How To Heal From A Negative Body Image
Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart – Khalil Gibran.
Developing a positive body image and feeling confident within your own skin, regardless of what it looks like — is key to health, happiness and self-empowerment. When you’re overwhelmed with negative feelings, are self-conscious of how you look and are self-absorbed in that relentless pursuit of finding beauty, it becomes virtually impossible to make healthy choices for yourself. In other words you lose control of your own power.
With the vast majority of women (and a fast growing number of men) being consumed with thoughts of their appearance and feeling negatively about their bodies, together we have some serious work to do to shift this focus and regain back our own power.
So Why Are We So Uncomfortable In Our Own Skin?
Beauty seems to hold a dominant place in this world that we live in. Everywhere we turn, we see people trying to conform to some unrealistic standard of beauty. Daily conversations are filled with comments about how someone looks. We then walk on, try to forget the conversation and get on with our own purposeful life.
However, we can’t escape, because as we walk we see billboards, instagram feeds and magazines of gorgeous people who are photo shopped into perfection. At this point we can’t help but compare. Then once we do compare we can’t help than feel “less than” what “appears” the norm. For many of us we then tell ourselves that we are not attractive, and we start the negative movie of “I am just not good enough” in our heads.
Every day we are bombarded with thousands of messages which many of us interpret as ‘we aren’t good enough’. Through our own judging eyes we size ourselves up against photo shopped magazine covers, models and the perpetual stream of filtered, edited photos that pass by on our social media pages.
We compare our ‘average’ lives to the glamorous and highlight reels of others only to be left feeling ‘not good enough’ or ‘mundane’.
The result for many women (and men) is depression, low self-esteem, eating disorders, over-spending, and addiction to the relentless pursuit of eternal beauty.
Have we evolved into a society that puts too much emphasis on beauty? Absolutely. Alongside petty gossip, beauty seems to be the top headline of magazines, tabloids, advertising campaigns and lunch room office gossip.
Then there are the mixed messages of those well-meaning media campaigns and reality shows. On one hand the message is ‘beauty is skin deep and learn to love yourself within’ but on the other hand there are messages such as ‘you can become more beautiful - try this diet, supplement or program’ or ‘let us give you a youthful makeover’. Ironically, the rhetoric of empowerment within this form of media actually has the power to disempower.
As a result of our beauty-centric world and air-brushed culture, research proves that more of us than ever hate the way that we look – with teenage girls being the most greatly affected. It's making us anxious, unhappy and disempowered.
We are a culture that has become so invested in our appearance, and sadly for many it is becoming the central factor on how they value themselves and others.
How we individually feel about our own body image is a subjective experience, created by an accumulation of lifetime’s associations, experiences, thoughts and desires. It starts when we are as young as four or five, for this is when we begin to recognise and understand other people’s words and judgement of us. By the age of seven and eight we are beginning to feel body dissatisfaction. Our teenage years are often the worse, however as we get older it still doesn’t wane – for today there are 80 year old woman who are still concerned about the way their body looks.
The pursuit of beauty is relentless, many smoke to suppress their appetite, others exercise like crazy out of fear of putting on weight while an increasing number of the population is being injected and cosmetically enhanced with medical procedures.
Some of the factors that contribute to a negative body image include:
- Being teased about appearance in childhood or teenage years
- Gossip magazines and tabloids that focus on the latest celebrity looks
- Growing up with dieting or beauty obsessed parents, or one who was unhappy with their body image
- A plethora of Social media platforms that encourages people to showcase 'the good' life
- A cultural tendency to judge people by their age and appearance
- Society pressure to be ambitious, compete and succeed; which often leads to people disconnecting from ‘what’s really important in life’
- Peer pressure among women to be slim, go on diets and compare themselves with others
- Media and advertising images promoting thinness and youth as the ideal
- A tendency in women’s media to encourage fad diets, weight loss programs and beauty make-overs
- Well-meaning public health campaigns that urge people to lose weight and get healthy.
5 Steps To Empower Ourselves And Shift Our Negative Body Image
Blaming the world for how we feel about our looks is not going to help us – for it only disempowers us.
The truth is that consumerism is what keeps the world afloat; therefore the media is here to stay. My suggestion is that, together we need to raise the awareness and encourage positive coping methods when it comes to consuming all platforms of media.
Sure, we can go on a media detox and ban all images of what makes us feel ‘not good enough’, however this is a superficial fix. We are not dealing with the real problem, and the real problem is our negative perception of our own value and worth. We might think we are doing the right thing by not subscribing to those images and fantasies, and yes while it helps short term – it is not the long-term answer to the problem. We need to look deeper. We need to get to a place within where we can actually look at those images and not be affected.
Instead of allowing ourselves to fall victim to the unrealistic ideals that we are faced with on a daily basis, we need to empower ourselves by rewiring our brain and changing our own viewpoint on the matter.
So how do we do this? Here are five steps that I have personally used to get over my own self-absorption with beauty.
