When we talk about wellness and self-care, we often emphasize making small shifts in habits, like drinking more water and getting more sleep. Mindset shifts are also important, and today we have invited NYC-based therapist Patty Matz to talk about how having a positive body image is a self-care gift you can give yourself every day. The beauty, fashion, and diet industries in our society all promote the sense that we are not acceptable the way we are. Patty challenges the notion of a perfect body standard and gives us practical tips on how to love the skin you’re in.
Positive Body Image is Body Love
Having a positive body image, what we can call “Body Love,” is a kind and loving appreciation of one’s physical self. Body Love means embracing all aspects of your physical self – recognizing that the notion of body “flaws” and “imperfections” does not exist. There is no ideal body standard to which you must conform. Instead, there is a wonderful diversity of body shapes and sizes that makes each person unique, worthwhile, and lovable.
Of course, positive feelings about the body can be difficult to achieve in our culture of perfectionistic body standards. Many women believe achieving a societally-constructed body ideal is the fast track to a happy place of confidence, success, and life satisfaction. This message seems true and powerful, leading to relentless pursuit of the elusive dream of body “perfection.”
Negative Body Image is Body Shame
Body dissatisfaction is considered normal among American women, suggesting that feeling unhappy about aspects of appearance is commonplace. If the average American woman is a size 12, she is obviously not well-represented by most magazines, movies, or mannequins. For some women, unhappy body feelings translate into profound feelings of body shame that are painful and pervasive.
The pressure to conform to a societally-constructed (read arbitrary and constantly changing) body ideal makes many women believe they are “not good enough.” Chronic feelings of inadequacy are the antithesis of a healthy appreciation of the self. Negative self-evaluation is broadcast in the voice of our own inner critic. Ironically, self-criticism can reduce motivation to work toward health and wellness goals.
Appreciate your Body and Love it Unconditionally
Can you imagine a world in which there are no idealized and unattainable standards of body perfection? A place where you feel completely comfortable in your own skin? A place where embracing body diversity is the norm? What would it take to appreciate your body without changes and conditions?
Body image experts recommend a variety of techniques that involve shifting your mindset, changing your behavior, and feeling positively about your body. Changes in your beliefs create behavioral change and vice versa, causing a positive upward spiral that enables greater self-kindness.
Experiment with these strategies to see what works best for you...
- Take a stab at answering these revealing questions: What would you be doing differently if you weren’t preoccupied with physical appearance? How would you spend your valuable time and energy? Would you focus on and develop all the things that give your life richness and meaning?
- Banish the inner critic who bullies you into believing you are not good enough the way you are, undermining self-esteem and well-being. If you find yourself saying nasty put-downs about your appearance, replace this noxious inner voice with affirming words of acceptance and love, knowing that you are uniquely lovely exactly the way you are. Consider using a mantra or phrase that reminds you to refuse to engage in internal messages of inadequacy.
- Walk the talk - Do not engage in verbally body shaming yourself or others. Instead, consider yourself a spokesperson for self-kindness and self-acceptance. Educating others about subtle and overt body shaming enables you to have a powerful influence, helping to promote societal change and a major paradigm shift. Take a stand by writing to companies, letting them know you value body diversity in the products and magazines you support.
- Make a comprehensive gratitude list, detailing the ways you are grateful for aspects of your body apart from appearance. What are some of the many wonderful things your body does for you? For others? Appreciate your strength, agility, ability to experience pleasure and impart affection to others.
- Be mindful of comparing yourself to others. This comparison process often leads to feelings of inferiority and inadequacy. Intentionally reduce the toxic power of comparison by replacing it with appreciation of your own inner qualities.
Body Love and the desire to change one’s diet and aspects of physical appearance can comfortably co-exist. It does not mean abandoning goals for healthy eating or fitness. It does mean uncoupling these pursuits from self-worth and lovability. This is a subtle but essential point.
The beauty of self-love lies in valuing yourself as you are, feeling comfortable and happy in the skin you are in. It helps you recognize that today’s number on the scale, size of your jeans or food choices do not measure your worth, the quality of your relationships, or your overall success in the world. Worship the temple that is your body by honoring, respecting and taking extra special care of your unique and beautiful self.
About Patty Matz, Ph.D.
Dr. Matz is a NYC-based psychologist and cognitive-behavioral therapist specializing in eating and body image concerns. Dr. Matz’s website, like her body image, is still under construction. She can be reached at (917) 375-9875.