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Instead of looking in the mirror and criticising yourself, how about you give yourself a compliment? I know, it's difficult, isn't it? But, has anything good ever come from talking down to yourself? As part of my challenge from AXA PPP healthcare to “Own Your Fears”, I have been working on positive body image this month. Here are my tips for building yourself up and watch how things can change for the better.
If you missed my post at the beginning of the month about a Fear of Being In Front Of The Camera, I have been set the challenge of becoming more comfortable in my own skin, and not fear having my photo taken. This has to start with the way I see myself, and the way I talk to myself. This month has all been all about positive body image!
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Earlier this week I chatted with AXA PPP healthcare physiologist, Amy Creedon who is coaching me through this challenge. She specialises in areas such as improving optimism through attention training and the role of health identities in motivating behaviour change. When I told her about how I feel about myself, and how photographs make me feel, she asked me to right down positive things about myself this month. These should include, personality traits, appearance, values, skills etc. The appearance one has been the hardest, but it has been good for creating a positive body image.
Positive body image is something that is very difficult for most people, myself included. Having lost a lot of weight, and gained some back, I have realised that loving yourself doesn’t come at a certain size. I was unhappy with myself at my smallest, and my heaviest.
The problem was never really my weight, as beauty is not a size, I just have trouble loving myself no matter how I look. Losing weight meant I was just changing my appearance by becoming smaller, and improving my health, but that wasn’t changing the way I thought about myself and the same goes for gaining weight back too. That is something I have to work really hard on, and it’s not the kind of work that can be done in the gym or the kitchen.
I have been going through life feeling like I could only feel good about my body if I looked a certain way. Wrong! We should all feel good about ourselves no matter what size we are. That doesn’t mean you have to stay the size you are if you are not happy or healthy that way. But whilst you are currently that size, you can still love the body you have. Because trust me, hating that way you look is not only not going to get you to your goal any quicker, but it can be really damaging too.
Enjoy the body you currently have, even if you are working towards a different one, because I guarantee it is more beautiful than you give it credit for and you are more than just the way you look.
Like everyone, I am still going to have bad days when it comes to positive body image, but here are my tips that helped me start to work on it this month and when I do have those bad days, I always refer back to them.
- Appreciate all that your body can do. You might not have the toned legs you want or your arms might jiggle a little, but think of how amazing the human body is! The body is adaptable and capable of change if you let it and work at it. It can heal itself and it can cleanse itself and it can create a new life. Since having a child, I do appreciate my body even more. But having a baby can also bring more challenges when it comes to body image. Humans are also strong enough to overcome the hardest mental challenge too. Pretty amazing if you ask me, and puts that arm jiggle into perspective. I am focusing on the workouts I can now do, the races I have competed in and that I brought a child in to this world and that keeps me going. When I think of how well I can function on such little sleep too, that’s an achievement.
- Beauty is not just skin deep. You are more than just your body and you should keep reminding yourself that.
- Keep a list of the 10 things you like about yourself - Try to make sure these are not related to your weight or how you look. This was part of my AXA PPP healthcare “Own Your Fears” challenge and I carry this list with me. Also, try giving yourself a compliment every day. It might feel a bit strange at first, but it will become habit, and a very good one at that.
- What does healthy mean to you? The media gives the impression that health is defined by a six-pack or long lean legs. Because my aim was to always be healthy, I was not getting that six-pack or long lean legs and I thought I wasn’t healthy. Then I realised – that isn’t what healthy means to me. To me, healthy means being able to be active without getting out of breath, being at a weight that I am happy at, and finding a balance where I can still enjoy eating some cake or having a bottle of wine and knowing that it hasn’t ruined anything. Once I figured that out, every time I look at my body and think it isn’t “perfect”, I remind myself that I am focusing on health and having a balance that I am happy with. I actually don’t care about a six pack.
- Look at yourself as a whole person. Don’t focus on specific body parts as you will single them out and obsess over them. Also, if you are trying to lose weight, you can't spot reduce, so you need to focus on losing weight from your whole body. I am trying not to look in the mirror and just focus on one part.
- Focus on the things you can change. For a lot of people, their height is an issue to them. I would personally prefer to be shorter, but there is nothing I can do about my height, so I don’t focus on it. Instead, I am realistic and I focus on what I can change. Visible abs are probably never going to happen for me without spending my life in the gym, which I don’t want to do. So, I focus on what I can do, and that’s increasing my activity levels.
- Don’t let your clothes size define you. Have you ever gone into a store to buy some new jeans or a dress and you pick up the size you know you are, and you know you have not gained any inches or weight, yet when you try it on it doesn’t fit? Do you then get really upset and convince yourself you must have put on weight or you have been doing something wrong? We have all been there. Don’t focus on it too much. Why? Because clothes sizes are messed up. What is a size 14 in one store is not a 14 in the other. Providing you do know that your measurements have stayed the same, just buy what fits, regardless of the number on the label. You are still the same size aren’t you? What difference does it make what the label says? We all get hung up too much by the label.
- Wear clothes that are comfortable and that make you feel good about your body – Just because the latest trend is skinny jeans, doesn’t mean you have to wear them. Some of us are just not built to wear them and that’s okay. No matter what I weigh, there are skinny jeans from some stores I just can’t wear, because I have big strong legs (notice I said strong too, and didn’t just focus on big). I think too many people get caught up in buying what is in fashion, and when it doesn’t look the same on them as it did on the model or the mannequin, they beat themselves up about it. We are not all built to wear the same kind of things, so wear what you are comfortable in and what suits your body type.
