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How to build a positive body image

How confident do you feel after looking in the mirror? Here’s why loving yourself should be top of your to-do list.

How to 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 research, 43 per cent of middle-aged Australian women are dissatisfied with their bodies. That’s nearly one in two.[i]

It’s common to struggle emotionally as weight fluctuates, but this struggle can impact on your self-esteem, long term. Combine this with niggling hang-ups from childhood – a crooked tooth, curly hair or bigger ankles – and it becomes clearer why so many people battle with negative body image. So, how do you learn to love what’s looking back at you in the mirror? We asked the experts to find out.

Appreciate your inner self
A positive body image means having a realistic, positive regard for your body, says clinical psychologist Catherine Boland. “You enjoy your body, not just for the way it looks but for how it functions, and have a peaceful acceptance of things you can’t change,” she adds. Domonique Bertolucci, author of Your Best Life, agrees. “Having a positive body image isn’t thinking you have a perfect body; it’s accepting yours for the way it is,” she says.

Learning to value yourself without worrying about appearance, shape or size is important, 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. So, if you’re currently on a weight-loss journey or thinking about starting one, Morgan recommends working on your positive outlook now, not later. “Many women lose weight, hit their Goal and realise they’re still unhappy because they haven’t learnt how to value themselves,” she says. “Start now. Don’t wait until you hit a magic number on the scales to start valuing yourself.” No matter what your dress size, change your mindset and acknowledge your good qualities.

Put things in perspective
So how can positive body image improve your life? “Benefits include better self-confidence and relationships, as well as being more likely to take risks, take on physical challenges and be assertive,” Boland explains. “Feeling good about your body gives you more mental space to focus on other things.”

Writer Millie Chandler admits that accepting her body shape wasn’t easy, but it’s changed her life for the better now that she’s done it. “Worrying about it was draining,” she says. “If I applied half as much energy on trying to better myself as I did berating myself, I’d be much happier. Sure I have lumps and bumps, but I try to look at what I like, not what I don’t. You’d never talk negatively to your best friend, so don’t do it to yourself.”

Create a whole new mindset
If negative body thoughts have already crept into your inner dialogue, don’t panic. Do this as a first step, instead: stop comparing yourself to other women. “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.”

“Instead,” adds Bertolucci, “look at the overall picture and start by listing things you like about yourself and the way you look. For every negative that pops into your head, think of at least two positives to replace it with.”

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

Love the skin you’re in
Bertolucci says the real key is self-esteem. “As soon as you can learn to like yourself, regardless of any imperfections or kilos you need to lose, your body image will soar,” she explains. “Exercise is great for body image. The stronger and fitter you feel, the easier it will be to appreciate your body.”

Real-life Experience: "As long as I keep fit and healthy, I feel positive.”
For journalist Kimberly Gillard, changing her mindset required undoing years of negative self-talk. “I put unbelievable pressure on myself to achieve the impossible in my teens and early 20s,” admits Gillard. “Finally, I realised I’d given my hang-ups too much attention. I asked myself what the point was, and realised there wasn’t one. My legs and upper arms will never be my favourite body parts, but I now think about them in a physical sense: my legs help me to run and my arms help me to surf.” These days Gillard credits jogging and yoga for putting body bashing on hold. “As long as I keep fit and healthy, I feel positive,” she adds. “Yoga stops my thoughts racing off on unhelpful tangents. I now appreciate my body and everything it does for me.”

Six steps to a more-confident you

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1. Treat your body well by exercising regularly, eating nutritious foods and avoiding crazy yo-yo diets.
2. If you work on being beautiful on the inside, you will naturally feel beautiful on the outside.
3. Don’t feel you have to change for anyone. Someone doesn’t like you for you? They’re not worth it.
4. Have fun and experiment with the way you look, but don’t let it rule your life and priorities.
5. Take the time to compliment people, including yourself. You’ll feel wonderful – and so will they!
6. Never put anyone down, especially when it comes to their weight, size or physical appearance.

[i] https://www.psychology.org.au/Content.aspx?ID=3802