Tips to Feel Good About Your Body Regardless of Your Weight and Shape
by Ann Kearney-Cooke, PhD
Assess your appearance less on external indicators of beauty (current beauty ideal, number on a scale, etc.) and more on the choices you make each day to feel good about your body and self. In a research study I recently conducted, it was found that as women kept track each day of the choices they made to feel better about their bodies (e.g., I took a walk today, I complimented my best friend, I ate healthy, I spoke up at a business meeting), they reported higher levels of body satisfaction.
Ask yourself if you have ever been attracted to or fallen in love with someone who is not a “perfect 10.” Of course you have, because “perfect 10s” don’t exist. We all fall in love with people who are less than a “perfect 10.” You forget about your partner’s receding hairline or bulging belly because of his intelligence, great sense of humor, and loving touch. Attraction for men toward women is the same. They aren’t looking for “perfect 10s”—they fall in love with you as a whole package and ignore your imperfections because they love you. So make a commitment to stop wasting your time trying to look or act in a way that is not you. God created all of us with a certain body, mind, and spirit. Embrace that, focus on your signature strengths, and put your energy into your passions and the people you love. Chasing perfectionism leaves you disconnected from others and can lead to disordered eating.
Challenge negative self-talk about your body. Researchers in the field of neuroscience have found that whatever you focus on shapes your brain. If you are consistently thinking negative thoughts about your body, the neural pathway becomes stronger and these thoughts become automatic and habitual. Instead, challenge negative self-talk. When you have a negative thought about your shape or weight, see a stop sign and say, “STOP.” Tell yourself these thoughts are mental noise. Ask yourself: If your friend said this about herself, what would you say? You would probably challenge the negative thoughts and replace them with positive affirmations. Then switch your focus of attention to something else like calling a friend, meditating, or looking up something on the computer. Begin the process of rewiring your brain today.
Consider trading your obsession with your weight and dieting for more joy and vitality in your life. Some individuals buy into the myth that if they can lose weight and look a certain way, they will be happier and have the life they always wanted. Sadly, many reach their weight goal and aren’t feeling happy or content, but report feeling exhausted and burdened with constant obsessing about food. Then they think, If only I lose more weight, I will feel energized and have the life I always imagined. But no amount of weight loss is enough because weight is not the issue. Developing healthy relationships with others, pursuing meaningful work, and engaging in experiences that feed your soul will lead to joy and vitality, not the deprivation, exhaustion, and compulsive activity of a disordered eating cycle.
In my clinical work, I have found that as women challenge unrealistic beauty ideals and include themselves in the definition of beauty, they report more vitality and happiness in their lives. For example, an African-American woman described how she spent 90 minutes each day straightening her hair. I asked her to do an experiment: to take a week and not straighten her hair, and see what happened. She followed through and wore her hair in a natural way each day. Not only did she receive compliments from her husband and coworkers, but she also had significantly more moments each day to spend with her kids. She reported feeling more energized, relaxed, and closer to her children.
The time for change is now. Over the past 40 years, women have questioned many traditional concepts about gender roles and stereotypes of what a “good woman” should act like. Only recently have we questioned and protested the unrealistic beauty ideals in our culture. It is time for all of us to include our own unique appearance in the definition of what is considered beautiful; to focus on our own signature strengths; to teach people how to talk about our bodies; to choose vitality over perfectionism; and to stay well so we can have a voice and make a difference in our world. It’s time to become the change we want to see in the world, accept love, and take care of our bodies and self.