What do you think when I say ‘body image’?
Perhaps like many women you believe that body image is what your body actually looks like…
This might shock you, but it isn’t, there are many aspects to your body image and today I want to get clear on what body image actually is and then share with you 5 things you need to understand if you want to build a positive body image.
What is body image?
Body image is the perception you have of your physical self, but more importantly the thoughts and feelings you experience as a result of that perception.
Body image consists of:
- The way you see yourself
- The way you feel about how you look
- The thoughts & beliefs you hold about your body
- The things you do, as a result of the way you see, feel and think about how you look (your behaviours)
The fact that your body image isn’t actually what your body looks like, is represented in a great way in a famous social experiment by Dove, who did a ‘real beauty campaign’ a few years ago, you might remember it?
The aim of this experiment was to explore the difference between how others perceive us and how we perceive ourselves. Each woman in the experiment had 2 portraits done, one based on how they described themselves and the other based on how a stranger described them.
Results found that the women described themselves more negatively and less favourably than the strangers did.
So how you perceive your body is the real issue, and something that needs addressing.
To get you started, here are 5 things you need to know:
1. You don’t have to love your body
A common misconception is that in order to feel good about your body and have a positive body image you have to love your body, like all the time. That expectation is unrealistic and unachievable.
However, what you do need to do is learn to respect your body. Respecting your body involves being grateful for what it can do, fuelling it well, nourishing it, caring for it, resting it and talking to yourself with kindness.
Respecting your body doesn’t mean loving it all the time, and you can respect your body even when you’re not ‘loving’ it.
2. It’s ok to care about how you look
Perhaps you’re questioning this one. How can you possibly care about how you look and not ‘focus’ on how you look?
It might surprise you to hear that you can want to look good, whatever that means to you and still work on building (and have) a positive body image.
In 2020 I got braces, I questioned this decision for a long time. How can I support women to accept themselves as they are, whilst wanting to get braces?
At this stage I had done a lot of work on myself, held a positive body image and was already helping other women to do the same. Yet here I was wanting to alter my appearance to feel more comfortable and confident. How does that work?
Firstly, I had done my work on my self esteem and body image. My value and worth was no longer determined by how I looked. The decision to have braces to straighten my teeth was for me, it wasn’t for anyone else. I had built body acceptance, therefore I was accepting of how I looked, even if I wasn’t happy with all aspects of my appearance.
I didn’t need to change in order to gain acceptance from others or be more loved, it was just for me. If I hadn’t had my braces I would feel exactly the same way about myself, it was a choice, not a necessity.
You can care about how you look and want to dress up, make changes and ‘look good’. These feelings are only harmful when they come from a place of perfection, gaining something external (such as love, validation and acceptance). It’s the thoughts and motivators attached to wanting to ‘look good’ that matters!!
So if you’re off on a girls night out and want to ‘look good’ and getting your hair done, putting your lashes on, getting a fake tan and getting dressed up will make you feel more confident, go for it! But do it for you not so that you get attention from the guys or to compare yourself favourably to others around you.
3. Be neutral if that works for you
As nice as it might sound to wave that magic wand and just transform your negative thoughts about your body into positive ones, it’s not realistic and unlikely to happen that easily!
Sorry I know that’s not what you want to hear, but I know that you do know I’m right.
For some people getting to positive body thoughts happens quicker, but for a lot of us, our thoughts will wobble and we won’t find it quite as easy to make that shift! I know I was one of them!
So, if you’re like me, then I bet the idea of starting to talk positivity towards your body, saying things like ‘you’re gorgeous’ and ‘I love how you feel’ seems like a, ‘never going to happen’. If so, don’t force it right now, aim for neutrality.
Neutrality is where I think happiness begins, when you have no judgement, good or bad, towards your body. It’s just your body!
If that sounds more comfortable to you then try these neutral body affirmations out and see how they feel:
- There is more to me than my physical appearance
- The size of my pants doesn’t control my worth or happiness
- My body works hard and deserves my kindness
- My body is not my identity
- I am loveable and worthy no matter what I look like
4. Your body will change
The absolutely 100% truth that I can guarantee you, is that your body will change. Whether it changes due to age, pregnancy, injury or any other possible way, it will change.
So if you’re chasing a body or a weight, you’ll be forever chasing it (or trying to keep it) and is that really how you want to spend this previous life of yours?
This was where I got to! I realised that my pursuit of achieving and maintaining that magic weight never brought me happiness. In fact everything I did to achieve it drove me further and further away from how I truly wanted to feel.
It didn’t bring me happiness, more confidence, a partner who loved me for me, success in my job, more money and it definitely didn’t bring me peace and love towards myself.
It did the opposite! Can you relate? How long have you been on this crazy fairground ride for? If you’re spinning around and getting dizzy, hop off, I’ve got you!
Bodies will always change, it’s normal, so let’s stop fighting life!
The aim is to take care of your body with positive and healthy habits in the pursuit of a long and happy life, not to punish your body with negativity and unhealthy behaviours resulting in feeling disconnected, stressed, unhappy and unworthy!
Your body image starts in your head, not in the mirror.
5. It takes repetition and shifting beliefs to start thinking and feeling differently about your body
Shifting the beliefs and thoughts you have about your body will take time. There is no magic pill or quick fix that will change your body image overnight.
I would love to know in the comments, which of these 5 things about your body image, you really did need to know?
Hey I’m Natalie, Supporting women like you on their road to self-acceptance and building their self-esteem is – as cliche as it sounds – my calling.