In the "no, duh," study of the week, research has found that cosmetic surgery is no help for those with body dysmorphic disorder. And while BDD isn't your run-of-the-mill poor body image (it's a psychological disorder in which the affected person focuses so excessively on a real or perceived defect in their appearance that it causes them major distress--they might even be convinced they have a deformity), most of us know that the way we feel about our physical form is dictated largely by our brains, not our bodies. Anyone who has reached a weight-loss goal and still felt unsatisfied knows that. Losing weight can improve our quality of lives--we feel healthier, more vital, have more energy--but it doesn't fix us. An improved body image starts from the inside out. Here's how to get started on a positive body image breakthrough:
What does thin mean to you?
Sometimes we use "thinness" and diets as a metaphor for what we really want in life. We think, "When I lose weight, I'll finally be happy." Being thin won't make you happy. Being well could improve your sense of satisfaction with your life. You'll have more energy, you'll sleep better, your moods might be brighter. Those are feelings of well-being that come from taking good care of ourselves--eating good foods, letting our bodies move, giving ourselves time to reflect, having meaningful relationships with people. But being thin won't make you happy. Let's say it again: being thin won't make you happy. You will still be you, with your same problems and concerns, just in a smaller package. What is it you're really trying to get from your life?
Talk to yourself like a friend.
There is a constant chatter in our brain, and most of it we wouldn't dare say out loud to a friend. You'll never be good enough. Look at your giant ass in those pants. Who do you think you are? The rules of polite society apparently don't apply to the way we treat ourselves. Enough of that. Pay attention to your internal dialogue, and when it veers toward the negative, put on the brakes. Challenge your negative thoughts. As Geneen Roth says, "What you say to yourself about the shape of your body shapes your feelings about yourself. Be careful what you tell yourself, because you will believe it." Tell yourself something good, something true.
Look at your body with kind eyes.
Take off your clothes, and stand in front of the mirror. (You don't want to--it's cheesy, it's unbearable, whatever. Just try it.) Look yourself in the eye. Acknowledge who you are: what you've been through, what you've accomplished, what you've sacrificed, how you've triumphed, the way you love, the heart you have. Find one thing you love. Find two. Find forty. Then look at all your separate parts. The arms that carry your children. The legs that take you places. The hand that writes. A body is for doing, for living. Appreciate yours for the living it's done, and for the living it's still got to do.
Wear clothes that fit.
Nothing will make you feel worse about your body faster than a waistband that cuts into your stomach or a pair of jeans that won't let you breathe. Clothes are supposed to support us, our style, our bodies, our own sense of fantasy. We are not supposed to adapt to the clothes. Are you going to let an inanimate swath of fabric dictate your level of comfort and self-confidence? No way. Wear clothes that fit and flatter you, just as you are today.
Try a media detox.
We are so bombarded by media images of what women are "supposed" to look like. These are women who have been styled, primped, blown-out, and air-brushed, but when we're sitting on the couch seduced by a magazine image, we forget all that. We're sucked into a fantasy. If you find yourself feeling crappy after you watch television, sizing your triceps up against an actresses', maybe it would be worth it to steer clear of media for a week, or even a few days. See how you feel.
Admire bodies like yours.
This is the opposite of a media detox--this is seeking out images, but ones that make you feel fabulous. Whether you've got Coke bottle curves, pint-sized height, an ample posterior, or slim limbs, find images of women with a shape like yours who are proud, confident, sexy. No matter your shape, there's a time period where it was in fashion. Find it. Appreciate the shape of women who look like you. Pretend that time is now. And use this as a reminder that body shapes, like skirt lengths, come in and out of style. But any skirt--or shape--worn with killer confidence is a classic.
When all else fails, walk like Joan Holloway.
You're having a bad day. You can't get your hair to do that cute thing and you pulled some dirty clothes out of the hamper. Those days happen. But one sure-fire way to boost your confidence is to fake it. Channel the grand dame of Mad Men's Sterling Cooper. Throw your shoulders back. Hold your head up high. Walk like you command attention and respect. You're a fine lookin' lady, can't you see?
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