Some days we wake up feeling not great about what we see in the mirror. For some of us, body dissatisfaction may even be a constant feeling that we’ve just learned to live with. Over the years I’ve looked in my mirror and seen many different versions of myself, some that I’ve liked and others that I’ve hated. Getting to a neutral place or one where you love and accept yourself as you are is hard, hard work. Here are some techniques that help me when I start to feel negative about my body:
Listen to Yourself
When I notice I’m feeling badly about my body, I immediately take a time out. If I'm around other people, I may excuse myself to the bathroom or go into another room. I need to be alone to hear myself. Listening to ourselves, especially our heartbeat, helps us feel better in our own skin. Vivien Ainley, a doctoral candidate in neuroscience at royal Holloway, University of London, co-authored a study that concluded people who can hear their hearts are less likely to view themselves as objects. “If people are able to stand inside their bodies and feel their body, they have a good sense of what's happening inside themselves, and they're less likely to objectify themselves.”
Tell Yourself What You Like About Yourself
When I'm hyperfocused on my looks and what I don't like about them, I often close my eyes and rattle off all of the things I like about myself. Denise Martz, Ph.D., a clinical health psychologist and professor at Appalachian State University in North Carolina, recommends identifying things you like about your body, specifically. "It can be great hair, great nails, terrific teeth.” This isn't easy when you're bent on hating everything you see in the mirror, but you can find something.
Look in the mirror differently
When you're trying to improve your body image, says Lori Osachy, lead therapist at The Body Image Counseling Center in Jacksonville, Fla., "The goal is to retrain your brain how to think positively about your reflection and your body." That means ending the daily critique of your reflection and learning how to look in the mirror with appreciation instead. Easier said than done, right? My method is to smile and then blow myself a kiss whenever I walk by a mirror. This silly gesture makes me feel seen and loved, and the playfulness of it immediately boosts my mood. Robyn Silverman, PhD, body image expert and author, suggests putting positive notes on your mirror that remind you daily of your awesome qualities.
Look at Art
When I’m feeling disconnected from my body, I like to look at art, especially images of women. I do this because it reminds me that there isn’t just one ideal of what a body “should” look like. “Fine art collections show that a variety of bodies have been celebrated throughout the ages and in different cultures,” the Brown University Health Education site reminds us. And unlike advertising, which inundates us with images of a single, white, narrow, cellulite-free female ideal, “Fine art doesn’t exist to create a need for a product, so it isn’t intended to leave you feeling inadequate or anxious.”
And not to lose weight or otherwise "fix" yourself. Do it for your body image, a 2009 study out of the University of Florida suggests. The research found that people who didn't hit any fitness milestones like burning fat or getting stronger felt as positively about their bodies as people who were much more fit. In other words, exercise helps you feel better about your body even if you aren't doing enough of it to change your body in any way. The study also showed that people who exercise more frequently have better body image. So get out there, often. You'll likely focus less on what your body looks like and more on what it can do.
When you're obsessing about your body's flaws, it's easy to get so wrapped up in what's wrong with your body that it feels like you have nothing going for you. One of the best ways out of that funk is to force yourself to enumerate some things you're grateful for. Gratitude has benefits beyond reminding you that your thighs are not everything (although that's a pretty valuable reward in itself). Robert Emmons, a psychology professor at University of California, Davis who has spent his career studying gratitude, has found that "grateful people take better care of themselves and engage in more protective health behaviors like regular exercise, a healthy diet, regular physical examinations." And, as we saw above, the more exercise you get, the better you feel about your body.
Listen to Music
A 2013 study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology found that music can help elevate your mood, which is exactly what you need when you're at war with your body. I have a playlist on Spotify that I call my Happy Mix. It takes me only a couple of songs before I’m belting them out and bopping around my room. The important thing is to play tunes that lift you up. Although I love Nick Drake and The Smiths, they’re both on my Need to Cry and Get It Out playlists. Shoot for upbeat, fast songs with a predictable melody.
If I feel like I’ve been treating my body poorly and am not feeling good in my own skin, I recommit to being kind to my body. I make a list of all the things I can do to help myself do that: dance, eat food that makes me feel good, laugh more, etc. Having a plan and making a commitment immediately makes me feel better about myself, which in turn makes me less focused on my flaws, including the physical ones.
Image: Dmytro Titov/Fotolia.com