How was your week? Ready for a new article?
As promised, today we continue the discussion about body image, understanding how it affects our lives and learning to improve it. You can find first part of this article here: Body Image: Learning To Love Your Body (PART 1)
In the Part 1 of the series, we talked in depth about what is body image, learned how to identify our personal issues with how we view our bodies, uncovered the history of our body image development and learned to become more mindful and acceptant of our thoughts.
Today we‘ll focus on improving our body image.
Step 4. Challenging Our Limiting Beliefs
This will be the core of this article – puting spotlight on some of the biggest limiting beliefs when it comes to our body image, challenging them and replacing them with healthier beliefs.
Let‘s start this list with a big one:
#1 Attractive People Have It All
Indeed, there are plenty of studies that show correlation between person‘s perceived attractiveness and their social success, so how is this a wrong belief to have?
First off, it‘s very unhealthy for your happiness, overall well-being because as French author Stendhal asserted – „Beauty is just a promise of happiness.“ In other words, yes, being attractive is an advantage, but not one that can make you happy, succesful, healthy on it‘s own.
Furthermore, there‘s also downsides to being considered more attractive than your peers:
- Jealousy and envy – people, especially those of the same sex, will often not like you purely on the fact that your sexual market value is higher. Oftentimes, you can be labeled as someone who spends too much time in front of the mirror, shallow. You might be wondering, well that‘s just their insecurities and their problems and you‘d be right, however, it‘s still not a very pleasant situation to be in.
- Doubting your value and skills – just like people who come into fortune, attractive people often start to wonder if people are being nice to them and friendly because they value and respect their personality or just looks. Furthermore, when you start doubting whether you achieve things in life because of your looks or your skills, it‘s easy to start wondering if your skills are good enough and if you really deserve what you have in life. I know it sounds like something men usually don’t bother with, but in reality we fall for this trap too.
- Insecurity – when you feel like your value is very much dependent on your exterior, more often than not you‘ll start being insecure about presenting yourself as attractive all the time. It‘s somewhat ironic that people who we consider the most attractive, are usually the ones most insecure about their looks.
To finalize this point, I invite you to watch this TED video:
#2 I Can Only Be Happy When I „Fix“ This
This belief falls under the category of „If something happens, then I can be happen“ and in life, the if-then can take many forms: „If I get rich, then I‘ll start saving and investing“; „If I get ripped, then I start going out to meet women“; „If I find that one special girl, then I‘ll be happy“, etc.
But when it comes to body image, our if-then self-talk is usually more subtle: „If only I could fix my nose, I would be happy with my looks“; „If only I could loose a few more pounds, I would look so hot“, etc.
Unfortunately, as studies show, regardless whether we‘re talking about looks, money, relationships or things, we are terrible at predicting what will actually make us happy long-term. In other words, getting our looks „fixed“ can give us a temporary boost in happiness and confidence but more often than not it will fade and leave us with the feeling of „is that‘s all there is?“
This means that while investing time and effort into improving your looks can definitely be a great idea, we shouldn’t base our happiness and self-esteem on a particular outcome.
If you‘d like to learn more about what actually makes us happy (or unhappy), I‘d suggest checking out „The Happiness Hypothesis“ by Jonathan Haidt.
#3 People Judge Me On How I Look
This is another popular belief that actually has some grounds. It is true that it takes just moments (usually, before we even get a chance to talk) for someone to make the first impression of us and that impression is usually quite persistent.
Then what is wrong with this belief?
What‘s fascinating is people don‘t judge us the way we judge ourselves. That new pimple you discovered this morning or a small scar on your face from your childhood, even your „bad hair“ day or a few extra pounds on your torso – everything we so passionately beat ourselves over, usually goes unnoticed by those around us. Interestingly, poor posture or baggy clothes will affect how people judge you way more than a few extra pounds, small skin imperfections, etc.
To illustrate this point, there’s a great experiment from „Dove“.
What are your limiting body image beliefs that need to be challenged?
Step 5. Learning To Love Your Body
Understanding the problem goes a long way, even more so when we do this mindfully and with acceptance, but for healing to take its full pace we need to consciously make peace with our body.
We‘ll start this with an exercise:
- Take a piece of paper and something to write with.
- For the next 5 or 10 minutes in writing apologize your body for treating it harshly, for all the verbal and mental abuse you’ve been putting it through.
- „…I am sorry for all the unkind and disrespectful things I’ve said about you over the years. We’ve had some great times and I appreciate all those times you performed so well when we needed it the most…“
I know this exercise might sound a bit silly, talking in writing to yourself, but it‘s also quite necessary as it gives us a medium through which to reflect and make peace.
How does it feel after doing this exercise? Uplifting?
The next exercise, if we can call this an exercise, is practicing to be comfortable naked. This is very powerful, because most people, especially those with body image issues, are very uncomfortable being naked.
Exercise: whenever your alone (or, if you prefer, not alone ) just get and be naked. While doing this, be mindful of your thoughts, feelings. Are you noticing negative thoughts trying to get into your head? It‘s okay. If you feel like discomfort is getting overwhelming, get dressed and continue the next day.
Interestingly, this exercise not only helps you get comfortable with your body but also your sexuality.
Lastly, and this is very appropriate in summer, try dressing more boldly, add more colors to your outfits. There’s no reason to hide.
When working with men on their personal style consultations I often see really good looking guys, who hide under messy grooming, loose, dark clothes because it’s easier to melt in the crowd this way (ironically, these guys usually don’t think they are good looking or even average looking). Because of some minor imperfections with their bodies, like being shorter, bulkier or skinnier than the average guy, they unconsciously decided that it’s easier to avoid being noticed than unapologetically presenting their whole selves.
So improving your body image is not just some “feel good” stuff, it directly affects how you see and present yourself in the world. Take pride in your body, it’s the only one you’ll ever have!