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I don’t think there’s a day that goes by when I don’t look in the mirror and think there’s not one thing I wouldn’t change about my body. I often reminisce about my youth and am amazed that even at 20, if you would have asked me if there was anything I would have changed about my body, the answer would have been yes. Today we can’t pick up a magazine or watch a television commercial that doesn’t tout a product that will supposedly make us more attractive, thinner, or give us a more youthful look. I’m an advocate for doing all that I can to maintain or enhance what I have naturally, but how do we truly learn to accept ourselves in order to have a positive self-image?
Oftentimes magazine photos and commercials of individuals we aspire to are airbrushed to perfection and do not portray a realistic image. As women, I think it’s hard not to compare ourselves to other women that we come into contact with everyday. I think women have a true appreciation for beauty in other women and when we see a woman who possesses a physical trait that we would like to have, it’s hard not to become self-critical. We extend compliments to those individuals and are often surprised when we receive a compliment in kind. I’m not sure if men deal with this dilemma as often or if at all, and I would be interested to hear from those who do. Knowing that I come into contact with many individuals of all shapes and sizes each day, I have found an approach that seems to work for improving my self-esteem or at the very least gives me some comfort.
When I see someone who possesses a physical trait that I wish I had, I often focus on the best physical attributes about myself and tell myself that although I may not have that particular trait, I have something that they do not possess and name that trait out loud. This not only helps me to defer being self-critical, but it also boosts my morale and encourages a more positive self-image.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, a negative body image is defined as a distorted perception of your shape while perceiving parts of your body unlike they are.
These distortions may also include:
• Being convinced that other people are attractive and that your body, size or shape is a sign of personal failure
• Feeling ashamed, self-conscious, and anxious about your body
• Feeling uncomfortable and awkward about your body
Having a positive body image consists of:
• A clear, true perception of your shape, seeing the various parts of your body as they really are
• Celebrating and appreciating your natural body shape and understanding that a person’s physical appearance says very little about their character and value as a person
• Feeling proud and accepting of your unique body and refusing to spend an unreasonable amount of time worrying about food, weight, and calories
Learning to have a positive body image starts with loving ourselves for who we are and how we were created. No two individuals are alike and we all possess unique qualities. We have to be willing to tap into our belief systems and challenge those beliefs that are unhealthy. At times, this may require help from a professional. The dangers of not challenging negative beliefs about our body image can often lead to unhealthy and unsafe practices. Be kind to yourself and most of all “do you.”
Aline Hanrahan is a Licensed Professional Counselor practicing in St. Charles and St. Louis counties. She specializes in individual, child, family, and marriage counseling and has serviced the mental health and public school systems for 20 years. For more info, visit alinehanrahan.com.