Having a good body image takes work, like anything else. If your body image could use some sprucing up, try these three exercises.
Image: Jenny Downing via Flickr
Identify When You Don't Think About Your Body
We assume a good body image means actively loving your body. I disagree. Why must we feel strongly about our bodies? If you hate your body, the goal shouldn't be body love. It should be body acceptance. You can accept your body whether you love everything about it or not.
Thus, a good body image is not predicated on love. It is predicated on living in your skin without obsessing about that skin.
Therefore, pinpoint a time in your typical day when you aren't actively thinking about your body. When your body isn't all that important because you have other things on your mind.
For example: I don't think about my body when I'm reading. If I'm absorbed in a good book, especially at the end of a long day, I let my mind wander into someone's else world. This is true whether I'm reading fiction or non-fiction.
Why identify this time? If negative thoughts about your body run in a loop, you should congratulate yourself on the moments when these thoughts disappear. Identify why the thoughts disappear and see if you can re-create similar moments throughout your day.
I can't spend my entire day reading, as much as I would like to, but if I feel negative body thoughts creep into my mind, I can focus outward on something else. A book naturally draws my focus. However, if I'm doing something a bit less stimulating, like washing the dishes or even watching my children, I can put all my attention into that activity.
This probably sounds like classic mindfulness. In a way it is. I guess those philosophers were onto something.Think of Body Image as an Activity, Not a State of Being
Maybe mindfulness doesn't work for you. I can't always force external concentration. Sometimes I like to be more proactive. If I can't tame my mind, I think of body image as an activity, not as a state. An activity is something you do.
(This concept of productive doing is popular in Cognitive Behavioral therapy, but also in a more recent type of therapy called Solutions Focused Brief therapy. Note: I am not a therapist!)
Pick one thing you can do to cultivate a good body image, not one thing you can think. These things can include exercising, cooking a meal, talking to a friend, or playing with your kids. The list is endless.
In a way, an activity is a distraction, but the word "distraction" is misleading. If body image isn't a state, then you aren't distracting yourself from a bad body image by doing something. You are literally enacting a good body image in those moments by choosing to do something with your body other than ruminate on it.Pick One Thought That Circles in Your Brain and Refute It
Sometimes mindfulness or distraction won't cut it. In those situations, you can slice the negative body thought out of your brain, plop it on a sheet of paper, and use every ounce of reason and rationalism to prove your thought wrong. Pretend you are on the debate team against your thought. (This works especially well for Type A personalities.)
For example: After my first child, my body image was in the dumpster. I was consumed with fairly extreme thoughts. I wish I had spent more time examining my thoughts than I had examining my belly and the size of my diastasis recti.
One of my most common thoughts was,
I'll always look pregnant and I'll never feel comfortable in my clothes.
Here is how I refuted this thought:
"Always" is an extreme word. I should rephrase this as "I might continue to look pregnant or I might not." Instead of worrying about an indeterminate future, I should focus on what actions I can take right now to feel better about myself. Saying "I'll never feel comfortable in my clothes" is also an extreme thought. Words like "always" and "never" are not helpful or accurate.
Furthermore, what will be the consequence of still looking pregnant or not feeling comfortable in my clothes? Being unsatisfied with one part of my body does not mean I should be unsatisfied with my entire self or that I should feel less worthy.
Words like "always" and "never" are paralyzing. They stop time and assume my current body and my current thoughts will never change. Clearly, bodies always change and move through time, as do thoughts. Change is normal. Expecting my body or my thoughts to remain static is irrational.
None of these three exercises will automatically give you a good body image. A good body image isn't a destination. It is an ongoing process. Just as we don't workout with the goal of ceasing to workout, we shouldn't exercise our body image with the goal of reaching body image nirvana.
I'm always interested in how other women combat body image woes, so if you have any body image exercises that have helped you, leave a comment below.
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