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Body Image

Aging Hatefully or Gratefully

Here's how to make peace with the body you live in.

Key points

  • If you’re tired of judging your body, consider a mind makeover.
  • Techniques for improving body image include upgrade your gaze.
  • This technique encourages viewing oneself with kindness, similar to how you would look at a loved one.
  • When you look in the mirror, what do you tend to think?
  • When you see photos of yourself, what’s the first thing that usually pops into your mind?
  • When you glance down at your body, what feelings arise?
Nugroho Wahyu/Pexels
Source: Nugroho Wahyu/Pexels

You are not alone if your responses are on the negative, critical, and painful side.

Body dissatisfaction and body hatred are rampant in our image-obsessed culture. While we can’t single-handedly and immediately change the culture, we can work on changing our minds and upgrading our negative body image soundtracks.

If you are one of the millions who dislike or despise your body, consider trying a few of these tips.

Upgrade Your Gaze

When you see a child, a dear friend, or someone else you love, how do you tend to view them? Is your gaze filled with critiques and criticisms, or do you see them with eyes of love?

What if you could practice looking at yourself with a kind, loving gaze? Think of how you look at a child or pet you love, and try using that gaze with yourself. Of course, if you’ve been harshly judging your body for a while, this will take some practice. But, since we get better at what we practice, this endeavor is extremely worthwhile.

Shifting To Acceptance

Think about one body part that you dislike or disapprove of.

Now think or say to yourself, I do not accept my X. (Fill in the blank with your chosen body part.) Repeat this sentence a few times and notice what you feel or if any other thoughts arise.

Now, using the same body part you just chose, say, or think, I accept my X. Repeat this sentence a few times and notice how it feels.

When we stop resisting reality and shift into acceptance, it can significantly help to decrease our stress levels and increase our moments of peace and presence.

Close Pesky Pop-ups

I’m guessing that you regularly see pop-up ads on your devices. I’m also guessing that unless it’s something you’re interested in, you click them closed without a second thought. We can learn to do the same with our unhelpful, unkind thoughts.

Some thoughts are stickier than others, depending on your history and personality, but fortunately, we have (and can learn to have) a choice about which pop-up thoughts we buy into and which ones we delete, like unwanted ads.

I know that this is easier typed than done if you’ve been caught in a negative body image trance for some time. But it is possible, with intention and commitment, to quiet and even delete our unwanted thoughts and learn how to be good company for ourselves.

Broaden Your Focus

It can be very enticing to zoom in on one or two body parts that we deem unacceptable and ignore the rest of our bodies. Our minds can get so focused on our areas of dissatisfaction that they can cloud out our bodies as a whole, not to mention exaggerate the parts or parts we’re dissatisfied with.

It can help to broaden your focus and notice the many other body parts that also exist. Perhaps there are some areas of your body that you feel neutral about. Perhaps a few that you can even appreciate. Maybe you have some body parts that you accept or even a few that you actually like.

I recently heard from a couple of students in my body image course who benefited from broadening their focus. One is a man who’d been extremely depressed about a bald spot on his head. He told me he’d been broadening his focus when he looked in the mirror.

Instead of focusing exclusively on his bald spot, he’d been focusing on all the hairs he still has on his head. He said that this shift was helping his experiences of looking in the mirror be much less charged and painful.

Another student wrote that she’d been very unhappy with several body parts. She began broadening her focus and expressing gratitude and appreciation for the body parts she’d ignored when she only focused on body criticisms. She wrote this:

“I’ve been so hyper-focused on the wrinkles and age spots on my face and the size of my belly, I was literally acting like I had no other body parts. For the past few weeks, I’ve appreciated my legs for enabling me to walk, my arms for enabling me to lift things and hug my children, and my eyes for enabling me to see all the flowers in my garden. It takes practice for sure, but I’m feeling much less obsessed and depressed.”

So, if you find yourself criticizing or insulting your body or a particular body part, I hope you’ll give these mind-makeovers a try.

As long as we’re alive, our bodies will age and change. We don’t have a choice about that. We have a choice about whether we paddle upstream in the choppy waters of body criticisms and comparisons or if we bathe in the warm waters of acceptance and appreciation for the bodies we live in.

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