Sure, most of us pine for thinner thighs, well-toned arms or a firmer backside. But if you launch into a self-deprecating tirade every time you glimpse yourself in the mirror (my butt is too big, my hips are too wide and my arms look like flabby chicken wings), it’s time to shift your focus.
“Women are their own worst enemies,” says Leslie Goldman, MPH, author of "Locker Room Diaries: The Naked Truth About Women, Body Image and Re-Imagining the 'Perfect' Body." “We’re constantly judging ourselves, drawing comparisons and trying to measure up to some impossible media-driven ideal.” And it’s not just women: Studies show that men can be as self-critical and self-deprecating as women.
Accepting your body may seem easier said than done. Start by taking stock of what you’ve got (instead of what you don’t), and you’ll begin to appreciate your body for what it can do for you.
“Sometimes loving every aspect of your body is too difficult and unrealistic,” says Susan Albers, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic and author of "Eating Mindfully: How to End Mindless Eating and Enjoy a Balanced Relationship with Food." “But you can come to a place of accepting aspects of your appearance.” Here’s how:
Stop the Negative Self-Talk
“The first thing people focus on when they look in the mirror is what they dislike most about themselves,” says Leslie Heinberg, PhD, director of behavioral services for the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. “Many of those thoughts are automatic — [people] don’t even realize they’re having them.”
Beating yourself up chips away at your self-worth. Once you hear yourself doing it, put a stop to it. “Ask yourself if you’d say such harsh things to someone else,” Goldman says. Chances are, you wouldn’t dare. Replace those harsh words with words of self-acceptance — imagine kind words you’d hear from a close friend. Instead of scrutinizing your flaws, zero in on something you like about yourself. If you simply can’t stop, at least balance out the criticism with some flattery.
“If you’re going to disparage your thighs, spend an equal amount of time complimenting an aspect of yourself that you do like,” Heinberg says. “So maybe your thighs aren’t that great, but you have a slim waist or nice arms.”
Change the Channel
Every day, we’re bombarded with images of physical perfection from the media. Banish TV shows, magazines and advertisements that make you feel bad about yourself or your body.
“As our society is getting more overweight, our beauty ideals are becoming thinner and thinner, so there’s this large gap between what we’re told to look like and what we actually do look like,” Heinberg says. No wonder our body image needs work! If you see a commercial featuring a beautiful model with the dimple-free tush that you haven’t had since you were 10 years old, change the channel — and remind yourself that such images aren’t real.
“You have to realize that hours and hours of work went into getting that one perfect shot — and that’s before the airbrushing and photo retouching,” Heinberg says. “If you saw the model in the magazine walking down the street, she doesn’t look that good.”
Instead of measuring yourself against an airbrushed fashion model, carry your favorite picture of yourself and measure yourself against that ideal of beauty.
Thank the Skin You’re In
As we age, we tend to become more comfortable in the skin we’re in. The sagging skin and even the stretch marks become a roadmap of where we’ve been and how we’ve lived. If you’re not at that place of self-acceptance yet, try writing to the offending body part.
“Hate your thighs? Write a letter and apologize for the anger you’ve directed toward them. Then thank them for what they’ve allowed you to do,” Goldman says. “It may sound strange, but treating your body part like you would a person allows you to become more accepting.”
Writing a letter will help you identify why you are grateful for your body — it allows you to move, dance and play. Follow up by writing a list of affirmations — for example, “I choose to accept my body and weight as they are at this moment,” or, “I accept that my worth is not reflected by my weight and shape, but rather, my worth is determined by who I am as a whole person.”
“Once you have a list of affirmations, say them to yourself every day,” Dr. Albers says. “With repetition, you will see a change in the way you speak to yourself.”
Above all, remind yourself that your skin is only, well, skin deep. “When you look in the mirror, try to remember it’s just skin; it’s just your body,” suggests Goldman.
“Then focus on your talents, the people who love you and your countless achievements.”
— by Amy Paturel, MS, MPH
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