9 Ways To Reclaim Your Body Image

Accepting and appreciating your body through all the noise that tell you to do the opposite.

Many of us can relate to the way we were raised to see ourselves; we compare our bodies to those we see in media and we allow society to tell us exactly how we should look.

What Effect Does Media Bias Have On Body Image?

There is a fine-tuned and carefully crafted mold that the general media implores upon us, and we are led to believe that unless we fit into that very limited and specific box of what is deemed acceptable, we are unworthy and less valuable than those we are taught to compare ourselves to.

We look at magazines and scroll through our Instagram feeds only to be bombarded with messages telling us that in order to claim our space in the world, we must be thin, white, and female, or muscular, attractive, and male. Certain ethnicities are celebrated over others; specific body types receive more positive attention than others.

What Causes A Negative Body Image? 

Negative body image can result from a multitude of things. Childhood events or traumas, the advertisements depicted in print and social media, unrealistic beauty standards of society, and self-comparison to those around you can all lead up to experiencing negative body image. 

Speaking from personal experience, as a child I was raised to believe that the worst thing you could be in life was fat. Yes, being mean, rude, and dishonest were undesirable traits, but I was taught that if you were fat, it would bring ridicule, teasing, bullying, and a much more difficult life than if you were thin and acceptable by society's standards.

I am not alone in the way I was raised; I know my story is not special. There are many of us who have fallen prey to the idea that thin is the only way to be; thin is the only acceptable way to live your life.

I was susceptible to the messages taught to me by my mother, society, and the things I absorbed from media, as did many other young men and women. As a young woman, today I am reclaiming my body image and the way I view myself, but I lived a journey and a half in order to get to this point.

As a young girl, I was constantly comparing myself to those around me. The other girls in my class, thinking back to as young as second grade, were thinner than me and were more popular; more well-received by my fellow classmates.

I can think back to the moment I realized being thin was better: I was 8 years old, and my best friend and I were playing at recess with another boy. He referred to me as a "skinny toothpick" and called her a "jelly roll with extra jelly," implying that I was "cooler" than she was and she was worth being made fun of.

What Is The Danger of A Negative Body Image?

Negative body image can be poison to young boys and girls. What starts out as a single negative thought about the body can snowball into lifestyle changes and unhealthy actions that result in altering the body to look the desired way. 

I gained weight around the age of 9 or 10, like any normal child that age, but that's when the same message of "thin is better" was reinforced. I was teased by my fellow classmates, and I put myself on a diet for the very first time when I was in the third grade. From that point on, the diets started.

I lost weight for a short time and felt better about myself, but my self-esteem was on very thin ice. I was the world's biggest people-pleaser, acting in accordance to however the people around me thought I should act, saying things I thought would make me seem cool and likable, and befriending those I thought would elevate my status.

All of this had to do with what I looked like and what they looked like, and I associated all of this with my value and worth as a human, in my young elementary and middle school years.

When I hit sixth grade, the weight started coming on again as I was nearing puberty, but being an 11-year-old, of course, I didn't realize how normal this was. I felt so self-conscious and uncomfortable in my body, wearing a woman's size 10 by the time I was in the seventh grade.

The teasing was merciless, and I would receive comments from my mother and brother about how much weight I had gained. When I needed to size up in pants, my mom said, "I'll buy you new pants, but you can't gain any more weight. I can't keep buying you new pants, we can't afford it."

To this day, as a 25-year-old woman, I am affected by this comment; I have lived the past ten or so years trying to make myself fit into a certain size, trying to fit into the clothes instead of allowing the clothes to fit me.

By the time I was in the eighth grade, the dieting began again and once I entered high school, I was at a weight I was okay with. I didn't love my body, but I was okay with myself. That is the last time I can remember feeling comfortable in my skin until recently.

From the ages of 15 to 25, I fell prey to eating disorders, impulsive behaviors that played into my shaky self-confidence, and relationships that damaged my self-worth. I always carried the message with me that thin was better, thin was good, thin was acceptable and worthy of being loved, so I fought with everything I could to fit into the mold that promised me a happy life.

Does Being Skinnier Make You Happy?

