By Dr Louisa Hoey
One issue that most of my clients struggle with is how to have a better body image. Body image is the way we see ourselves and how we feel about our bodies. Unfortunately we live in a society today that values thin women and muscular men. This ideal is pushed at us from many directions and can leave us feeling dissatisfied with our bodies if they do not conform to these ideals. Australian research has indicated that more than 70% of girls wish to be thinner than they are!
Many people believe that if they can change the look of their body that they will naturally have a better body image. However, this is not always the case and instead body image is a bit like a bad habit where you will always find something to be dissatisfied with.
Having poor body image can impede your weight management efforts. It causes people feeling like they are fighting their bodies into submission. When they think that they are not 'successful' in their body goals, they will feel disappointment, shame, anger and frustration and at times these feelings will lead to emotional eating as a coping mechanism. People with better body image and self-compassion are able to work together with their body in the long term nourishing their body with healthy food, exercise and rest.
Here are 7 strategies to help you build a better body image
- Make a decision every day to accept you body. It's a choice you make. This is first step and it's the most important. This involves you at least making conscious space for the possibility of accepting your body. It's okay if you find yourself throughout the day being unaccepting; but you are trying and working towards acceptance. It's a journey.
- Focus on the wonderful things your body does: walking, driving, running, swimming, hugging, repairing itself, reproducing. I live in a place where I can walk everywhere so I regularly look at my legs with pride as they help me walk my children to school, walk me to work, walk me to the shops. I watch my fingers touch typing and think that's pretty cool.
- Look for parts of your body you naturally love: is it your hair colour? Your fingers? Your toe nails? Once you've found them, make a conscious effort to appreciate them. For me it's my hands, I love that they look like my grandmother's hands and that is special.
- Find your style. When we dress well we feel better about our bodies. Some people find it hard to know what suits our bodies. Different styles will suit different bodies. For the price of a new pair of shoes that might last a year or two - you can get a body analysis that will last a lifetime.
- When you hear your mind criticising your body try not to engage but instead use a technique psychologists call 'defusion'. Rather than buying into all the thoughts your mind produces try to observe the thoughts instead. Imagine you are at a train station and each train represents a thought. Don't get on the train, simply sit on the platform and watch each train as it pulls in and pulls away from the station. Practice this technique in front of the mirror.
- Exercise. Use your body. This will help you to build appreciation of your body and a new relationship with it. As you get fitter and stronger you can feel proud of your body.
- Be critical of the media. Remember that models are regularly air-brushed so that they look like the ideal. We have all heard that "sex sells" right? Well, "thin sells" too. Be aware of your self-talk when you see magazines, social media and television perpetuating the thin ideal and use your defusion skills to observe those thoughts without buying into them.
About the Author
Dr Louisa Hoey is a health psychologist. She is the Director of the Health Psychology Centre. Louisa specialises in the psychological aspects of food, the emotional relationships around food and the development of strategies to a happier more fuller life.