Here’s a challenge. Right now, DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT think of a pink elephant. What did you think of? Could you do it, or do you now have a large pink elephant on the brain?
The brain is ever-observant and sensitive to environmental cues – also known as primers – which have a huge influence on how we experience the world. While it may seem like a weird example, the implication of this framing impacts so much of how we see the world, and therefore our well-being.
Body image plays a significant role in shaping one’s mental health. In today’s image-conscious society, many individuals grapple with unrealistic beauty standards perpetuated by media and social media platforms. The pressure to conform to these ideals can lead to feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, and even body dysmorphia. People may engage in unhealthy behaviors such as extreme dieting, excessive exercise, or even resort to harmful cosmetic surgery to try to attain the perceived ideal body shape. These negative body image perceptions can foster anxiety, depression, and social isolation, as individuals may avoid social situations or feel constant self-judgment. Promoting a healthy and realistic body image, emphasizing self-acceptance, and seeking support when necessary are crucial steps in preserving and improving mental well-being in the face of societal pressures related to body image.
Body dissatisfaction can be a driving factor in the development of eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. The relentless pursuit of an unrealistic body ideal can lead individuals to engage in extreme dieting and restrictive eating patterns, which, over time, can escalate into full-blown eating disorders as they desperately strive to achieve a perceived “perfect” body image.
By focusing on what we DO want to happen, rather than what we DON’T, we can increase the likelihood of that thing becoming a reality. The same thing applies when it comes to body positivity. Here are nine different ways to foster a healthy relationship with body image:
- Appreciate all that your own body can do – Every day your body helps you accomplish countless things. Celebrate all of the amazing things your physical self does for you— breathing, laughing, dreaming, dancing, getting you from here to there, etc.
- Keep a top-ten list of things you like about yourself – things that aren’t related to how much you weigh or what you look like. This might sound a bit ridiculous, but it works. Read your list a few times a week and continue to add to it over time.
- Beauty is a state of mind, not a state of your body – When you feel good about yourself and who you are, you carry yourself with a sense of confidence, self-acceptance, and openness that makes you beautiful.
- Surround yourself with positive people – Many folks use humor and sarcasm as a way to broach sensitive topics. While this can be a great coping tool at times, it can also have unintended negative impacts. It is easier to feel good about yourself and your body when you are around others who are supportive and who recognize the importance of liking yourself just as you naturally are. Be mindful of how your body confidence might change when around different people, and make changes accordingly.
- Quiet the voices in your head – Do your best to shut down those voices and negative thoughts in your head that tell you your physical appearance is not “right” or that you “should” look a certain way. The next time you start to tear yourself down, build yourself back up with a few quick affirmations that work for you – maybe even revisit the list you made in step 2.
- Take stock – Wear clothes that are comfortable and that make you feel good about your body. Work with your body, not against it. Let go of items that you hope to fit into someday – your clothes should fit YOU, not the other way around.
- Become a critical viewer of social and media messages – Pay attention to images, slogans, or attitudes that question yourself or your body. Whether that be unfollowing certain accounts, avoiding certain publications, or anything between – there’s no doubt being mindful of those consumption will have a huge positive impact.
- Do something nice for yourself – Something that lets your body know you appreciate it. Take a bubble bath, engage in physical activity, or find a peaceful place outside to relax.
- Help others – Use the time and energy that you might have spent worrying about food, calories, and your weight to do something to help others. Research shows that reaching out to other people actually helps you feel better about yourself and can make a positive change in our world.
The mindset of cultivating a positive body image takes time to build. There will be days and weeks where you are stronger than others. That’s okay. The important thing is that you are working on it.
*If you or someone you care about is struggling with mental health, we can help. Contact us at Diversus Health to request an appointment with our mental health providers. If you need immediate assistance, call our crisis hotline at 844-493-8255, or text ‘TALK’ to 38255.