How To Be Gentler With Yourself About Your Body Image

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Particularly in a world where we get barraged with images and messages about what it means to be "beautiful," "healthy," and "normal," feeling body shame is an understandable experience. For as much body positive rhetoric that exists out there, to actually combat and cope with the pain of internalized body shame takes work, and it's a different journey for everyone.

It's worth noting that whatever you think about your body right now is fine. You don't have to love it, and you don't have to feel even more shame that you aren't jumping up and down in celebration of your physical form. But there are ways to find internal relief from the distress your body might cause you.

"Body shaming thoughts and behaviors are so widespread, that they become almost automatic and hard to notice when we’re doing it," psychologist Jaclyn Lopez Witner tells Bustle. "These shaming tendencies are the result of many different factors, particularly social structures and views and early messages from primary caregivers and close others such as friends and romantic partners." And while yes, body shame is very prevalent in women, she says, it is experienced across all gender identities.

Below, some pros weigh in on how you can heal from body shame.

1. Challenge The Messages You Internalize

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It's helpful to begin challenging the internalized messages about body image and the ways we define who we should be and what we should look like, Witner says.

"Once we start to break down the shaming language and separate it out from the individual, we can start to see how society and people around us have shaped or conditioned us to experience our bodies as a source of shame, rather than of celebration and appreciation," Witmer says.

Begin to recognize how you talk about bodies in general. Can you challenge this language and these thoughts? Can you ask where they are coming from and what their purpose is?

2. Practice Being Gentle With Yourself

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Again, there is no way you should or shouldn't feel about your body. But practicing being kinder, gentler, and more compassionate towards yourself and your body can help you find emotional relief.

"Each individual person is meant to look and be different, and so the idea that with enough body shame you will alter how you look is so unfair and downright impossible," Witmer says.

Start to build on and expand your definition of your body to include internal attributes as well as external, and express appreciation for your body that goes beyond society’s narrow views, Witmer says.

3. Practice Being In Touch With Your Body

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"One way to address body-based worthiness shame is to engage in practices where you are embodied," somatic therapist Christine Scott-Hudson, MA MFT ATR, tells Bustle.

Activities like walking in the sun and feeling it warm your skin, dancing around your room, sex, or simply sitting and breathing while you scan your limbs can help you to remain inside of yourself, "not a gazing spectator of your shell," as Scott-Hudson says.

From this embodied place, she says, you may re-discover the energy and peace of joyful movement.

4. Consider What You Are Looking At On Social Media

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What are some practical steps toward moving away from shame? Well, for one, you can think about the messages you choose to interact with on a day to day basis.

"We can begin to shift away from body shame by reducing our consumption of social media that makes us feel 'compared' or “less than," psychologist Dr. Carla Marie Manly tells Bustle.

5. Acknowledge The Pain You Feel

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It's OK, and helpful, to acknowledge that you might feel pain, shame, or anger when it comes to the relationship you have with your body.

"We can easily internalize a critical parent's hurtful words about our body and these messages go deep into our subconscious beliefs about ourselves, even well into adulthood," trauma therapist Shannon Thomas, tells Bustle.

If we were raised by a body shaming or critical parent, our recovery will begin by acknowledging the pain they caused and still remains, Thomas says.

"We can share these feelings with a safe friend, therapist, or simply to ourselves," Thomas says. "Being consciously aware of the impact a critical person had on our body image development will begin to unravel the hurtful inner voice. We can replace it with a kinder, more accepting dialogue toward ourselves."

6. Wear Clothing That Feels Comfortable

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Shop for clothing that fits today, psychotherapist Carla Korn tells Bustle. Look for things that feel comfortable to you. Maybe clothes are a way for you to express yourself, maybe you don't want people to notice you, maybe you just want to feel cozy. It's all good.

"You deserve to wear clothing today that reflects your style and fits you well," says Korn.

7. Find Ways You Really Enjoy Moving

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"Many people associate exercise with really trying to compensate for what they are eating," says Korn. "Work on finding ways to move your body that actually feel fun and joyful, rather than something that might feel punishing."

This practice will really help with body respect, says Korn.

8. Know That It's Totally Cool To Have Goals For Your Body

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Whatever that might mean to you. You might want to eat differently, dress differently, or change something about how you appear. That's totally cool. As much as possible, try to discern when those messages are coming from external forces that increase your shame, or are coming from your own right for expression and authenticity.

"Moving away from [feeling body shame] towards body acceptance doesn’t mean that you can’t still have goals," Witmer says. It means accepting where you are and living from that spot.

And lastly, it's important to remember that however you feel about your body is OK. You have sovereignty over that, no one else!