by Rebecca Glavin, therapist
For many of us, the time for New Years Resolutions is both exciting and anxiety provoking. Year after year, it seems that many of our New Years resolutions focus on our bodies. We want to get into better shape. We want to lose weight. We want to take better care of ourselves. We hope that this year will be the year that we move toward or achieve our body ideal, our â€˜perfect body.â€™
What, though, is a perfect body? It is something that many of us focus on, think about and expend significant amounts of energy trying to achieve. Whether itâ€™s a new workout plan, diet or supplement, many of us are looking to make changes in the way that our bodies are right now. This seems especially true after the holiday season. I often wonder, though, if it is ever possible to have a â€˜perfect bodyâ€™? Does each one of us really know what that is?
Regardless of whether or not any of us can ever truly define and realize what our perfect body may be, the real question that I pose to clients is whether or not attaining this perfect body will make them happier? Will it help them to live a more valued life? Will it help them to feel more fulfilled? Many of us focus on what we want our bodies to be, but often, focusing on the weight we want to lose or the muscle we want to build only serves as a distraction from what we really wantâ€¦ to feel worthy, good enough and loved. Does any of this seem true for you?
I am not saying that having the goal of losing weight and becoming a nutritious eater is not a positive goal for our health and well-being. I am saying that becoming fixated on trying to obtain the â€˜perfect bodyâ€™ is dangerous. Adolescent and adult women, now even young girls, can become obsessive about their bodies. Body image dissatisfaction is a growing epidemic in our society, and attempting to attain the â€˜perfect bodyâ€™ can lead to an unimaginable sense of self-loathing. Today, it feels as though our cultural beauty norms constantly create a false sense that our value, our worth, is based on appearance. These beauty myths and our desire to fit in often negatively skew the mental pictures we have of ourselves.
What, then, can each of us do to avoid falling into the trap of marrying our body image with our self-esteem? How can we help our children to develop positive body images? Below, I list my Top Ten Strategies for Developing Positive Body Image. This list cannot automatically tell you how to turn negative body thoughts into a positive body image. However, the more that you are able to find new ways to feel healthy and happy with regards to your own body, the more likely you are to feel good about who you are and the body you naturally have.
1. Positive Self-Talk: Say at least one positive thing about yourself, not your body, every day both to yourself and in front of your children. Donâ€™t make fun of your body. Find something else to laugh about. And, compliment other peopleâ€™s personality or character, not their weight loss.
2. Appreciate all that your body can do: Celebrate the amazing abilities that your body has and can do for you: running, dancing, breathing, laughing, dreaming, etc.
3. Keep a top-10 list of things you like about yourself: Make sure the list is full of things that arenâ€™t related to how much you weigh or what you look like. Read your list often, especially when you wake up and right before bed.
4. Do what makes you happy: Donâ€™t refuse to do something just because you think youâ€™ll look â€œtoo bigâ€ or other people wonâ€™t like it. Do what makes you feel best.
5. See yourself as a whole person: Try to skip looking at yourself in every reflective surface you pass. When you see yourself in a mirror or in your mind, choose not to focus on specific body parts. Instead, visualize yourself as a whole person, just as you want others to see you.
6. Surround yourself with positive people: It is easier to feel good about yourself and your body when you are around others who are supportive and who recognize the importance of liking yourself just as you naturally are.
7. Be a critical consumer of media: Whether we are talking about ourselves or our children, the goal is to work toward an understanding of what is real and what is not real in photos on TV and in magazines.
8. Do something nice for yourself: Do something that lets your body know you appreciate it. Take a bubble bath, make time for a nap, find a peaceful place outside to relax, etc.
9. Do something to help others: Use the time and energy that you might have spent worrying about food, calories, and your weight to support family, friends and those in need. Sometimes reaching out to other people can help you to feel better about yourself and can make a positive change in the world.
10. Practice self-compassion: Show yourself the same compassion you would for your friend or child. Be kind and supportive of yourself. Motivate yourself with encouragement rather than criticism.
Rebecca Glavin, MBA, MSW, LCSWA is a therapist in Charlotte who specializes in working with women with body image and self-esteem concerns as well as eating disorders. Rebecca also works with women who struggle with infertility and miscarriages. Rebecca lives in the Cotswold area with her husband and young daughter. To learn more about Rebecca, visit her website www.glavincounseling.com or find her profile and information on the Psychology Today website here.