The National Eating Disorders Association has a message: Be comfortable in your genes. "I think that's a great slogan because it emphasizes that so much of our body shape is attributed to genetics and we tend forget that," says Sari Fine Shepphird, PhD, a Los Angeles clinical psychologist who specializes in eating disorders, body image, and sport and performance psychology.
When we look in the mirror, most of us focus more on what we don't like about our shape, whether that's our big thighs or small breasts. "Over time, we come to see bodies as ornamental rather than instrumental," Dr. Shepphird says. "We see our bodies as something to be looked at rather than used and appreciated."
We hold ourselves up to the women we see on in magazines and on television, movies, and billboards, and develop a negative self-image when we can't compare. The media portrays the ideal woman as the supermodel, making it harder for us to appreciate a body that isn't as perfect, Shepphird says. So we concentrate our efforts on weight loss and link our body image to success on the scale.
Building a Better Self-Image
You can learn to embrace your body just as you are. Here's how:
Think positive. If you look in the mirror and berate yourself, you will have a negative self-image. Turn your negatives into positives. Instead of saying, "I'm overweight," pride yourself on having achieved some small weight loss. Rather than concentrating on having to lose another 25 pounds, be excited that you've lost three pounds and are off to a great start. Know that you can achieve additional weight loss in time. If you don't like your flabby arms, focus instead on how you can and will improve them with exercise. Think of solutions (the positive) rather than problems (the negative.)
Make a "nice" list. Write down 10 things you like about yourself. Every day, say five of them to yourself when you wake up, Shepphird suggests. If you switch it up, you'll pay more attention to what you're saying and not just do it by rote. Make sure that at least some of the items on your list aren't related to your appearance.
Don't compare yourself to others. "There's always going to be someone who makes us feel insecure or less attractive," notes Shepphird. "Constantly comparing ourselves to others makes us feel like we're not measuring up. Quit the comparisons and you'll feel better about yourself in the long run."
Be kind to yourself. You're probably much harsher on yourself than you are on your family and friends. If you treat yourself like you do your friends and family, you'll like yourself better. "Be gentle and flexible with yourself," Shepphird says. "It's okay to have an occasional treat." Keep active and listen to what your body is telling you.
Dress your best. Don't wear clothes that are oversized to hide your weight; they often draw more attention to your size, as do clothes that are too tight. Wear what you're most comfortable in and what's best for your body type. If you feel that you look good in what you are wearing, you will feel better about yourself.
With a little attitude adjustment, you can boost your self-image and celebrate your unique traits.
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