More and more, people are becoming subject to unrealistic expectations of what a body “should” look like. Not only is it becoming a bigger problem for adolescents and adults, but for children as well. A recent study showed that more than half of girls (55-59%) and one third of boys (33-35%) age 6-8 said that their ideal bodies are thinner than their actual ones. (1) So what can we do to protect ourselves from the self-doubt and anxiety that are caused by a negative body image?
1- Be Mindful When Choosing Who to “Follow”
It’s so easy to get caught up in the appeal of “keeping up” with the biggest Hollywood stars, but the fact is, the majority of what they post is digitally altered- giving the audience an unreal expectation of how they should look. Instead of giving in to the pressure of knowing what is going on in the lives of celebrities, instead try following social media accounts that encourage body positivity and healthy lifestyles.
2- Surround Yourself with Positive People
If you are constantly spending your time with people who put themselves and others down, it’s almost unavoidable that you are going to begin feeling and thinking negatively about yourself too. Make an effort to spend your time with people who make you feel good about yourself, and who don’t spend their time spreading negativity.
3- Take Care of Yourself
Not only does this include eating healthy and exercising, but also treating yourself to self-care days. Take some time to relax and unwind to keep your mind free of unwanted thoughts regarding your body image. Spend 2-3 minutes in the morning to repeat positive affirmations to yourself to get your mind ready for the day ahead.
4- Clothing Choices Matter
Fashion choices are often influenced by the media, friends, or family, not all bodies are the same- and trying to dress like someone with a complete opposite body shape as you can lead to frustration and poor self-esteem. It’s important to take your body shape into account when purchasing new clothing, as well as your taste in clothing to ensure you are wearing what YOU want to wear. Feeling confident and comfortable in your clothing choices are important in creating a better relationship with your body image.
5- P.A.C.E Yourself
Thomas F. Cash Ph.D. put together a strategy for overcoming your body issues. P.A.C.E stands for Prepare, Act, Cope, Enjoy.
Prepare- Write down your strategy for overcoming your body image issues in advance; include your ultimate goal (ex. Overcome your fear of working out in front of other people), the actions you plan to complete to get to your goal (ex. Start going to the gym at off-peak times to avoid most people at first), and the reward that you will allow yourself to have once you complete your goal, or milestones along the way (ex. Get a smoothie on the way home from the gym, or enjoy the hot tub for 15 minutes after each session).
Act- Now that you have your plan together, it’s time to act on your ideas. If you need a friend to go with you to the gym, ask; do whatever you need to do to set yourself up for success.
Cope- The journey is not going to be easy all the time. You need to expect and accept that there will be some hard times. Prepare yourself for these times with breathing techniques or coping mechanisms that work for you when anxiety tries to prevent you from accomplishing your goals.
Enjoy- Once you get through the hard times, allow yourself to enjoy the rewards, and ultimately the success of accomplishing your goal. Don’t criticize yourself if things didn’t go exactly as you had planned- just enjoy the fact that you were able to overcome your insecurities. (2)
Preparing ourselves for the almost unavoidable parts of life that are body image issues is important for many reasons, including avoiding depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. There are resources available to help overcome negative body image thoughts such as The Body Positive, Teen Talk, Body Confidence Canada , and The Dove Self-Esteem Project to name a few. If we prepare ourselves in advance with coping mechanisms to deal with the negative thoughts we have regarding our bodies, we are far more likely to overcome the issues.
If you feel as though you cannot handle the problems on your own, speak with a friend, family member, or mental health professional. If you feel as though your thoughts are getting darker and you feel as though you may harm yourself, go directly to the nearest hospital emergency room for treatment.
Dr. Diana Garcia
Dr. Diana Garcia has over 20 years of experience in the field of psychology. She has provided psychological and counseling services in Ontario, and the states of Pennsylvania, and Florida