How To Improve Your Body Image
[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
Sometimes, when I meet someone new, I tell them about the deep, dark hole that was my eating disorder. I've written about it ad nauseum, and it's funny to think that strangers might know more about my inner darkness than the people close to me. But usually, I reserve divulging the really dark stuff until it makes sense, and sometimes, that time never comes. Not everyone needs to know about your pain. More importantly, not everyone can be trusted to hold your pain with grace.
But I recently told someone new the abridged version of my story, from the hazy start to the inconclusive finish. His only question was, "Does your eating disorder still bother you?" The short answer is no, I've moved so far from it that I barely think about it except when asked. And I've been asked about it so much that my responses to common questions have begun to feel rote. But there is one part of the eating disorder that maybe does still linger, and I think it's a thing that can bother most of us: body image. Our bodies change so often (and should) that our body images can't always keep up. And body image impacts every other facet of life: our confidence, our vulnerability, our willingness to put ourselves out there, our comfortability in intimate situations, our comfortability with ourselves.
There is no good way to always feel 100% good in ones body. I don't think that's the point of bodies anyway. But having a body image that's more negative than positive has been associated with:
- low self-esteem and poor mental health,
- drastic eating restrictions/disordered relationships with food,
- depression or other mood disorders,
- increased risk of self-harm,
- and relationship problems.
I've worked on having a better body image for years, and here are some tangible things that have helped.
1. Tune into your hunger cues. Ignoring what your body needs can cause you to over/under eat, not sleep enough, not drink enough water, drink too much caffeine or alcohol, and just generally feel worse than you need to. Honor and respect your body enough to listen to what it needs. It's telling you, I promise.
2. Wear clothes that are comfortable, flattering, and fit well. I used to consistently buy clothes that were too big for me because I thought I was bigger than I was. Conversely, it can be disheartening to hang on to clothes that are too small for you. Ignore the often arbitrary sizing and buy clothes that fit and make you feel comfortable and confident.
3. Appreciate the things your body can do instead of what it looks like. Picking up an active hobby or sport to pursue can help you re-focus from how your body looks to its capability and strength. And the more you focus on what your body can do, the more you might be inspired to see exactly what it can do. You'll figure out pretty fast that the incredible things we can do with our bodies are far more interesting than any surface level stuff.
4. Get off social media. Especially image driven platforms like Instagram. Most images on Instagram are heavily filtered, and there are so many sophisticated filtering tools that we've become immune to unrealistic images. Worse yet, you might compare your very normal and healthy face/body to a heavily edited image, and that's bound to cause some dissatisfaction or confusion.
5. Get busy. Get outside of your own brain by getting busy. Pick up a hobby or two, visit a friend, volunteer, do anything to prevent yourself from focusing too much on your body or appearance. If you feel like you have a larger purpose or something meaningful to pursue, your appearance won't matter as much.
P.S. Find a DEXA scan to measure body composition near you, read about the affects of social media on young women's self-perception here, or buy the Body Image Workbook to help you establish new neural pathways.