Hey guys,

Today I‘d like to talk about something that‘s usually ignored when the subject turns to image, style and improving looks – our body image, self-perception of how we look and how it affects our self-esteem and life.

This topic is a dirty little secret in the industry because when you‘re trying to sell a luxury leather jacket, expensive grooming products, a „new revolutionary diet that scientists and fitness gurus didn‘t want you to know“ or simply trying to attract audience to a website dedicated to helping men look hot, the last thing you want is for the person to ask „Why? I‘m already happy with how I look“.

In other words, you being insecure about your looks is good for the business – that sounds almost evil, doesn‘t it? And yet, as we will learn later in the article, almost unrealistic standards for beauty in our society is not actually THE problem (though it is a problem) and instead the reason we might feel insecure about how we look is because of the people in our lives, past and current, but mostly, because we, ourselves, developed a habit to hate our bodies or parts of them.

Understanding Body Image

But what exactly is „body image“?

To quote Dr. Thomas F. Cash:

„Body image refers to how you personally experience your embodiment. More than a mental picture of what you look like, your body image consists of your personal relationship with your body—encompassing your perceptions, beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and actions that pertain to your physical appearance. “

In other words, it’s not just how you picture yourself in your mind, but also how you talk to yourself about your body and looks, how you feel about your looks, what you believe your looks mean and how you think they affect your life, how you treat your body, how much effort you put in presenting yourself to the world and, very importantly, how you think the world perceives you and your body.

This last part is very important because based on this answer will greatly depend if you see the world as a welcoming and friendly place or a place where you need fight with teeth and claws for any advantage or just to get by.

In a practical sense your body image will affect how confident you feel asking out that hot woman. For a man with a healthy body image no woman is “out of his league”, because “his league” is not based on looks alone.

However, a healthy body image also doesn’t mean never showering, wearing stained t-shirts while sitting at your computer all day eating potato chips and drinking energy drinks all the while thinking how sexy you look – that’s being delusional and in denial.Feeling sexy

Lastly, healthy body image is not obsessing about your looks and trying to fix every minor imperfection by buying the most expensive designer clothes, spending way too much time in front of the mirror and in the gym, or, worse, getting expensive and dangerous surgeries. Even though I never had surgeries (and don’t plan to), in many ways I’m guilty of this “fix it” mentality in my own life and with my own body.

In short, healthy body image is about loving your body, every inch of it and understanding that no matter how you look, you’re Okay. And when your happiness and self-esteem is no longer grounded in whether you’re having a “bad hair day” or your stomach looks a bit bloated from having one too many drinks last night, you can actually invest some time and effort into improving your appearance and also reap the benefits of being handsome and sexy.

One last thing I would like you to understand before moving forward, improving your body image is not an overnight thing, it will take time and it will take effort but it doesn’t mean you should stop living your life to the fullest until you have your body image “fixed”. Try the exercises, incorporate into your daily life strategies that you found helpful and step by step, day by day, you will feel better and better about your body and your looks.

And now it’s time to dig into the specific strategies and exercises that will help improve our body image. I would like to note here, that the following will be very much based on the book “The Body Image Workbook: An 8-Step Program for Learning to Like Your Looks” by Thomas F. Cash and if after reading this article you feel like you’d like learn more about the subject and get the best results, I would start by getting this book.

Step 1. Identifying Your Body Image Problems

As mentioned previously in the article, body image issues can take a lot of forms: denial and delusion, obsessions with fixing every minor imperfection, straight up hatred of your own body and anything in between. So our first task is to identify what specific issues you‘re facing with your body image.

Luckily it‘s not as hard as it might seem, answer the following questions:

  • Are you satisfied with your overall appearance? If not, what parts of your body or aspects of your physique are you dissatisfied the most? What parts/aspects of your body you like the most?
  • Do you often find yourself thinking these or similar thoughts:
    • „I wish I was better-looking“,
    • „I wish I was taller“,
    • „I wish I had
      [any particular feature]“,
    • „This person doesn‘t like because of how I look“,
    • „I bet she would like me if I was better looking“,
    • „I wish I could look like [someone else]“,
    • „Something about my looks have to change“,
    • „It‘s not fair that he gets [something you‘d want] because he’s better looking”,
    • “My clothes don’t look good on me”
  • Do you sometimes avoid social gatherings, events and other opportunities because they might cause discomfort about your looks? E.g. family dinner, because you know that aunt is definitely going to make a joke about you putting on a few pounds; that date because you feel like you look like crap; that party at the lake because it would involve taking off your shirt?
  • When seeing other good-looking people do you wonder how your own looks measure up to theirs?
  • When someone makes a comment on your looks (positive or negative) do you dwell on it for the rest of the day? Maybe this only the case if they comment on a particular aspect of your body, e.g. height?
  • Do you spend a lot of time in front of the mirror trying to „fix“ something that doesn‘t look that good?
  • Do you think a lot about what you‘d need to change about your looks and how to do it?
  • Do you make a special effort to look your best whenever you go out?
  • When you start feeling bad about your looks, do you try to fix them, stop thinking about it, try to remove yourself from the situation that caused this distress, get very sad or do nothing.
  • Do you think your body and looks influence your life for the better, for the worse or not at all?

This is a short questionnaire, but if you thought about each question thoroughly and answered it honestly, you should have a much better understanding about your situation.

To illustrate, let me share my case:

When it came to questions like „do you like your overall appearance“ and similar my answer was a firm „Yes!“, I also rarely find myself dwelling on negative body image thoughts because there aren‘t that many anymore. Furthermore, I almost never refuse to attend social event because of my appearance and even though I‘m not in a best shape, I‘ll be the first to take off my shirt at a lake party I also answered with a strong „Absolutely!“ to the question whether my looks influence my life for the better.

