Why Can’t I just Love my Body?

A Guide to Start Healing a Negative Body Image for Teens

“I would have more friends if I lost 10 pounds.” “I would be happier if I could fit into the jeans all the people at my school are wearing.”  “Maybe if I skip lunch today the person in my class that I am interested in will start to notice me.”  Do these statements seem familiar or hit home when you read them?  If the answer is yes, believe me when I say you’re not alone.  I too struggled for many years with looking in the mirror and only seeing the negative looking back at me.  The hips and legs I always thought were too big or the chest I always thought to be too small.  The way I compared myself to my peers and celebrities only to always fall short of what I believed to be their beauty standards.  I did, and sometimes still do, struggle with a negative body image and it began to affect my day-to-day life and relationships.  I realized that the only way to begin healing was to acknowledge how I viewed myself and start to make the positive changes.

The first step to beginning to develop a healthy body image, is to understand what body image is and how we develop it.  By definition, body image is a person’s thoughts and feelings about how their bodies look. This is not only related to weight or body shape, which was where I focused, but bodies as a whole.  Simple enough, right? But how do we go from being born with no sense of self to looking in the mirror and criticizing every perceived flaw?  Body image is not developed in isolation, and for some it begins to form as young as 3 or 4 years old.  Family members, culture, social media, adult or older figures in a person’s life, peers, and the fashion and beauty industry are just some of the examples of how we begin to develop a view of self and how we fit into the world.  Comments from others, whether they be positive or negative, are internalized and believed which results in either a positive or negative body image.  In other words, the individual either is satisfied and accepts their body, positive, or is dissatisfied and wants their body to be different, negative.   Being able to understand where your negative body image began helps with not only understanding but also beginning to forgive yourself so positive self-growth can begin.

For someone struggling with a negative body image one of the hardest tasks is to believe positive comments about themselves. Compliments from others, though appreciated, feel uncomfortable because they aren’t believed, and it is almost impossible to look at pictures or in the mirror and give a positive compliment to themselves.  So, fake it until you make it! Start by coming up with a list of 3 to 5 positive statements, don’t worry if they are believed or not at this point, and write them down.   Some examples can be I love my body, I am perfect and complete the way I am, I am smart in many ways, my body is healthy and allows me to do everything I want, I deserve love and respect, I look exactly the way I’m supposed to, my body can do awesome things, I am unique and beautiful in many ways, I accept myself as I am right now, I love and respect myself, I deserve to feel good, my opinion of myself is the only one that matters, and I choose to do and say kind things to myself. Once the positive statements are written down, put them in a place you will see multiple times during the day and repeat the statements OUT LOUD at least 2-3 times each day.  The best times for this are in the morning after waking up and at night before going to bed. This is the practice of using positive affirmations to begin reframing negative thoughts to positive ones.  Committing to at least 30 days of repeating the positive affirmations can help with making the transition into having a more positive body image.

Lastly, having a negative body image can be reflected in our daily habits, especially with exercise, eating, and relationships.  The most important thing to remember when beginning to make the steps towards a more positive self is to ask why and is this behavior healthy or helpful?  For example, though exercise and healthy eating has many positive effects and can significantly increase body image, make sure to ask the questions.  If the answer is to be healthy and feel better you are on the right track, however, if it is to lose weight to fit the media beauty standard, a positive support system and other healthy habits or movement activities should be considered.  Surrounding yourself with people who lift you up, support your healthy changes, and hold you accountable while also allowing you to experience the journey of body acceptance is helpful and needed.  Other healthy habits that can be implemented to improve body image are reducing the number of times you check the mirror, wear clothes that make you feel good, check social media accounts less or not at all, practice mindfulness exercise, do something nice for yourself, or practice self-care.

Learning to love yourself isn’t an overnight fix or even something that comes without constant work.  It is ongoing and a constantly changing process, that with the right tools and support is obtainable.  Taking steps such as understanding where your body image steams from, reframing negative self-talk to positive self-talk, and creating healthy habits are all great ways to begin to make changes, however, there is no shame in asking for help using community resources.  These resources include but aren’t limited to your school’s counselor, primary care doctor, and individual or group therapists.  Always know you are never alone in the process and the journey of bettering yourself is best done one day at a time!

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