Society tells us that if you're skinny, you'll be happier. However, life experience tells us this is not the case. Regardless of if you're skinny or fat, tall or thin, life is full of challenges that are unavoidable. Being skinny offers the lie that life is better when you're skinny, but that simply is not true.  

At the age of 25, I know the "being skinny makes you happy" statement is a lie, and I have over ten years of proof to ruminate over. For years I lived in the body I thought would bring me a perfect and pain-free life without the follow-through on that promise. I still experienced pain. I still experienced rejection. I still had to deal with people not liking me, and treating me as less than a human being.

What I looked like held no weight, literally and figuratively, to how people treated me and what people thought of me.

What Does It Mean To Have A Positive Body Image? 

Having a positive body image means that you accept the way your body is. You may not always be happy with the way it looks, but you accept and appreciate the fact that it is your one and only body; you must take care of it and treat it as such. 

Today, I am not in a perfect place of self-acceptance. I can't say I look in the mirror every day and love what I see. But I am in a place of separating my self-worth from my appearance. I've learned over the past decade that my body and I are not the same; I am not my body and my body is not me. We do not define one another.

My body is a vessel that allows me to live my life and do things I enjoy, at whatever weight it holds. I do my best to appreciate my body for what it is instead of allowing it to hold any bearing on who I am and what value I bring.

It took me most of my life to get to this point, but today I can say with gratitude that I am reclaiming my body image, and I've chosen to write a new story from here on out.

How Do I Reclaim My Body Image?

Here are the 9 things you can do to change your body image for the best and have a more positive view of yourself and your body. 

1. Practice Gratitude

It's highly important for us to practice gratitude. Not only does gratitude help lift our spirits, but it also allows us to see the positive things in our lives when things feel like they're going wrong.

Being grateful for the people you have around you, the things you have that keep you happy and safe, and the resources you have at your fingertips will open your eyes to all the things you do have, and take your focus off all the things you feel like you don't have. 

2. Buy Clothes That Make You Feel Good

When improving your body image, you absolutely must dress in a way that makes you feel comfortable and good in your skin. Clothes that don't fit, clothes that are old but we keep because we have emotional attachments to them, and clothes we wear to simply cover ourselves up and hide our bodies do not serve us. 

These clothes had their day in the sun, but it's a new day. The time is now to clean out your closet and get rid of anything that does not bring you unmistakable joy. 

Find clothes that fit and flatter your body. Celebrate your body exactly how it is here and now, and focus on the aspects you like best about it. Clothing should reflect how you feel about yourself, and if you dress as you love yourself, the feelings will follow suit. 

3. Get Rid Of Your Mirrors

Mirrors don't tell us the truth, especially if you suffer from body dysmorphia. Body dysmorphia reflects a skewed view of your body, and never gives you a healthy and accurate representation of what is actually standing in front of the mirror. 

If you look at yourself and criticize your body, telling yourself that you're too fat, too thin, not toned enough, have too much cellulite, aren't curvy enough, or whatever less-than-beneficial thoughts roll around in your mind, stop right now. 

If looking at yourself in the mirror only causes you distress, stop doing it right now. Cover up your mirrors with a blanket or completely get rid of them. Your reflection is not a reflection of who you are as a person, and you should not allow yourself to criticize yourself for the things you dislike about your body. 

If mirrors are causing you discourse, get rid of them. Focus your attention on learning to love how your body feels, and how good it feels to move and exercise and take part in any daily activity. Embrace how good being alive feels, and let the mirrors go.

4. Write Positive Affirmations

We often have negative talk tracks running through our minds. We are overly critical of ourselves and don't allow positivity any room. It's time to take control of your thoughts and change the trajectory of the thinking pattern.

Sit down with a pen and paper and write out some positive affirmations. This would be anything you like about yourself, your personality, or your personal qualities and quirks.

You could write, "I am okay just the way I am," "I am intelligent and creative," "I let love into my heart every day," or "I appreciate my sense of humor and my wit." Anything that you recognize as good quality can be a positive affirmation.

When you're feeling down and are being hard on yourself, take a look at this list and repeat them to yourself. Reinforcing positive affirmations in your mind helps them stick, so when you can feel yourself taking a dive into negativity, you'll be reminded of the positive things you enjoy about yourself; the things that truly make you who you are. 

