Your body image is how you feel about your physical appearance and how you think others perceive you. Having a good body image doesn’t mean you have to believe your body is perfect. A healthy body image means feeling comfortable in your body and accepting it—regardless of its flaws—as a part of who you are.
The trick is getting the balance right between striving for the “perfect” body, and taking care of yourself and being healthy.
Body image is closely linked to self-esteem, an indicator of how much we value ourselves. Self-esteem reflects a level of pride and self-worth, and it can have a big impact on your health and quality of life, because how you feel about yourself is reflected in how you act.
Life deals many challenges and stresses, which can result in emotional states that are hard to deal with. Exhaustion, guilt, frustration or sadness can cause low self-esteem, which in some people leads to “emotional eating.” This can end up in a cycle of weight gain, dieting and binge eating, where food becomes both friend and foe. These eating behaviours can have a significant effect on your health and your weight. Here are some factors that contribute to a negative body image:
The media. It’s hard to avoid advertising campaigns that feature idealised and unrealistic body images, magazine covers with airbrushed models, and a constant media focus on thin celebrities.
Your peers. Being teased about your size during childhood and adolescence can leave a lasting impression. Modern society has an unfortunate and unfair tendency to judge people on their appearance.
Emotional connections with food. It’s common for people to use food to preoccupy themselves or anaesthetise their negative emotions. However, it’s mentally, emotionally and physically unhealthy to use food as a crutch to deal with negative emotional stress and low self-esteem.
Body image changes over time, and it can take many years to improve. If you find yourself worrying about your appearance, the following list of strategies may help you to boost your body image and allow you to find more meaningful and lasting ways to feel good about yourself.
Be active. Physical activity and regular, planned exercise are good ways to respect and care for your body, no matter what condition you’re in. And it can also be fun. Depending on your personality, you may prefer a solo activity, such as walking or swimming, while others, who enjoy more social interaction, may focus on team sports.
Be your own cheerleader. Try not to depend on others to make you feel good about your achievements. Other people’s reactions are beyond your control. You are in the best position to deal with yourself when things aren’t going so well.
Be kind to yourself and treat yourself like you would a friend. Celebrate your progress and don’t obsess about setbacks. If you’re struggling, sit down and collect your thoughts. Don’t forget to remind yourself of the good things about you.
Don’t diet. Diets offer miracle results, with gimmicky rules and restrictions. But when you go on a diet, there is an underlying intention that in due time you will go off the diet. And when a diet ultimately fails, which it normally will, it’s hard to not feel like a failure. Such dieting has a negative effect on your self-esteem. Instead, find your own way, seeking to adapt, modify and experiment with food. Try to develop a way of eating that’s easy to live with and that’s permanent.
Seek out support. Boosting your self-esteem and body image may be a long journey with many ups and downs. However, involving other significant people in your life can play a big part in your success. Make it easy for those around you to help by letting them know how they can help and how much you value their support. Seek out people who seem to lift your mood and make you feel like you can achieve anything. The more time you spend with positive people, the more their qualities and characteristics will rub off on you.
Don’t look to the media. You can’t believe all you see on TV, and in some cases, you wouldn’t want to. While some celebrities certainly look fantastic, you don’t know to what extent they’ve used, airbrushing, surgical procedures, extreme training or dangerous dieting strategies to achieve it. Use their success as motivation, but don’t look to celebrities for dietary advice. Look for more proven health advice, with practical recommendations on nutrition, exercise, motivation and attitude from people who are qualified to give it.
Make peace with your body. Few people are totally satisfied with the way they look. Even fewer have the genetics and body type to be on the cover of magazines. Focus on self-acceptance and self-improvement. Work on what you can change and accept what you can’t. Aim for improvement, not perfection.
Instead of wasting time and energy focusing on your imperfections, give yourself credit for eating better, exercising more and doing something positive for yourself.
Avoid things that bring you down. If you have problem areas (people, situations or surroundings) that are holding you back, ask yourself what you can do to prevent them from recurring. As long as these barriers remain unseen and unidentified, they will continue to prevent you from feeling comfortable with yourself. Being able to see these barriers is an important step in addressing them. You can then prepare for them in advance and make a plan to overcome them.
Consider professional help. The journey to an improved body image can be long and challenging, and you don’t have to go it alone. Health professionals and psychologists can make things easier. If you haven’t used a professional service in the past, it’s worth a try. A health professional can help you address a wide range of issues, including the cause of your body image problems and any emotional issues you may have about food. The more support you can find, the better.
Seek God’s help. Finally, remember that you are a marvellous part of God’s creation. Celebrate what He’s given you and ask Him to guide you into becoming the very best that you and He together can make you.