And yet, when it came to coping with minor imperfections, I had to admit that on important occasions I indeed spend more time than I‘d like to admit fixing my hair or picking the outfit that would emphasize just the right places. And for issues that cannot be fixed in front of the mirror, I already have a plan in process to „fix“ most of them, which, again I hate to admit, will take more time, energy and money than I would want to (just to note, again this has nothing to do with surgeries and similar aggressive strategies). Furthermore, I do indeed put a lot of emphasis of my own looks and presenting myself in the way I want to, because I believe that looking good has a lot of advantages (and even have scientific studies to support my beliefs).

In the short term, my situation may not seem as bad as someone who simply hates his body and is embarrassed to be naked, but it just as unhealthy in the long-term, because with this attitude a big part of my self-esteem gets grounded on looks. The irony here is that even this article, in part is about „fixing“ something, but that‘s life for you.

Your answers might be different, actually they probably will be different and your challenges will be different than mine, but it‘s important to know what you‘re dealing with before you can address it. So if haven‘t done this yet, go ahead and answer these questions for yourself and take a moment to evaluate and understand the situation.

Step 2. Uncovering The History Of Your Body Image Development

The second step is about understanding the history of your body image, this means uncovering why you have particular beliefs, dissatisfactions, thoughts and attitudes towards your body. And yes, there always is a „why“ if you dig deep enough.

Before describing you the actual exercise let me say that for me, personally, this exercise was the most enlightening I‘ve done a long while.

We will split this exercise into 4 stages and ideally they should be done in 4 consecutive days. It will take 20 minutes per day. For the exercise you will need to find a place and time where you can be undisturbed for those 20 minutes. Turn off your phone, music, TV, etc. You will also need a sheet of paper and something to write with.

Day 1for the next 20 minutes describe your early childhood from the perspective of your body image. This means write how you felt about your body in those days, how people treated you, have people in your life commented on your looks, what did they say. It‘s important to write for those 20 minutes, don‘t try to censor yourself and don‘t worry about making mistakes or editing. Just write anything you can remember from this period. Also, when writing try to be factual, so instead of saying „Oh, I was so ugly“ you should write „I thought I was so ugly back then“ – this exercise is not about venting out, but instead about detailing your history.

After you‘re done, how do you feel about remembering this? Happy/Sad? How deep did you go? Was it emotional?

Day 2we‘ll do the same as on day 1, however this time write about the period of late childhood to early puberty.

After you‘re done, how do you feel about remembering this? Happy/Sad? How deep did you go? Was it emotional?

Day 3today write about for mid-late puberty and might want to touch your early adulthood too.

After you‘re done, how do you feel about remembering this? Happy/Sad? How deep did you go? Was it emotional?

Day 4Last day, and as probably expected, you should write about the period from your young adulthood to now.

After you‘re done, how do you feel about remembering this? Happy/Sad? How deep did you go? Was it emotional?

I know this might sound silly and simplistic, but if you put your mind to it, it works very effectively. In my own situation, I managed to zoom in to several specific situations, even specific sentences that first started the spiral of negative body image thoughts, beliefs and actions. And by the end of Day 4 I also knew when and why my interested in „fixing“ everything started and why it caught on in my life so strongly.

It‘s a really fascinating feeling to know so clearly why you have particular beliefs, ideas and I hope you will give this exercise a chance.

Step 3. Understand mindfulness and acceptance

The first two steps we discussed were about understanding our body image issues and how they came about in our life. This third step, the last one today, is about understanding the situations that causes body image distress in our daily life.

Even though I will suggest an interesting exercise later in this chapter, this step is different from the previous ones, because our goal is to develop a habit of mindfulness – being in the moment and noticing your thoughts as they appear in your head.

To really understand what mindfulness means, let me illustrate this with a quick exercise (read through the bullet points below and then actually try it out):

  • Take a pen or any other small object in your hand.
  • Notice how it touches your skin.
  • Notice it‘s color.
  • Notice the little details, prints, scratches.
  • Play with it in your hand, notice how it moves.
  • Do this for a minute or two.

Can you see how something seemingly so mundane as a pen, has so many intricate aspects to it?

Naturally, it‘s a really simplistic example of mindfulness, but that‘s what it is – objectively noticing things as they are. For our body image, however, we won‘t be concentrating on noticing any particular objects, but instead our thoughts throughout the day in different situations. Our goal is to „catch ourselves“ whenever we have any negative thoughts or self-talk related to body image: „jeez, my arms look so small in this t-shirt“, „that guy is tall, he must get women easily“.

If you ever read about meditation, living in the moment, mindfulness you are aware that any emotions that we try to repress can only damage us in the long-term. So is with body image, when we notice having negative body image thoughts through being mindful, don‘t try to repress them, change them or justify them. Instead, try to understand what‘s causing them without judging these thoughts and then accept them as they are.

As said earlier in this step, this is not something you do for a day and be done with it, it‘s something to casually implement into your life – the long term benefits are worth it.

There‘s one last exercise I‘d like to recommend for this step:

Again, it‘s best done when you‘re alone and you‘ll need a full size mirror for it. Loose the clothes as much as you‘re comfortable with. Take a good look at yourself in the mirror. Now, being mindful and acceptant try to describe your what you see, your body. You can start with your toes and move upwards or with your head and move lower. Try to be as objective as possible when describing what you see, imagine there‘s a sketch artist sitting somewhere and he‘ll be drawing the image you describe.

Now, how did that feel? Was it an uncomfortable experience?

Finishing thoughts

Hopefully, this article will help you get set on the right track to learning to love your body and the first three steps should keep you busy for the next two weeks until Part 2 will be coming out.

I‘ll leave you with this…

Because who‘s perfect…

Cheers,

Darius