Body image is closely connected to overall self-esteem. People of all genders may struggle with negative body image, although some research indicates that women are more likely to face body dissatisfaction than men.
If you find yourself criticizing your appearance, or you’re concerned about someone else, here are some strategies to improve body image.
1. Identify and Challenge Negative Thoughts
First, develop an awareness of the negative thoughts you have about your appearance. Our thoughts are often so automatic that we aren’t fully aware of them. Pay attention to the self-talk that you use whenever you look at yourself in the mirror or try on clothes. Are there specific parts of your body that you’re focusing on?
Next, challenge the negative thoughts. Are the statements you’re making based on fact or opinion? Is this view realistic? What evidence is there to suggest that this is true? When you start to step back and objectively evaluate these thoughts, you’ll be able to identify the unrealistic thoughts. This technique is very similar to the methods used in cognitive behavioral therapy.
2. Recognize the Underlying Motivation for Criticism
If you’re constantly criticizing your appearance, consider what your underlying motivations could be. Do you really feel that you should be thinner, or are you trying to control your appearance as a way to regain a sense of control in other areas of your life? Do you really dislike your hair, or are you echoing criticism that you’ve heard from someone else? It’s important to sort through your specific thoughts and recognize what’s really driving them.
3. Appreciate Your Body for What It Can Do
Your body is not something to be looked at and admired. Its purpose is to help you live the life you want. Focus on what your body can do. Be grateful for the way it functions. When you start to appreciate your body for what it does, you will seek to nourish it in order to keep it functioning optimally.
4. Practice Focusing on the Positive Aspects
It takes effort and intention to focus on positive aspects of your body. A few ways to do this include:
- Writing down things you like about your body in a journal.
- Repeating affirmations every day.
- Choosing foods and activities that nourish and strengthen your body.
- Meditating on why you’re grateful for your body.
5. Avoid Comparisons
Body dissatisfaction often comes from comparisons to peers or celebrities. Try to be aware of the times you start to compare yourself to other people. Remind yourself that each person’s body is unique and that there is no “ideal” look.
6. Challenge Media Portrayals
Keep in mind that images in the media are not always truthful and realistic. Photo editing techniques are used to enhance celebrities’ appearances. Challenge the unrealistic standards you see on the internet and in magazines, movies, and TV shows. If necessary, limit your exposure to these images by limiting internet usage and screen time.
7. Identify Non-Physical Traits that You Admire
Take the focus off of the physical and think about other traits you admire in yourself, such as your intelligence, kindness, or creativity. Remind yourself that you are more than your body – you are also your mind and spirit. Your character and personality define who you are as a person, not your body or appearance.
8. Surround Yourself with Body-Positive People
Evaluate your current friendships. Do your friends talk positively about their own bodies, or are they often critical? It’s important to realize that your friends’ comments can impact your own body image. Try to surround yourself with friends who speak positively about their bodies and appearance.
The internet can be a good source for this, since there are many forums and support communities. However, it’s important to exercise caution. There are also communities that promote eating disorder thoughts and behaviors and negative body image.
Do I Have a Problem with Body Image?
Body image issues are very common in our society, but how do you know if a poor body image is worth bringing up to your doctor or therapist? If negative thoughts about your appearance are causing you severe distress or impairing your ability to function, talk to a healthcare professional for guidance. Body dissatisfaction can lead to more serious problems like body dysmorphic disorder or an eating disorder.
Worried you have an eating disorder? Take our self-test: