Jennifer Rollin MSW, LCSW-C

Mindful Musings

Body Image

How to Stop Hating Your Body

Want to have a better body image? Do this.

Posted Oct 06, 2015

Jill111/Pixabay
Source: Jill111/Pixabay

It seems as if body-hatred has become the new normal. It is socially acceptable for individuals to openly discuss perceived flaws and to make negative comments about their bodies. Further, the statement of, “You look great. Have you lost weight?” has become far too prevalent in our culture. Saying this serves to perpetuate weight-stigma, as it perpetuates the belief that “thin” is good and “fat” is bad.

Despite the high prevalence of body dissatisfaction in our society, many individuals do not wish to do body image work. In fact, people will often justify this by saying; “I’ll feel better about my body when I lose weight.” Some people may falsely believe that if they accept their body as it is today, it is akin to “giving up.” Other might feel that hating their body will serve to motivate them to make healthier choices. However, shaming your body is highly unlikely to have positive results.

Imagine if you had an apartment that you loved. How would you treat it? You would probably make sure to clean it regularly and take off your shoes when you stepped onto the carpet. Now picture yourself living in an apartment that you hated. How would you treat it? It is more likely in this scenario that you wouldn’t take as much care to keep the place clean and that you might not bother to take off your shoes upon entering.

If you respect and appreciate your body, it makes sense that you would want to treat it with kindness and care. Further, having a negative body image can lead to other serious ramifications. Research suggests that, “in addition to leading to the development of eating disorders, a poor body image can contribute to depression, anxiety, problems in relationships, the development of substance abuse problems, and consequently various health problems.” As a mental health therapist and individual who has learned to accept and appreciate my own body, the following are five keys to improving your body image.

1. Accept The Thoughts That You Have About Your Body.

The first step in moving away from body hatred is beginning to work towards body acceptance. When you have negative thoughts about your body try saying to yourself "thank you mind for that thought," and then allow it to pass by.

You do not have to believe everything that you think. Just because your mind is telling you negative and cruel things about your body, does not mean that these thoughts are a reality. Accept that everyone has negative thoughts to some degree and the less that you allow your negative thoughts to control your behavior, the quieter they will become.

Rather than shaming or judging yourself for having negative thoughts about your body, try to practice self-compassion. You cannot control the thoughts that you have and beating yourself up, will only serve to make things worse. Instead, try to practice an act of compassionate self-care, such as taking a bubble bath, going for a walk, calling a friend, or journaling.

2. Try to uncover what else might be upsetting you.

The next time you find yourself having a negative thought about your body, I would challenge you to think about what else might be bothering you. Often it is easier to focus on what we dislike about our outward appearance, than to focus on the other issues in our lives that the body-hatred may be masking.

Journaling, drawing, talking to a friend, family member, or therapist, about the other things in your life that are causing you to feel stressed, angry, or sad, might help you to focus on where the feelings of body-hatred may be stemming from. It can be helpful to cultivate a more mindful awareness of the stressors that often trigger your “bad body image days.” Ultimately, this may help you to recognize that your body-hatred is often masking deeper issues and has little to do with your outward appearance.

3. Do a social media purge of “thinspo” and “fitspo” accounts.

After you read this, I would urge you to scroll through your various social media accounts and unfollow or unfriend any accounts that trigger you to have negative thoughts about your body. This means getting rid of any “fitsperation,” “thinspiration,” or diet and weight-loss related accounts. Current research indicates that, “social media use is consistently and positively associated with negative body image.” Further, “longitudinal studies suggest that this association may strengthen over time.” 

As a culture, we have been brainwashed to admire the thin ideal standard of beauty. Obviously you cannot control all of the media messages that you are bombarded with on a daily basis. However, you can control the social media that you choose to consume and whether it promotes body diversity-or simply the thin ideal standard. Not all bodies are meant to look the same and often the media that we consume does not reflect this reality.

4. Immerse yourself in the Health-at Every Size and body positive movements.

This tip is probably the most important one that I can give. The thin ideal standard of beauty is merely a social construct that is perpetuated by the media and individuals in our culture. If you wish to improve your body image, make it your mission to counter-condition yourself in regards to the negative media messages that you have been flooded with.

Once you have purged your social media accounts of “thinspo” and “fitspo,” try to add in some body-positive accounts. The more that you can begin to see body-diversity and work to appreciate women of every shape and size, the easier it will become to accept your own body. It may feel uncomfortable at first, however the more that you get used to viewing bodies of all shapes and sizes, the easier it will be to find beauty in every body.

A few body-positive Instagram accounts that I would recommend include the following: HealthyisTheNewSkinny, TheAshleyGraham, BodyPosiPanda, and PlusSizeVixens. If you need further evidence that you can be beautiful at any size, I would urge you to check out the following women who are defying the thin ideal standard of beauty: Ashley Graham, Tess Holiday, Jennie Runk, and Nadia Aboulhosn.

Health at Every Size is a movement, which “acknowledges that good health can best be realized independent from considerations of size.” The three basic components of the movement are the following: “respect for body diversity, compassionate self-care, and critical awareness.” Weight-bias is one of the few forms of discrimination that seems to be widely socially acceptable. By learning more about Health at Every Size, you can challenge your own views and assumptions about a person’s weight and also work to embrace and promote body diversity.

I would also recommend checking out the following books: Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon, Body of Truth by Harriet Brown, and The Body Image Workbook by Thomas Cash. If you like podcasts some excellent ones that regularly discuss body image include the following: Finding Our Hunger, Fearless Rebelle Radio, and Mind Body Musings. Also, request to join The Health at Every Size Facebook group to enter a community of body-positive individuals. 

5. Get rid of your scale and work to decrease body-checking behaviors.

I got rid of my scale over a year ago and I haven’t regretted it since. Weighing yourself will never make you feel better about your body. When we try to seek validation and approval though numbers of calories burned or weight lost, we are boarding a sinking ship. It may feel scary to give up what many feel are the external measures of our health. However, getting rid of this external measure could help you to tune into how your body is actually feeling.

Further, many studies have shown that a person's BMI is not an accurate measure of one's health or well-being.  In addition, shifts in fluid and other variables can affect the number that is shown on the scale, often falsely causing people to think that they have suddenly "gained a few pounds."

Ultimately, why would you want to let a machine dictate your sense of self-esteem? A number on a scale cannot tell you anything about your worth as a person, your values, or how beautiful you are to others.

In addition, body-checking i.e. pinching parts of your body, obsessively looking at your body in the mirror, or taking “body progress” pictures, will ultimately cause you to feel worse about your body and yourself. If you are struggling with this, it is important that you work to decrease these behaviors-possibly with the help of a licensed professional. In addition, you can begin to shift your focus by writing a list of things that you value about yourself outside of your appearance.

Finally, it is important to note that having a positive body image doesn’t mean that every day will be perfect. It is normal to have good and bad days in regards to your body image. However, if you make a regular practice of working to improve your body image-you will start to see a positive shift. Sara Altschule, a blogger, exemplified this best when she stated,

“So I decided to make amends with myself and my body. I put in the effort to learn to love myself again. It didn’t happen overnight. Hell, it didn’t happen in a couple of weeks. But after some time and a lot of self-care, I started a new kind of relationship with my body. I began to love parts of my body that I have never truly looked at before…And sure, like any relationship, I have times where I don’t feel my best or those obsessive thoughts try to make their way through. But at the end of the day, I am happier and healthier than I ever have been.”

For more body-positive and self-love inspiration connect with Jennifer on Facebook.