrives off comparison (such as tearing down or upholding celebrity bodies as the end-all-be-all of physical appearance).
5. Convert negative self-talk into positive affirmations.
Many of us have an inner critic in our minds that is all-too-happy to provide us with the worst possible assessment of ourselves. It tends to get stronger when we're looking in a mirror, or trying on clothes at a store.
It's basically the equivalent of carrying a bully around inside your brain at all times.
The good news is that it's possible to re-train your brain to adopt a more positive perspective on your body, but it takes work. Start by observing the inner critic so you can identify its voice. Then, start talking back.
If, for example, the inner critic says something critical of your body while you're looking in the mirror, consciously choose to think or say something positive about your body instead.
Above all else, remember to practice self-care for your body. By treating your body as something that is worthy of loving attention, you'll find that it becomes easier and easier to believe that it is.