Chances are you're the only person in the world who notices the three pounds you put on over the holidays, or the fact that your trendy haircut has now grown into a few split ends. Every woman - whether you're supermodel Cindy Crawford or rocking songstress Barbara Streisand - has insecurities. But it's time to stop focusing on the negative and learn how to accept, and even appreciate, the characteristics that make you different.
Dr. Tiffany Stewart is a clinical psychologist and faculty member at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Her research centers around the assessment and treatment of eating disorders with a focus on body image. She offers insight on factors that contribute to a negative body image and things you can do to redefine how you view yourself.
Factors that contribute to negative body image:
- The pressure to look thin, or maybe athletic, and to wear certain types of trendy clothing.
- Too many of us "buy-in" to what we all "should" be as determined by standards of society.
- Social comparison logically follows the buy-in. The more bought-in you are to the standard, the more likely you are to compare yourself to unattainable paradigms.
- Interpersonal experiences can be rewarding or difficult whether it involves growing up (teasing), early romantic relationships (teenage years) and even adult relationships.
- The closer one's physical characteristics are to the standard, the happier they are, right? It's not always the case. Most of us are not the size two in magazines but we continue to strive to be.
- The more stressed out you are, the more vulnerable you'll be to feeling bad about yourself. Overall health and well-being are key components for maintaining a healthy body image and vice versa.
"Individuals sometimes think that if they buy the right thing, wear the right clothes, or use the right products that they will feel better," Stewart says. "However, the effect of these things is temporary. A healthy body image has to be cultivated on purpose."
How to purposefully cultivate healthy thoughts:
- Take 10 minutes each day to focus on things about your body that you are grateful for and write them down. This helps to shift your focus from criticism to gratitude.
- Become a skeptic of the media and the influences in your life — these outside authorities should not have more control over your life than you do.
- Cultivate a sense of gratitude and non-judgment toward yourself and others.
- Turn the focus to health and well-being instead of assessment of self on appearance alone.
"It takes work and practice not to judge people for appearance, including ourselves, but it is the key to us succeeding in finding peace with body image as a collective," Stewart advises. "We need to shift the tide to health, wellness, compassion, and gratitude versus criticism, social comparison, and extreme efforts to meet unattainable ideals."
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