What is body image? 

Body image is an inner picture of how we see ourselves. It is created by our perception, thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and actions. Several factors influence that perception, including cultural standards, personality traits, physical changes and features, and influence from others. 

How society impacts body image

We live in a society that can make self-acceptance challenging, especially for those who don’t meet society’s expectations of what “the perfect body” should look like. Our culture often ranks certain physical characteristics, sizes, shapes, and aesthetics as more desirable than others.

Also, judging and evaluating bodies, including and especially our own, is unfortunately encouraged in our society. As a result, we begin to focus on and value what we see rather than what we feel or think. 

Change can be hard, especially when it comes to our bodies. Those changes to our body can challenge our body image. We can’t alter certain characteristics of ourselves, nor should we have to. But we can learn to cope and accept ourselves to prevent further hurt and harm. 

How to improve your body image and learn to accept yourself

Here are seven strategies for coping when you are struggling with your body image.

1.    Practice self-compassion.

Self-compassion is acknowledging that we are all human and we all experience pain. It means being kind to yourself when you are struggling, just like the kindness you would show to a friend.

2.    Remember it's a perception.

Remember that your body image is a perception, an image created in the brain. This image that our mind creates may not always show us a realistic, current image of who we are. Be kind to yourself as this picture you see may change from day to day. 

3.    Respect your body.

If you have struggled with your body image for a while, it may feel difficult to jump to a place of “body positivity.” Instead, work towards respecting your body as it is here and now.

Consider buying new clothes that fit comfortably and you feel good wearing them. Also, be sure to listen to your body’s needs and respond with care and attention. Self-care efforts can help you improve your body image. So be sure to fuel your body with nutritious foods, move your body in ways that feel good for you, and get the rest you need. These small steps can help you feel better about yourself.

 4.    Know your worth.

Identify your worth as an individual outside of your appearance. What makes you a great person? Is it your warm smile? Is it your kindness? Are you great at math or writing? Are you a terrific friend, family member or parent (to humans or your fur-baby)? Name the things that make you awesome and that have nothing to do with your appearance. 

5.    Practice body gratitude.

While we may all have challenges liking certain parts of our bodies, or even our whole bodies, most of us can usually identify parts for which we can be grateful. You might be thankful for your eyes for allowing you to see beautiful sunrises or the faces of loved ones. You can recognize that your ears give you the ability to hear laughter, waves crashing, or birds chirping. Maybe thank your hands for being able to hold another’s for comfort or to pet a beloved animal. 

6.    Limit social media usage.

Consider reducing the amount of time you are on social media. Social media can lead to unhelpful and sometimes unrealistic comparisons. 

7.    Stop the negative messages.

Recognize the negative messages you send yourself throughout the day. Try reframing with neutral messages or affirmations. An example of this might be "I am uncomfortable in my body today, but I will still give myself the kindness it deserves and care for my body." 

If you’re struggling with body image, talk to your doctor or with a member of our team at the Lifespan Lifestyle Medicine Center. Improving your body image can be difficult, but being more accepting of your body can make a big difference in your overall attitude and well-being.

For more tips on wellness, visit the Being section of our Lifespan Living health and wellness blog.