1. Live With Awareness
Turn inward to your inner emotional barometer and learn to recognise how certain messages about beauty make you feel and how many of your own thoughts and actions revolve around your appearance. Also take an observer viewpoint and take note of the many diverse messages directed towards society about beauty. Today, beauty has become a multi-million dollar commodity - and the reason it is portrayed as so unattainable is because it is motivated by profit. The more you feel that you don't fit the build - then the more you will buy into products and ideas that are beauty-centric. See it for what it really is - its just smoke and mirrors.
2. Get Curious And Reflect On Why You Feel The Way You Do
Reflect on how certain images make you feel. Whether it is the leggy Brazilian on the latest Chanel ad or a work colleague who has taken a bikini selfie of herself. Realise that companies will always invest in the hard sell and there will always be narrow minded people who believe beauty is power. Don't allow yourself to get caught up in these superficial messages which only lead you to self-objectify by constantly – and often unconsciously – monitoring and comparing your body as you go about your everyday routine. This preoccupation of what you look like leads to feelings of low self-esteem and harmful coping methods such as dieting, negative self-talk, withdrawing, self-harm, and dangerous and expensive cosmetic surgery.
Next time you see an image via any of the media platforms that has a negative effect on you, get in the habit of asking yourself ‘Am I being sold something’ and ‘what is the author/creator of this piece of media trying to get me to believe’. If it’s an advertising campaign, then chances are they are trying to make you feel like your life is lacking so that you feel a strong urgency to go out and buy the very thing that they are selling. If it is a friend on social media, then remind yourself that some people feel so insignificant within that they need attention and admiration from others to feel worthy. If it is an article in a magazine, become a detective and decipher topics that stir people’s emotions the greatest – hence, these ALWAYS being the headlines that sell magazines. See the big view - images of beauty are simply just a selling tool - whether it is a company trying to sell you a product, a friend trying to convince you that they are happy and confident or a magazine trying to sell you the latest edition.
It's not a bad thing, being sold to; it's just simply… a thing. Delving deeper into the ‘reasons and why’s’ of the media we consume, will help us detach from the gloss and glamour and keep us grounded and connected to what truly matters.
3. Take A Reality Check
The truth is that most of us don't like to admit that we are so heavily focused on beauty, after all its shallow and superficial. But take a reality check and get honest about how the pursuit of beauty affects you. The blog Beauty Redefined recommends "Take inventory of your beauty habits and routine, including the time, energy and money you spend on your appearance. Reflect on whether any of that time, effort, or money could be better spent on another activity or contribution to the world. Consider where your thoughts are as you go about your regular life: are you picturing what you look like while trying to exercise or grocery shop or ride the bus? Reflect on the fact that you are capable of much more than looking hot. How would life be different if thinking about appearance didn’t take up so much of our mental bandwidth?"
4. Redefine Beauty
Each year we spend billions of dollars on beauty products and the latest fashion. Society and the media plaster us with images about what it means to be beautiful, most of us try to fit the mould to some degree. We get great haircuts and spend money on the latest trends. We may diet to get our weight down. We buy skin care products to reduce signs of aging. Unwanted hairs are waxed and zapped, skin is smoothed and hair is dyed. Yet all this spending isn’t leading us to become any happier or more fulfilled. No amount of makeup, fake tan or Botox can give the type of beautiful glow that inner beauty does.
The truth is that beauty is highly sought after but its source is often misunderstood. So what exactly is beauty? Well, it is much less about wearing the “right” clothes or having the “right” body. It is more about connecting with your authentic self and taking the time to remind yourself of ‘what truly matters in life’.
I gently encourage you to take back the reins of your own life, empower yourself and focus on something of greater substance than ‘outer beauty’. Drop the need to be admired by others and get busy living a life of service to others. There are far greater things to concern your brilliant mind with than those petty desires to become 'beautiful'. Put your creative mind to great use - be a change maker - and put back some much needed love and positivity into the world.
Realise that people look the way they look. Period. End of story.
Look past the crooked noses, limp and lifeless hair, muffin tops, cankles, chicken legs and so forth. Also look past the perfection, primping and gloss. See the substance beneath. See the human spirit -the kindness, experience, wisdom, humour.
And most importantly….give thanks for all the things your body endures and does for you on a daily basis.
Beauty is an internal brilliance which is not seen by the eyes alone, it must also be felt within the heart. It is captured in the sparkle of a woman’s eyes and the passion within her soul. It is found in her truth, in her vulnerability, in her strength and in everything that she does. The beauty of a woman can be found in her softness, love, compassion and kindness. It’s an internal light that shines from within her. Finding and expressing beauty is a spiritual path - it’s a way of living.
5. Rise With Self-Empowerment
Take your newfound viewpoint of beauty and live and breathe it every day. Be proud that you can see through the smoke and mirrors - wear your badge with honour. The more you do this then not only will it make you feel great - it will inspire others to look inward and question their own viewpoints on beauty. Lead by example, this is our only hope for the future if we want to change the mainstream view of beauty.