5. Create A Mantra

A mantra is a phrase you repeat to yourself in order to bring mindfulness. Mantras help ground you in moments of distress, and they open you up to the present moment, extinguishing anxiety. 

A strong, healthy mantra can help pull you out of a moment of negative body image and can allow you to see the big picture. 

Mantras can be similar to affirmations, but they have a peaceful quality about them. A mantra can be anything that brings you peace and serenity, anything that will calm your mind when there's a lot of internal noise getting in the way. 

Examples of a mantra would be, "I am strong, I am capable, I am present," "I feel all my emotions and I don't let them control me," or "I am beautiful exactly the way I am." These phrases create a sense of calm, and they bring your mind into a more positive space instead of allowing your thoughts to fester and dwell in negative self-talk.

6. Write A List Of All The Things Your Body Does For You

Our bodies are capable of so much. They are resilient and if you take care of them, they take care of you. They fight illness and disease, they carry you everywhere you go, they offer a safe space for your thoughts, and they experience pain and pleasure, happiness and sadness, and all the feelings and emotions in between.

The human body is a work of art. It is an absolute masterpiece. You breathe without forcing yourself to breathe. Your body digests food because it knows how to absorb and expend food as energy. You see, hear, taste, smell, and touch without having to think about it. Your body just does

Writing a list of all the things your body does for you gives you some perspective. Instead of thinking, "I hate the way I look in a swimsuit," you can replace that thought with, "I am grateful for the strength my body has, and its ability to swim and carry me through the water." 

Changing your negative thoughts and criticisms into positives helps change the way you think about your body, supporting a more positive body image. 

7. Move In A Way That Feels Good

Exercise shouldn't feel like a punishment. It should be something you enjoy doing, and it should make you feel strong and capable. 

Moving your body is not something to take for granted. There are many people in the world who are no able to move in ways they wish they could, people with illnesses and ailments that prevent joyful body movement. Movement should be cherished and appreciated, and you shouldn't force yourself to move in ways that feel punishing. 

There are many forms of exercise, from simple strolls through the park to weight lifting, barre, yoga, rollerblading, cycling, aerobics, and so many others. Exercise could be going for a peaceful jog with your dog, walking down the street with a podcast playing through your headphones, or a gym session with the music blasting. 

Whatever makes you feel strong, do it. Whether that's rock climbing, surfing, playing basketball, taking a mindful walk on the beach, doing squats, or playing ping-pong, find what brings you the most authentic joy and do that thing.

If you feel good in your body, you'll feel better about your body.

8. Do Something Every Day That Makes You Happy

Sometimes you simply need a distraction that will take your mind off of your body and what it looks like. If you're hyper-focused on your body, filling your mind with self-criticisms and harsh words, take a step back and think of something fun you can do. 

Watch a movie or show on Netflix, take your dog for a walk, go get yourself a manicure or pedicure, go browse at a bookstore, treat yourself and a friend to coffee or lunch, or go for a long drive. Anything you find joy and happiness in is fair game. 

Putting an end to negative self-talk by doing a fun activity is a great way to turn your thoughts around. Instead of spending so much time out of your day worrying about what you look like, spewing insults at yourself regarding the size and shape of your hips and your thighs, and criticizing every dimple and blemish you have, you can spend that time doing something that makes you happy. 

Fun and happy activities bring joy, which is a quick fix for negative self-talk. If you're having fun and enjoying yourself, you'll be too busy to be worried about looking too thin, too fat, too tall, or too short. You'll be so entrenched at the moment you won't have time to ruminate in self-loathing. 

9. Tying It All Together

A healthy and positive body image doesn't happen overnight. You won't wake up one morning and magically accept and love your body exactly the way it is without wanting to change a single thing. 

However, this list of 8 ways you can reclaim your body image is a great way to start. Do these things regularly, and over time, you'll start to see a shift in the way you talk to yourself. You'll trade the meanness and negative self-talk for self-love and self-acceptance. 

Appreciating your body for what it does is life-changing. Once you're able to accept your body, love your body, embrace your body, and celebrate your body, you'll be more able to fully live in your body, living life with every beautiful thing it has to offer. 

Eden is a 26-year-old Aries who loves learning and exploring mental health, self-love, self-care, and eating disorder recovery.

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