What is body image?
How do you feel when you look in the mirror? This feeling is called body image. Your body image refers to how you feel about the body you live in. In today’s society, maintaining a healthy body image is really hard. Simply watching TV gives mixed messages about our body. One commercial promotes the idea that everyone has a “last five pounds” to lose, and another advertises fast food. Loving your body is a radical act when there are multi-billion dollar industries out there that are reliant on you not feeling like enough.
The images you see every day in the media probably don’t reflect your body or experience, especially if you’re trans*, queer, disabled, plus-size, and/or a person of color. Societal pressure to conform to limited ideas of what is beautiful can prevent you from seeing your own unique beauty. Bullying, criticism, and even well-meaning advice from peers or adults can also affect the way you see yourself.
Adolescence is an especially challenging time because your body is constantly changing. It’s natural to gain weight, get breakouts, and grow body hair during your teens. While natural, these changes can make you feel like your body is out of control. Everyone develops at a different rate, and being the first (or last!) one to grow breasts or facial hair can also take a toll on your body image.
Learning to live with and even love your body is a lifelong process. It’s also a worthwhile one—your body is the only one you’ll ever have. Figuring out how to love and care for yourself now will serve you well throughout your life.
How do I learn to love my body?
Take some time to observe how you talk to yourself in the privacy of your own mind. Are you putting yourself down? Do you pass judgments on the way you look? Are you comparing yourself to your friends or even celebrities? Negative self-talk is so common and can be very damaging to your body image and self-esteem. Think about the kind of stuff you’re saying to yourself—would you say that to a friend? If not, why do you let your inner hater say it to you?
If a thought like “I hate the way my arms jiggle” pops into your head, try to replace it with three kind things. Maybe those arms carried your little sibling around today, or made the winning shot in last week’s basketball game, or drew a really cool comic. Think of something else that you love about your body, like your brown eyes or thick hair. Maybe you’re having trouble loving your body today but can appreciate your quick-wit and cooking skills. If you’re having a lot of trouble quieting your inner hater, speak with a counselor or therapist. A professional can support you as you learn to speak to yourself with kindness.
You can learn to appreciate what your body does for you by doing body-focused self-care activities, like painting your nails, having a solo dance party, or taking a bath. Other forms of body-focused self-care might be applying a sweet-smelling lotion, doing gentle stretches or giving yourself a hug.
Many ways to be beautiful
It’s not always easy to feel good about your body. It’s a process, and it’s made harder by discrimination against people with disabilities, people of color, queer and trans people, and people of size. Through the media, we constantly see images of thin, white, cisgender people. We come to view these images as the standard for what is beautiful.
In reality, there are so many ways to be beautiful! To be proactive in your positive body image building process, seek out images of people who look like you (and look amazing!). Representation matters. Instagram, Tumblr, and other social media sites can showcase diverse forms beauty. You can personalize your feed and do your best to control the images you see by choosing who to follow. Check out this list of body positive Instagram accounts. Surrounding yourself with images of people who are beautiful in all different ways you can help you gain a better appreciation for your uniqueness.
Size and health
The idea of a “healthy weight” is different for everyone. Humans come in so many forms—tall, short, thin and heavy. Health, fitness, and a thin body are often treated as one in the same, but there are plenty of thin people who survive off candy, and plenty of heavier folks out there running marathons. If you’re worried about your weight, talk to your medical provider or a nutritionist. Living at a healthy size for you has way more to do with how you feel in your body than with how you look. Instead of fixating on the scale, focus on developing healthy habits, moving your body, and paying attention to signals your body gives when you’re hungry, thirsty, or full.
When exercise is framed only in terms of weight loss or appearance, you miss all the other awesome benefits you get from breaking a sweat. Exercise helps keep you healthy, build body confidence, and release endorphins that help with mental health. It can be challenging to find an exercise routine that works for you, and what fits best might change over time. Staying active doesn’t need to be expensive, or time-consuming, or require special equipment. It can be as simple as taking a walk, dancing around your living room, or doing a free workout on YouTube. Here are some more of our recommendations for cheap ways to get fit.
Feel good, live life to the fullest
Balanced, healthy eating also has benefits beyond the way you look. Foods rich in vitamins and minerals, like whole grains (brown rice and whole wheat bread), protein (beans, meat, tofu), and fruits and veggies will give you more energy and help your body feel its best. And remember that there’s no need to be all or nothing about the way you eat. Try to focus on eating nutritious meals, but still enjoy the less-good-for-you foods you love in moderation. After all, food has more value than just nutrients. Those chocolate chip cookies that your grandma bakes have emotional value, even if they may not nourish your body in the same way a kale salad does.
Establishing good habits around eating, like not skipping meals or eating late at night will help you feel your best. Time, money, and access all go into preparing good-for-you, fresh food. It’s easy to end up discouraged, but remember that healthy eating is a lifelong process. If you’re having trouble getting started, you can ask your medical provider to refer you to a nutritionist.
A lot of people who want to lose weight put off doing things like dating, exercising, and wearing that cute bikini to the beach until an undefined future time when they are thinner. Don’t do this! You deserve to live your life fully with the body you have. Remember that your mental health is just as important as your physical health. If you are finding yourself preoccupied with worries about your body, speak with a counselor, therapist, or medical professional.
This information is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services, only general information for education purposes only.