Start building a positive body image

Improving or maintaining how positively you feel about your body should be at the top of your to-do list. Here’s how to get started.

Build a positive body image

My nose is too big. I wish I had her eyebrows. If only my thighs were smaller. Sound familiar? If so, you’ve got company. According to the latest Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report, 80 per cent of Australian women don’t consider themselves to be ‘body confident’. And it’s a statistic that affects most age groups – in fact, different research shows that 43 per cent of middle-aged Australian women are dissatisfied with their bodies.

So, how do you learn to love what’s looking back at you in the mirror? We asked the experts to find out.

Stop comparing yourself to other people

If you’ve ever compared your body shape to a celebrity or wished you were blessed with a friend’s figure, you’re not alone. But have you ever wondered why we have such a cookie-cutter concept of beauty? According to Christine Morgan, CEO of The Butterfly Foundation, an organisation dedicated to treating and supporting Australians affected by eating disorders and negative body image, it’s largely due to our appearance-obsessed culture. “The only way to assess our looks is to compare ourselves to others, and there begins a never-ending, never-satisfying quest to look as good, or even better, than other women or men,” says Morgan.

Clinical psychologist Catherine Boland says wanting to fit in is what drives this behaviour. “Unfortunately, the rise of social media, advertising imagery and other promotions of the ‘ideal female’, have escalated negative self-comparison.”

What’s the problem with playing this game and comparing? “Thinking about flaws and wishing things were different impacts on self-esteem, which can lead to self-sabotaging behaviours,” says Boland. In other words, you’ll find it harder to stick to the healthy lifestyle behaviours you’re trying to implement, because you’ve defeated yourself before you even started.

So, as a first step, stop comparing yourself to other people. “Value yourself and remember that everyone is different,” says Morgan. “If you’re struggling to like what you see in the mirror, quit focusing on imperfections and remember there’s no such thing as perfect.”

Focus on achievements, not appearance

According to Morgan, putting too much emphasis on the way your body, or other people’s, looks can be harmful. “By coupling together self-worth with physical looks, you’re ignoring the importance of people’s values, skills and personality,” says Morgan.

“Instead, celebrate health improvements, such as increased fitness, energy, flexibility and endurance, rather than just numbers that are associated with weight loss.” Boland agrees: “Ask yourself, ‘This year, month and week, what are the positive health changes I’ve made and stuck to?’.”

Focusing on your body’s functionality, rather than its size or shape, is also essential. “Think about your strength, posture or your body’s capacity to repair itself,” says Boland.

And remember to put things in perspective and understand that it’s normal and natural for your body to change as you age. “Return your focus to the way you feel, not how you look,” says Boland. “Are you feeling more energised because you’ve been taking care of your body by eating well, exercising and sleeping?”

Look at the bigger picture

Still being too hard on yourself? Look at the bigger picture. “Respect your body’s history,” says Morgan. “It may have given birth, overcome an illness or injury or, more simply, been the vehicle that’s carried you through life so far – no easy task!”

And remember: body image is a feeling; some days you’ll feel good about yourself, other days not so much. Above all else, avoid negative ‘self talk’. Flush out the negative with appreciation and gratitude. Beauty and health come in a range of different shapes and sizes, and you lose a clear picture of the wonderful things that are there while you’re busy trying to be somebody else.

If you’re struggling with negative body image issues, talk about it to a trustworthy friend, GP, psychologist, counsellor or accredited practising dietitian.

Article first published 1st of January 2017