By: Sophia Erickson
Think back to the last time your friend took a picture of you during a night out with friends; can you remember how you felt swiping through your photo album? Or when you caught a glimpse of your reflection in the mirror at the gym, what thoughts flooded to your mind as you ran on the treadmill?
Are they mostly positive thoughts, like “I look strong” & “I love my curves”, or more negative – “I hate how my stomach looks” . Hopefully, they are more positive, but the sad truth is that, “by the time girls reach the age of seventeen, 78% of them will say that they are unhappy with their bodies” (NOW). While there are going to be days when your self confidence is low, it is important to remember that the unattainable beauty ideals flooding social media are not only toxic, but set unrealistic standards for young women, plaguing the world around us.
Whether it’s when you’re scrolling through social media and seeing photoshopped photos or getting advertisements for products that promote rapid weight loss, the triggers for unattainable and unhealthy beauty standards can sometimes feel everpresent. Despite these discouraging messages, there are ways to tweak your thought patterns to help you combat negative self-talk, increasing your body confidence in a world that is riddled with ideals of perfection.
- Show yourself some appreciation. One of the easiest ways to start is by reframing your self-talk. Rather than picking apart your appearance, try recognizing and appreciating the incredible ways in which your body functions, allowing you to do the things you love. If you find yourself thinking, ‘My thighs are too big’ try to replace that negative thought with a positive one, reframing your mindset to instead appreciate how your body functions. An example of this approach might be, ‘My thighs give me the strength to run.’ Or, for example, if you are often critical of your arms, remind yourself that they allow you to embrace and hug those you love the most. When you begin to base your self-talk on your body’s abilities, it can help you find a middle ground of acceptance.
This self talk is especially important as a study with over 500 women found that higher self disgust – like negative self talk – directly correlated with a more negative body image (Spreckelsen et al., 2018). To put it simply, better self talk can lead to a more positive body image.
- Document the positives. Try writing down five things that you love about your body. Doing this will serve as a visual reminder, helping you process your thoughts by committing them to memory. In the same way that gratitude journaling has become a popular way to document all the things you are grateful for, think of this as just showing gratitude for your one of a kind body.
- Create reminders. By writing positive affirmations, goals or words of gratitude on sticky notes and putting them in places where you will see them throughout your day – the mirror, your computer, your wallet, etc- it will help you reframe your negative thoughts. Creating reminders for yourself of all the positive qualities you have, and not just compliments on your physical appearance, is immensely important because you are so much more than how you look.
- Wear clothes that fit and that you feel great in. In today’s world, it is so important to remember that clothes were made to fit you, not the other way around. Rather than worrying about a meaningless number on a tag, focus on buying (and wearing!!) clothes that flatter your figure, enhance the parts of your body that you love and make you feel beautiful.
- Base your health care off of self care. Too often, exercise and eating decisions go hand in hand with weight or physical appearance. If you are somebody who views healthy food or exercise as punishment or reparations for previous “unhealthy” decisions, it is time to transform your mindset. Think about how your workouts or eating habits would change if you based these decisions on self care.
For example, instead of going into a spin or hot yoga class thinking about how many calories you will burn, shift your mindset into thinking about how good it will feel to release stress and build up energy. In fact, “acute exercise causes immediate changes in dopamine and serotonin levels” (Basso, 2017) and both of those key hormones play a role in reducing stress levels and increasing mood. All in all, when you shift your focus towards making choices that you enjoy and serve your body better, it becomes easier to maintain a balanced lifestyle.
- Follow (or unfollow) people on social media. All too often people find themselves following people on social media because they think they should instead of following people because they actually enjoy their content. We must begin to prioritize our own mental health over social norms and if that means unfollowing an account because its content no longer enriches your day to day, then so be it. In fact, a study done in 2018 found that there is a negative correlation between Facebook use and self esteem, and a positive correlation between social media use and self comparison (Bergagna et al, 2018). Ultimately, the study found that when social media use increases, self esteem decreases and in turn social comparison increases. So next time you log onto Instagram, find people that uplift you, are body positive and make you feel good – that way the content of your timeline parallels your body-positive mindset.
Overall, I hope this article allows you to realize that we could all be a little kind to ourselves. We are all imperfect humans trying to figure it out and so long as you are focusing on your mental and physical health, you are doing everything you need to.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” So own your body and be proud of who you are, no matter a size or someone else’s opinion.
Basso, J. C., & Suzuki, W. A. (2017). The Effects of Acute Exercise on Mood, Cognition, Neurophysiology, and Neurochemical Pathways: A Review. Brain plasticity (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 2(2), 127–152. https://doi.org/10.3233/BPL-160040
Bergagna, E., & Tartaglia, S. (2018). Self-Esteem, Social Comparison, and Facebook Use. Europe’s journal of psychology, 14(4), 831–845. https://doi.org/10.5964/ejop.v14i4.1592
Get the facts. National Organization for Women. (n.d.). Retrieved October 15, 2021, from https://now.org/now-foundation/love-your-body/love-your-body-whats-it-all-about/get-the-facts/.
Spreckelsen, P. V., Glashouwer, K. A., Bennik, E. C., Wessel, I., & de Jong, P. J. (2018). Negative body image: Relationships with heightened disgust propensity, disgust sensitivity, and self-directed disgust. PloS one, 13(6), e0198532. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0198532