What woman has not struggled with her own complicated feelings about her body image and self esteem? The pressure to look a certain way is so deeply embedded in our collective psyches that we forget about the media’s hypnotic effect on our self perception. Instead we have internalized the notion that we are fat, misshapen, sagging, wrinkled and flawed. Looking in the mirror becomes inextricably intertwined with lowered self-worth.
“Images of female bodies are everywhere. Women – and their body parts – sell everything from food to cars. Popular film and television actresses are becoming younger, taller, and thinner,” according to the Media Awareness Network.
Reading magazines like Cosmopolitan, Vogue, Glamour, or In Style, or surfing the net, watching television and movies reminds women about their own imperfections. ‘How come I can’t achieve this level of beauty and thinness?’ we ask. The fact that in real life the women depicted don’t even look like their magazine or movie images is another matter. We are bombarded with airbrushed and digitally enhanced images of beauty that lead us to believe that this perfection is within our grasp.
The message presented is that we need to buy the right products and clothes, diet and exercise more religiously or take solace in injections and surgical interventions. When the products, clothes, diets, cosmetic interventions don’t work as promised many of us feel as though we have failed.
Many of us have had long standing struggles with our body image even though we have worked hard at accepting ourselves for who we are and how we look. The cycle of negative body image and low self-esteem is powerful, often subliminal and very difficult to intercept. Intellectually we know we are better off celebrating our bodies for taking us on the journey of life and yet the quiet self loathing often persists.
It is not unusual for women to start out their day by looking in the mirror and thinking, “I’m fat. I’m ugly.” This negative self-talk becomes ingrained in our unconscious minds and spills over into the rest of the day. Self-denigration is deeply personal and profoundly effects on our self-esteem. Women also play off of each other when it comes to self-perceptions. If for example I say to a friend, “I hate these bags under my eyes.” “The cellulite on my legs is disgusting.” Some women hear that and internalize it as “I, too, must be unappealing.” We collude with each other about these impossible standards of glamour.
We pay a high price for the distorted way we look at ourselves. We bring the insecurities we feel into our relationships with each other, with our partners, with our children and thereby perpetuate the myths of beauty and impossible perfection.
It is critical that we break this cycle and recognize our self worth. As women we need to realize how fabulous we are and the ways in which contribute to our families, our communities and the world. By replacing unhealthy images with more realistic and age appropriate role models, we will begin to change our perceptions. Magazines such as Body + Soul, More, and Oprah, and the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, for example, feature healthy body types and positive body images.
How do we break the cycle? Here are 10 ways to have a more positive body image and enhanced sense of self-esteem.
- Observe the internal messages you are telling yourself. For most of us it starts early in the morning in the bathroom. Right there is our first opportunity to stop the negative self-talk. For example, think of replacing “I hate my fat thighs” to “I need to start walking more regularly.” That way you are replacing a negative thought with a positive action, that will foster change and better self-perception. Practice affirmations that build your positive self-image.
- Focus on the aspects of your body that you consider to be strengths; your hair, your smile, your skin, your legs. Take the emphasis away from what your consider to be your physical weaknesses.
- Remind yourself that your imperfections are largely a creation of the media and that your health is most important. When you take your health seriously it usually means you’re taking better care of yourself and will look and feel better. A healthy diet will go a long way to improve your self-esteem.
- Learn to value your uniqueness. Every body comes in a different and size and shape. Every body comes in a different and size and shape. Very few women fall into the super model category and ironically many of them suffer from their own issues around personal imperfections. Visualization and self-hypnosis also work for replacing negative body image and enhancing self-esteem.
- Wear clothing that makes you feel good regardless of your weight, size or shape. Sometimes just buying a new pair of pants that fit well can change your whole experience of your body and self-esteem as well.
- Talk to yourself with the same compassion and loving kindness you would show to a dear friend or someone you love. Somehow many of us have learned that it’s okay to treat ourselves poorly and then we turn the switch and treat others well.
- Stop comparing yourself with other women. We each have our own gifts and life is not always fair. Find a way to work with what you’ve got, make it as good as you can, in the most loving way possible.
- Pay attention to when your feelings about your body are displaced. Perhaps you haven’t been connecting with friends enough or haven’t had intimate experience of late. Sometimes loneliness or isolation gets translated in our minds into something else. So we might think obsessively about our body’s imperfections rather than the real issue that might be, “I’m lonely.”
- Walk whenever possible in the fresh air. The oxygenation has a relaxation effect on the mind and body and helps the brain to fire up in a more positive way. When you are relaxed you won’t be as judgmental or self-punitive.
- Stand up straight. Carrying yourself in good posture helps you to look and feel better. It is better for your back, neck and internal organs. Sometimes the feeling of self-esteem comes with the physical manifestation of looking the part. In other words, sometimes you need to “Fake it until you make it.”
How do you manage your body image issues?