The internet is filled with inspirational quotes about self-love. But if reading a meme was all it took to be filled with confidence, well, we would all be out there living our best lives. May 13th-19th is mental health awareness week and the theme this year is body image. I’m going to talk to you about how you can start to cultivate a positive body image and it has taken me on my own body image journey to gain an understanding of this.
Our body image is shaped by our mental health and confidence. One of the key emotions that impacts on mental health is shame. When we feel shame or guilt for long periods of time a whole host of biological chain events occur, adapting our hormones to work within a constant level of stress. If we think about this within the context of body image, if we are constantly feeling ashamed or embarrassed about our body we will experience higher stress. This can come in the form of feeling guilty about food you are eating or exercise that you don’t do. When we have an unhealthy body image we often target this by changing things. We might try the latest diet or exercise, which isn’t sustainable – resulting in a yoyo dieting pattern. Or go retail shopping to buy clothes and “stuff” to give a temporary distraction. Unhealthy habits like smoking or drinking can become more significant.
Developing a healthy body image is not a passive act. If the things you have tried previously have not worked then they are not addressing the underlying challenges. We are in a society that is constantly giving us well-being messages and labeling things as “bad” – instead of being objective about it.
To have a healthy body image you need to accept that you are human and therefore not perfect. There will be bit and bobs that aren’t to your liking – you may think of these as flaws. Remember this is your perception, it is not how the world sees you. To find ways to accept your perceived flaws you need to foster a sense of compassion. Compassion is the act of recognizing suffering and doing what is within your power to alleviate it with kindness.
3 Types of Compassion for Better Body Image
There are three type of compassion and to have a positive body image we need to be able to have the skills to give the gift of all three types. This takes practice. This does take intentional activity, so as you read on think about how you can apply this to your own routine this week.
The first type of compassion is usually the easiest one to master and that is compassion to others. It’s a great starting point to take your first steps towards complete compassion and a positive body image. Have you been compassionate to others recently? Have a think, is there a random act of kindness that you can do tomorrow. Can you offer to help someone? Can you make someone a brew (a cup of tea to everyone who isn’t from the north of England)? Lend someone your favourite book? Donate to a charity or do a random act of kindness? Research has shown that by planning out five acts of kindness to do in one day you can boost your own subjective wellbeing for 2 weeks!
The second type of compassion is “accepting compassion in.” Compassion in, is being the receiver of someone wanting to alleviate your suffering. The next time someone gives you a compliment or helps you in any way you will resist the urge to dismiss it and spend a few minutes appreciating it and know that they think you are worth the effort. If you have a hard time accepting compassion from others but find that you enjoy giving, then remember that by accepting their offer you are also giving them the gift of that feel good feeling.
The hardest compassion is compassion towards yourself and this is where positive body image lies. Have you ever noticed that there are people out there that can seem confident, these people have it sussed that they know they are doing what they can and that this is good enough? Self-compassion is not going to make you arrogant (remember its about recognizing the situation for what it is – and it is about fostering a self-love.
Be Kind to Yourself to Bring About Positive Body Image
Our bodies are amazing. Even when we do not feel like we are in control, it is translating millions of pieces of information and working out how it can keep you safe and help you. Due to the amount of information our mind has to make some predictions and may make shortcuts to go back to old unhelpful habits. A wise being knows this. So, if you do something that you are not happy with remember it has come from a place of love and, in that moment, it seemed like the best way to handle life.
We need to make time to nurture our body. This can be hard to do with competing demands. Rather than doing a big action, each day just take a minute to check in with yourself and ask yourself “where is my opportunity to be compassionate today?”. Your body is wonderful, and it has done everything it needs to do to survive. It isn’t too fat, too thin, too big, too small, too old, too wrinkly, too weak or too tired. It is a body for living in. Take a moment to appreciate all that your body has got you through and if you can’t do this then go and seek some compassion in from someone else!