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Love Your Body, Love Yourself: 12 ways to improve your body image and self-esteem
by Cheryl Rainfield, 2004
Most of us, especially girls and women, are assaulted with negative messages about our bodies on a regular basis by magazines and newspapers, advertisements, "well meaning" family members, peers, and even friends. We're shown computer-manipulated images of the "perfect" body—a body that is not natural for the vast majority of us, and can only be obtained through self-abuse and starvation.
Survivors of child abuse or trauma have an added layer of negative messages through the very act of abuse. In trying to survive the abuse, many survivors disconnect from their bodies. Many women also this—to a lesser extent—in reaction to the negative messages we receive about our bodies. It becomes almost second nature to criticize our bodies, separating ourselves from our bodies, and seeing ourselves as objects or parts of a whole. Criticizing our bodies can lead us to hate ourselves and abuse our bodies.
Women come in lots of different shapes and sizes, and this diversity is just not reflected in the media. It's hard to feel good about ourselves when we don't see ourselves reflected back. How we feel about our bodies affects how we feel about ourselves. So it's important that we embrace our bodies, and find ways to love our bodies—and ourselves.
Finding ways to love our bodies can be hard. Many women feel overwhelmed by trying to change how they feel about their bodies, or don't know where to start. Below are a few suggestions about things you can do to reclaim your body. Some suggestions will feel easier for you, and will work better for you than others. That's okay; you don't have to do everything here. Find the suggestions that work for you, and leave the rest.
- Try not to weigh yourself, or try not to weigh yourself often, as this can increase critical thinking about your body, and add to body discomfort. Instead, focus on how you want to feel in your body—strong, mobile, energized, etc. What you weigh has nothing to do with what kind of person you are, or whether your body deserves your love and compassion.
Try becoming more present in your body, more inside your own skin. Take a deep breath and feel your feet on the floor, your bum on the chair, the way your ribcage moves as you breathe. Really notice how you feel. Try to eat mindfully—notice the food in your mouth, the flavour and texture, how it feels when it goes down your throat and into your stomach.
You may want to take a meditation or tai chi class, or try exercising or stretching, and noticing how you feel in your body. Being connected to your body can help diminish the distance that allows you to criticize your body, or see it as other.
Surround yourself with positive images of women that reflect the different sizes and shapes women are. It's important to have images that reflect the reality of women's different sizes and shapes, and that shows the beauty of those different sizes and shapes. To change the way you see your body, it's important to see different images of women's bodies, not the unrealistic images that the media presents us with. For example, the affirmation cards I created reflect that diversity. You can download the free screensaver here, or buy the affirmation cards here.
As well, try to limit the number of negative messages you receive about your body. This means keeping away from many fashion and "women's" magazines, and advertisements. (There are some great magazines out there, for both girls and women, that promote positive self-image and healing messages. Try one of them!) Try reading magazines and book that make you feel good about who you are, instead of magazines that try to diminish you or make you panic so you run out and buy a product. You may also want to tape TV shows and fast forward the ads, or turn off the sound and not watch while they are playing. And if there are people who repeatedly give you negative messages, try talking to them about this, or finding ways to ignore them or to counteract their messages inside your head.
Find and wear clothes that compliment the body size and shape you have, not the body size or shape that you want. Wearing clothes that fit your body type, that you are comfortable in, and that make you look good, can help you feel good.
External beauty is not about body size. Any body size can look beautiful, and many women that society would label "beautiful" have major issues and hang ups about their bodies. External beauty is more about how we carry ourselves, and how we feel about ourselves. And true beauty, the beauty that matters the most, is the beauty of our souls.
- Participate in activities that you enjoy—dancing, walking, yoga, making pottery, flying a kite, cooking. Feel the joy in your body when you do something that feels good. Try to include something that keeps your body active and that you enjoy, at least once a week. Exercise can help your body and emotions feel better.
- Remember a moment when you were a child, when you felt good about your body, or a part of your body, no matter how small that moment was. Really remember how good you felt. Try to recapture that feeling in things you do now. Did you love how your body felt, so free and alive, as you ran across a field? Run to the bus stop, feel the wind against your face, really be in the moment. Or go running in a park on the weekend or at lunch. Did you love the feeling of snuggling under a warm blanket on a cold night, or sipping a cold drink on a hot one? Make time for that, and try to be present in your body, enjoying the sensation.
- Make sure you get safe touch that feels good. Hold hands with a child, a friend, your lover. Ask for a hug or give one. Ask your lover to stroke your hair or gently touch your face. Lean against your friend. Safe touch is a way to nurture your body and your emotions—and it can help you feel good about yourself and your body. There have been lots of studies that show we need positive physical touch; it's part of staying healthy.
- Treat your body gently, the way you would treat someone you love. The way we treat ourselves can impact how we feel. Let yourself have those extra few minutes in bed in the morning, or linger over a cup of tea. Have a hot relaxing bath or shower, spend calm moments in nature, get a massage, use essential oils or natural creams that make you feel good. Really pamper yourself, and notice how you feel in your body as you do so.
- Pay attention to an area of your body that you like, and focus on that for as long as you can. This can be something as small as your nose, or as large as your whole body. Look at that part of your body, touch that area of your body gently, and let yourself see its beauty. Think of that area of your body often, with pride or good feeling, and gradually try to increase the amount of your body that you like.
- Make a list of all the ways your body has helped you, and thank your body. This can be something like being grateful for the way your body's kept you healthy, the way your body runs when you ask it to, the way your body's given you pleasure, or how your body helped you survive your childhood. Try to thank your body in a heartfelt way, and really notice and appreciate it.
Listen to what you're saying to your body through your thoughts, and give yourself some compassion. Try really listening to yourself for a whole day, or for time that you're in the company of others. You'll probably find you criticize and put down your body a lot more than you thought you do. If you catch yourself being negative, criticizing your body, putting your body down, take note of that, and then try to give yourself compassionate, loving messages about your body. If you have trouble doing this, try to imagine a friend with you, looking at you with love in her or his eyes. What would she or he say about your body?
As often as possible, try to give yourself deliberate positive messages about your body—messages that counteract the negative ones you give yourself or are given, and messages that celebrate your body. Even if you don't believe them at first, keep saying them. Repeated often enough, they will eventually sink in. Affirmations are a good way to give yourself those positive messages.
- Listen to what you're saying to your body through your actions, and give yourself compassion. For instance, do you treat your body roughly (bumping into things often, drying your body roughly after a shower); ignore your body (not going to the bathroom when you have to, not get yourself something to drink when you're thirsty)? Try to listen to your body, and what it needs. Notice the ways you aren't being gentle with your body. Then try to imagine your body as the child you once were, or a child you love. Would you treat a child that way? You don't deserve to be treated that way, either.
Remember that people love you for who you are and how you act, not for what your body looks like. True friendship and love come from how we are with others, what we share with them about ourselves, and the way we are inside—not how we look. You deserve to love your body, and to feel good about your body—and yourself.
©Cheryl Rainfield, 2004
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