- Don’t weigh yourself every day. This is a very personal one for me, and one that works for me. I know lots of people will disagree, and that is fine as they have found what works for them. But, unless you can handle (and understand) the daily fluctuations, then weigh yourself once a week or once a month instead. I understand the daily fluctuations, but I can’t handle them. I've come from having a very unhealthy relationship with the scale (weighing myself up to 20 times a day) and I have some huge daily fluctuations in my weight. I have been known to gain 5-7lb over night and whilst I KNOW that isn’t fat I am gaining overnight, and it is just water etc, and I know that it will come off again soon, I just don’t like seeing it. It makes me feel less positive about myself, and I don’t want to do that. So, instead, I weight myself every couple of weeks, just to make sure I am still in the right range. I don’t think I could never not weigh myself again, as I know how easy it would be for me to go totally off track. But I don’t want my body image to be defined by the daily scale fluctuations.
- Take some time out from the mirror. Do you find yourself looking in the mirror every chance you get? Or looking at yourself in a door or car window reflection? To some this could make you look vain, but for a lot of people, they are looking at the reflection and reminding themselves of the parts of their body they hate. Trust me, what you look like hasn’t changed from when you looked in the mirror an hour ago, so stop obsessing over it. Reminding yourself of the things you don’t like is not going to change it. So, instead, when you do look in the mirror, focus on what you love. Don’t tell me there isn’t anything – because there is!
- Surround yourself with positive people. If the people around you are the type of people that are always negatively talking about the way they look or they are always commenting on what the latest celebrities look like, then that is going to rub off on you too. Surround yourself with people that make you feel good about yourself. You don’t need other people’s opinions to make you feel good about yourself, but you certainly don’t need their negative opinions either.
- Ignore the voices that tell you that something is wrong with your body - Those negative voices are not needed and you should replace them with positive ones.
- Learn your triggers. Do you always feel negatively about your body, or does it happen after certain events? When I was at my heaviest, I didn’t actually always feel bad about myself, but I identified that it was after I had a binge, or after I had read a women’s magazine. So, I know that it was those things that were contributing to my negative thoughts. Find ways to minimise your triggers.
- Be critical of media messages. Society and the media has lead us to believe that our worth is based on our image. That is not true. The media might make you feel overweight or ugly, but that doesn’t mean you are. It just means you don’t fit into the image they are trying to portray and that is perfectly okay. Don’t define yourself based on someone else’s opinion and remember that the media’s definition of what is beautiful has changed so much over the years and it will continue to change too.
- Don’t think that thinner means happier. I think a lot of us have the misconception that people who are thinner than us are happier than us or the celebrities we see in magazines with the bodies that we want are perfectly happy with themselves. Everyone has hang-ups, it is what makes us human, but not everyone lets them control their life.
- Distract yourself. If you find yourself in a negative head space, then do something that makes you feel good like listening to music or taking a bath. During my conversation with Amy at AXA PPP Healthcare, she suggested replacing old habits with new habits and this is something I have applied here You shouldn’t only do this and ignore the problem, but try to do this whilst you are working on the bigger issues that cause you to have negative body image. If all else fails, looks at funny cat pictures.
- Accept change. Our bodies change over time and after certain events and we should learn to accept that. Whilst I know of some parents who have got their pre-pregnancy body back, that isn’t a reality for a lot of people for many reasons. As we get older our bodies change and that doesn’t have to be a negative thing.
- There is no such thing as normal. Do you say: “I just want to be a normal weight”, “I wish my legs where normal like everyone else’s”? I am sure most of us have said these things before, or at least use the word normal to refer to something else body related. What is normal? Normal isn’t the front of a magazine cover and normal isn’t your best friend. Normal is what is normal for YOU! We are all different, and you have to find what is best and suitable for you. Not everyone is capable of having a six-pack and most of us will never be 120lb. Don’t focus on being "normal" – just focus on being YOU and the healthiest and happiest you can be.
- Just because you think something, doesn’t mean everyone else does. I think this is one of the most important points and one that can cause so many people problems. You might think that you are overweight and not worthy of love because of it, but that doesn’t mean that everyone else thinks that too. We are often our worst critic. I fear photos, because I worry it’s an opportunity for other people to see them and criticise them. Whereas the reality is, most people don’t care or even feel that way.
- Remind yourself of how much time you are wasting on negative thoughts. I know for me that all my thoughts that surrounded my negative body image were consuming and would take up so much of my time. I realised that the time could be much better spent, doing something productive that was going to actually benefit me.
- Do something nice for yourself. You should let your body know that you appreciate it by treating it to a massage or something similar. It might also relax you too.
- Remember that you don’t just have to change the way you look to feel good about yourself. That comes from within and comes from how you think about yourself.
This is something I will always continue working on myself. No matter how much we try to avoid the media or other things that trigger negative body image, something will always come along to challenge you. But, you are strong. And, you're capable of loving your body and, if it's what you want, changing your body at the same time.
Take a look at a few other posts similar to this one:
20 Ways To Be Happy Right Now
How To Stay On Track At The Weekend
100 Ways To Be Happier and Healthier
How To Get Back On Track
The Importance of "Me Time"
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~ This Positive Body Image post was commissioned by AXA PPP ~
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