Part One of this series explored the rhymes and reasons behind today’s pursuit of bodily perfection, which is causing the 'body image dissatisfaction' epidemic. Part Two will delve into some of the tips and tools that can help improve body image, which ultimately will lead to a more freeing and confident sense of self.
The Perfect Body Will Not Make Us Happy.
John Acquaviva once said,
“Perfection, as most of us realize, is not related to health. We can be very healthy and fit and not meet any of today’s criteria for perfection.”
Yet many of us have an underlying belief that the "perfect body" will make us feel accepted, adequate, adored, admired, that we will finally like ourselves, or feel confident in our skin. A lot of us understand mentally that this isn't true, but removing these entrenched beliefs can be easier said than done. If you find yourself over-evaluating your weight, judging your self-worth based on your shape, experiencing low moods in response to how you look, regularly body checking in the mirror, or emphasizing areas of your body you dislike, this article discusses a few concepts that could help you free yourself from body image dissatisfaction.
Very few of us naturally fit the ‘ideal.’ For the rest of us, the discrepancy between perfection and where we currently find ourselves can be internalised as inadequacy and deficiency. As a Nutritional Health Coach, I know that healthy doesn’t equal looking perfect. Yet these feelings of insecurity around our body stand strong.
We need to ask ourselves what our motivation is for pursuing the "perfect body." Humans are always motivated by something. Identifying the motivation can break its power. When I was younger I believed that being thin would make me loved and accepted. What is your motivation? To be adored, admired, popular, respected, considered attractive, known as ‘small,’ or to be protected?
A lot of these needs are innately human, are entirely normal, and should not be swept under the carpet. And yet, the truth is that our bodies will never meet these needs in a real and lasting way. Not until I was older did I ask myself if I wanted to be loved and accepted because of my body, when this “supposed” love could easily be taken away if I gained weight or incurred an injury.
Who Do We Want To Be?
Most of us realise that the #fitspo's or gym buffs that flood our Instagram feeds with images of their perfectly sculptured figures spend their lives pursuing society’s ideal (whether they’re at the gym, out for a run, eating well, or thinking about their next step towards their goal). That is well and good in its own right – but before we jump on the bandwagon, it is a good idea to ask ourselves; is that what we want to dedicate our lives to? Evidence shows that those who fervently pursue bodily perfection often end up with estranged relationships, miss out on friend’s celebrations, don’t contribute to many other areas of life they deem important, can begin to loath themselves because of their unhealthy habits, and become obsessed by their flaws, instead of becoming the person they want to be.
Letting go of society’s expectations of the “ideal” requires us to ask ourselves what we value most. There were times when I felt upset about my body to the point that I didn’t want to go out and enjoy a meal with my husband, which obviously upset and confused him. I had to come to a decision not to focus on my body at the expense of my relationships, and the stunting of my own sense of self. Think of the person you respect or want to emulate most. The reason you value this person is probably because they are loving, integral, generous, caring, knowledgeable, wise, and honest. I don’t imagine it is because they were considered the sexiest person alive when they were twenty-five years old. Just like the body, cultivating a confident sense of self requires nurturing. Whatever footprint you want to leave on this world, it will fight for your time, focus, and attention. Make sure it’s worth your thoughts, energy, and value.
“What we focus on grows in importance.”
Tips For Improving Body Image.
The power of the mind to change our focus is limitless. For clients of mine who want to develop a more confident sense of self, I suggest they practice the following:
- Look at yourself in the mirror daily and state three things you like about your body. If you can’t do that, state three things you could like about your body.
- When a negative thought comes into your head, counter it with a positive thought, e.g. “My hair looks terrible... but my skin is looking good today.”
- When you have a negative thought about your appearance, try and counter it with a thought unrelated to the body, “Even if my thighs are holding excess weight at the moment, that does not change my worth, and I have decided to be a person who values character, not the body. One thing I value about myself is....”
- Smiling does wonders: if you feel sad about how you look, or that you will never be able to be as "perfect" as you want to be, smile about something you value in life. It can really help.
- Be thankful for what your body can do for you instead of what it isn’t, e.g. “I am thankful that I have legs to run, or that I have hands to clap, or that I have lips to kiss my partner.”
“If you find yourself disliking your body it’s because you’re ignoring all the good things about it.”
In all of this, I am not saying that enjoying looking and feeling good is wrong. This too is a natural desire and is valid in and of itself. Delight in good health, because that is valuing your body and your mind. Enjoy moving outside because that is enhancing your health and encourages you to be grateful in life. However, if your love of health and the body is getting in the way of your relationships, your sanity, your self-confidence, or your sense of freedom, then I suggest you practice the tips above, or seek some help outside of yourself. It is entirely ok to make healthy decisions that will enhance your vitality - it is the obsession we are concerned with here, the never-ending pursuit of bodily perfection that can feed body image dissatisfaction.
I encourage you to make choices that value the health of your body and the health of your mind, and know the kind of person you want to be. After all, your value is found in your authentic and creative sense of self, not in your clothing size or how well you reflect society's perception of the "ideal."
Feed, Nourish, Value Yourself.
 Acquaviva, J. (2014). Improving Your Body Image Through Catholic Teaching: How Theology of the Body And Other Church Writings Can Transform Your Life. Alchemy Publishing Group, LLC.
 Robbins, A. (1991). Awaken the giant within. New York, N.Y.: Summit Books.