In my clinical practice, I see capable people. They are successful in their careers, raising families, caring for parents, and enjoying time with friends, but many of them share one thing in common. No matter how successful they are, they view themselves as failures because of their weight or some other perceived flaw. Their social encounters often reinforce their sense of failure with body shaming and name calling. Every person who has ever been teased or called a name remembers when and where it happened. Shaming affects people on a deep, intimate level, lowering confidence and self-esteem.
The new year is a traditional time for making changes. A new hairstyle, wardrobe, or exercise plan - the list of desired changes can be exhausting. Personal changes we make to our bodies can bring temporary excitement and motivation, but it’s important to remember that the way you feel about yourself is not a physical thing you can change. No matter what you change on the outside, you will only feel good about yourself long-term when you change your thoughts and behaviors.
Instead of focusing on making a change for the New Year, create a healthy body image plan. This eliminates the personal pressure and the chance of failure when you fall off track. It also keeps you focused on making healthy choices for the rest of your life. Below is my personal plan to help you let go of the shame you feel and focus on a healthier you.
Replace the self-hate or verbal abuse you inflict on your body with positive attributes. An example of this may be when you habitually tell yourself or others, “I hate my thighs,” interrupt yourself with, “but I like the shape of my ankles.” Your body responds to hearing good things about it. Those comments must come from you to make a difference.
Create a value list. Body dysmorphia happens, and it happens most commonly with people who have been shamed or teased. To create a more positive body image, you must keep a list of what you do value about your body. As you practice writing positive things, you’ll notice more motivation and confidence.
Reward yourself for each small, healthy change you make. If you struggle with your body image, you understand how defeated you feel for those days you get off track. Making a healthy lifestyle plan means you will have good and bad days. Expect those bad days, but don’t give yourself time to wallow in them. Much more important is congratulating yourself when you succeed.
Don’t let others enable unhealthy habits you may have once shared. You’re working on developing a healthy relationship with yourself. That means advocating for you. Love yourself enough to let go of people holding you back.
Enlist the help of a support group as you go through personal improvements. It’s easier to stay committed if you have someone counting on you to continue your healthy body image plan.
Now is the time to begin. Don’t wait for a wedding, reunion, or special event to begin your healthy body image plan. Life doesn’t stop or give you time to get healthy; nothing changes until you do.
How will you know when you’re making changes in the way you think and feel about your body? Here are a few examples of a healthy body image.
When someone compliments you on your appearance or fitness, you can accept the compliment as genuine.
It’s not hard to find an outfit you feel comfortable and attractive in.
You can admire someone else’s body without criticizing or judging your own.
You rarely compare yourself with others.
You can name several parts of your body that you like and appreciate.
No one is born with a poor body image. I’ve seen children with terrible birth defects grow up to see themselves as beautiful and special. Unfortunately, I’ve seen beautiful people with terrible body image problems. Remember that how you talk about your body and your children’s bodies becomes the image they will carry with them throughout life.