With 90 percent of collegiate women and 80 percent of collegiate men not liking what they see when they look in the mirror, you can probably imagine that I get asked the question: "How can I improve my body image?" on a fairly frequent basis. I do teach the Psychology of Eating, after all, and body image is a topic we cover extensively.
Here's my answer: While there is no one way to improve your body image, a combination of any of the following may help:
1) Take the sticky note challenge. Have you ever heard of Operation Beautiful? The mission of Operation Beautiful is to post anonymous notes in public places for other people to find—notes that would brighten their day. Something like “You are Beautiful.” My spin on it is that I like to use this idea for us to create sticky note for ourselves. You can get some ideas on Operation Beautiful's website. In addition, for the month of February, I am posting a new Sticky Note of the Day each day on my Facebook Page. Ideally you would make several sticky notes that contain that phrase and put them places where you (and others) will see them. Places like your wallet, purse, office cubicle, stairwell, bathroom, a random aisle at Walmart, etc. As a psychologist, I know that the more we see certain messages, the more we start to believe them. So these notes will have a dual purpose: they’ll help you feel better about yourself and they will help others feel better about themselves as well.
2) Enact a media ban. Research suggests that men and women are negatively affected by viewing idealized images of same sex individuals on TV, in magazines, video games, and on-line. One easy way to stop compariing yourself to these images is to stop viewing them. Try instituting a media ban for the rest of February. No, you cannot control everything, but by making a choice to minimize your exposure to idealized images you see in the media can go a long way to helping you fight this source of social pressure.
3) Stop saying negative things about your own and other's bodies and refuse to listen to negative body talk. Research suggests that at some level, our brains don't know the difference between something it hears, thinks, or says. So telling your friend, "You need to lose five pounds" is the same as you telling yourself, "I need to lose five pounds." Same goes for things you hear other people say (or hear on TV or on the radio). Your brain takes that information in and thinks the message was directed to you. This is the reason behind Anti-Fat Talk campaigns like that of the Tri Delta sorority.
4) Take active measures to heal your own body image issues. There are a number of good books out there that focus on healing body image issues, such as Thomas Cash's classic Body Image Workbook. If you're looking for a more media-centered approach, Harvard psychotherapist Jean Fain recently launched a YouTube video series called Body Compassion. The series centers on changing bad eating habits and body image for good, without dieting.
As February is International Self-Love month, don't you think it's time you focused some of your compassion back on yourself? Your body will thank you for it.