When you look in the mirror, how do you feel about what you see?
The way you feel about yourself is important. Our beliefs are powerful, and they come to shape much of our experiences, including the way we experience ourselves. So, if our feelings about our appearance are negative, that makes us perceive ourselves as unattractive—and we carry ourselves like it. But ultimately, there’s nothing more attractive than confidence. We’re drawn to people who seem comfortable with themselves, and others are drawn to us when we feel happy and secure. So, cultivating a positive self-image that can manifest outwardly is a worthwhile endeavor.
Body image is the mental picture you have of yourself, and it affects your perception whether or not it aligns with reality. If our mental picture is positive, we feel comfortable and confident. If it’s negative, we may struggle with a sense of shame or inadequacy. These feelings can easily overwhelm and make us feel limited in what we can wear or do, and maybe we become familiar with oversized clothing and a distaste for the beach. If you are struggling, remember that you are your own worst critic. Most of us tend to focus on our flaws and negatives, ignore our positive attributes, and overestimate how much other people are thinking about us (for better or for worse).
It’s necessary to be aware of how many external factors shape our self-perception. From our culture to media to friends and family, countless voices tell us to feel a certain way about ourselves. Our families might have shaped our perception of body image by the way they spoke about themselves or others; a child internalizes these messages, and the adults we become might underestimate how much these early perspectives influenced us. We also tend to compare ourselves to those around us, especially young people who are still developing a stable sense of identity. The rise of social media has increased our exposure to limitless images of ideal bodies, which have been smoothed and shaped by the ubiquity of photo-editing software—even affecting children as young as four years old. It’s become nearly impossible not to compare.
An important first step towards developing a more positive body image is to take a hard look at the factors that are causing you to criticize yourself and to monitor your thought patterns. Ask yourself often if you are being kind and fair when judging your body and the bodies of others. There are many versions of the love for all creatures great and small quote—but in essence it’s true: all creatures, all bodies, deserve kindness. Ask yourself if the people you follow on social media make you feel inspired or self-critical. Ask yourself if the cultural messages you are internalizing about how bodies “should” look are making you happier, healthier, or more fulfilled.
Cultivating a positive self-image is an ongoing practice and requires holistic change. So, incorporate self-love and acceptance into every corner of your life, and focus on feeling good rather than looking good. Eat foods that make you feel strong and energized. Find a form of exercise that you enjoy—dance, yoga, weightlifting, hiking, and swimming are some popular options. Consider keeping a list of things you love about yourself, because your kindness, sense of humor, and willingness to help others are much more important than a number on a scale. Focus on how your body is healthy and functional. Love your body because you can run, see, laugh, jump, and hug!
Maybe most important to remember is that you will always be influenced by external factors, especially when starting a journey towards self-love. So, be conscientious of the way you use social media, and surround yourself with positive people who appreciate you for exactly the way you are.
Body image is more significant than we might realize, and the judgments around it are deeply ingrained and difficult to unpack. But once you begin to question your preconceptions, you’ll realize the extent of the control you have over your self-image by focusing on the positive. You can pursue exercise and a healthy diet simply because they make you feel good. And if you feel good, you look even better.