In therapy, more often than not, while discussing self-esteem and self-worth with my clients, talk turn to body image. I have rarely, if ever met anyone – male or female who wouldn’t want to change something about their bodies. Some think they have too big a nose, others are cringing over their cellulite, some want to be leaner while others want to be more buffed, so on and so forth. While it’s completely normal to not be a hundred percent satisfied with the way you look, it’s a different ball game if you’re flat out repulsed by what you see in the mirror.
Body image has much more to do with the societal standards of beauty, and cultural and familiar perception of our physical appearance and worth than your actual physical appearance. Even if you look in the mirror and like what you see, a casual comment by your well-meaning mother about your flabby arms or one from your distant relative about watching your intake of those delicious potato chips can adversely affect your perception of your own body.
Tips to Deal With Body Image Issues
Most people, including myself, try to fix this by working out extensively, and going on crazy bizarre diets which don’t always include eating healthy but can definitely lead you to starvation. And while physical exercise and eating right are both good and necessary, for you to be actually happy in the body you inhabit, what really needs to be ‘fixed’ is your own mind and perception.
Here are some tips which might help:
Monitor and Change Your Self-talk
The way you talk to yourself not only affects your mood and emotions, it’s widely responsible for your self-perception. If you keep calling yourself “fat” or “bulky” or other ugly names every time you cross a mirror and try on clothes, you’ll not only start to feel it more and more, you’ll also make decisions based on this.
For example, you may stop yourself from swimming because of fear of how big you’ll look in a bathing suit, or from signing up for a marathon because of how scared you are people making fun of you while running.
If you say, I am overweight – let me get in better shape, chances are you’ll actually take up these activities. The underlying point is to treat yourself with compassion even when there are things you don’t like about yourself.
Make Your Own Standards
It’s easy to get influenced by the constant marketing and advertisements, which is a) telling you to there’s something in your skin, your hair or your body which needs changing and b) Keeps putting photos of already beautiful women made even more flawless by the liberal use of photoshop. Thus begin comparisons. There’s always going to be someone prettier, skinnier and taller. Let’s start with acceptance. Look at yourself, really see. What do you like, and what you don’t. Can you healthily work on the latter? When you take up gymming or zumba because you want to get fit- it’s a way different story versus when you’re doing it for some unsaid imaginary competition.
Appreciate Your Body
We often tend to overlook how beautifully and in sync our bodies work for us, unless of course when we get sick. Even in our worst physical state, there is something which is working in perfect order and helping us go about life. Let’s start to be more grateful for that.
Monitor Who You Listen to/Follow
There was a time in the middle when in lieu of getting healthier I was following a lot of Instagram accounts of nutritionists and gym trainers. While some of them genuinely helped me in my journey, there were lots of accounts there that made me feel guilty about putting any sort of carbohydrate in my body or for missing a day of gym. While I am sure it’s totally the wiring of my brain which was responsible for the guilt, I still have the power and the responsibility to choose what I get influenced by and what sort of vibe I want to surround myself with. I found that unfollowing these accounts really helped me get fitter both mentally and physically, because I would get less upset and hence was in a better frame of mind to live a more balanced and healthy lifestyle. So filter more carefully who you listen to when it comes to your body and mental health.
(Prachi Jain is a psychologist, trainer, optimist, reader and lover of Red Velvets)