The Battle of Body Image

You don’t have to be struggling with your weight to know we have a problem with unrealistic beauty standards in this culture. We are bombarded by magazines, movies, television and now social media, all telling us we should look a certain way: no wrinkles, no rolls, that infernal “thigh gap” everyone is always talking about. It never ends.

But what if you do have weight to lose? How are we supposed to lose weight and get healthy while being realistic in our goals? It starts with body image and self love. It may sound absurd, but if you don’t love yourself at 200 pounds you will find things not to love at 130 pounds. We have to get the “perfect” images out of our minds, and appreciate what is beautiful and unique to each of us and then just strive to be the best, healthiest version of that person (chances are that person will not have a “thigh gap”).

There are a few things we can do to help create a more body positive attitude. In this article surfer and model Bo Stanley talks about the journey she had to take to accept her body for what it was, in a world and career that was screaming at her to be something else. Taking our cue from her, let’s consider a few things we can do to help foster a positive image of ourselves on our way to better health.

Accentuate the Positive

How often do you look in the mirror and say something you love about yourself? For most of us we look in the mirror and zero in on the flaw or flaws that we hate the most. We have to learn to be positive about our bodies. This is the only body you get!  We will be more willing to accept the changes as they come, on our journey toward health, if we love our bodies for the gift that they are.

Strength is Better than Skinny

The shape our body takes is affected by many factors. Genetics, weight, height, bone structure ... just to name a few. On our journey toward optimal health, it is easy to convince ourselves that  “skinny” is the optimal goal. Let’s face it, we are bombarded with one standard image of beauty: thin. But what if we focused on strength instead? Can your body carry you successfully in a 3 mile run? Can you endure an entire Barre class, or Interval Training?  Or maybe you are just getting started with exercise. Celebrate the small victories: a long walk, light weight training, a beginner’s yoga class. And we have to also celebrate the strength we possess in other areas of our lives: career, parenthood, overcoming obstacles and suffering.

Look for Other Role Models

One positive result of social media is that we can find other standards of beauty besides super-thin. These sisters are Instagram personalities that are completely different sizes but work to celebrate the diversity in their beauty and remind people that beauty is not just one size. Look beyond the mainstream supermarket magazine stands and find the standards of beauty that exist all around you. We are usually quick to recognize the beauty in others, but we can allow that to lead us to discover the same beauty in ourselves.

See the Whole Person

Why are we so quick to call someone beautiful based solely on their appearance? The truth is, we know that beauty is more than skin deep.  Someone may be “perfect” on the outside but we would not want to be their friend unless they were also kind, generous, thoughtful, funny. In other words we know the whole person matters. When we reduce ourselves to our mere physical appearance we are ignoring the most valuable aspects of who we are.  Our goal to be healthy and strong should be motivated by our desire to share our whole selves with the world and with those we love for as long as possible.

Comparison is Poison

This is a big one and it is a huge challenge, especially for women, to overcome. Recognizing other people’s strength and beauty is good, but using their appearance as a yardstick for our own shortcomings is self destructive. When we decide we could be happy if we just had “her legs” and “her flat stomach” or “his muscles” or “his/ her money” we are setting ourselves up for failure. Rather than let the images of others’ perceived perfections haunt us, why don’t we set goals for our own bodies, and celebrate our own victories as we work toward our healthiest selves.

Be Kind and Generous

A sure cure for constant self focus is to turn our focus to others. We must strike a balance. Self love  is key to our overall happiness.  When we can’t seem to shake the obsession of our imperfections, it is always a good idea to focus on others for a while. If we give of ourselves, we are reminded that we are more than just physical beings.  We can thrive in relationships, and find fulfillment in giving to those around us. Your body is more than an object of perceived beauty. It is an agent capable of love and change and goodness in the world. No amount of weight loss can make you more capable of that.

So let’s remember that on our journey toward health, the final result probably won’t match the images we are bombarded with in this “perfection obsessed” culture, but it can be a strong, healthy body capable of overcoming suffering and obstacles.   And most importantly, capable of kindness, love, and positivity in the midst of a negative world.

Comparison is poison.
— Dr. Valerie Liao