Do you know what healthy body image is? Or know exactly what body image even is? Body image is the feelings we hold toward our own body…the aesthetics of our body and perception of it’s attractiveness. Many of my clients complain about not liking the way they look or fitting into their clothes, which doesn’t come as a shock since a majority of women (something like 91%) are unhappy with their bodies and resort to dieting. Unfortunately, they are often striving to reach body types of those portrayed by Americans in the media, which make up only about 5% of women. Most women are not naturally the size of models, actresses, and pop stars. Such images along with social pressure and messages from friends and family greatly influence body image, and this, in turn, affects self-esteem.
I call recall growing up in the South where I was taught a lady doesn’t leave home without wearing make-up, at least lipstick if nothing else. You can only imagine how this affected my relationship with my natural self. In fact, I used to be disgusted by the idea of leaving the house without make-up and went on to become a make-up artist in college prior to pursuing my career as an Art Therapist. When our relationship with our body, face, or any other part of our human nature is a negative one, many areas become compromised. Areas such as food choices, eating habits, intimate relationships, and exercise can all become skewed in order to mask, avoid, control, or alter the distorted perceptions. These cycles can certainly worsen into more difficult territory like eating disorders, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts if not treated. Fortunately, there are steps you can take now to start accepting your body and finding compassion for all its beautiful human qualities:
1. Use Mindfulness to observe and record your thoughts while standing in the mirror
2. Notice if the voice is practical and reasonable or mean and bullying (my guess is its not being so nice!)
3. Respond with loving compassion- the way you would stand up for a friend
5. Look for an area you don’t despise or may even love, i.e. your eyes, stomach, toes, etc.
6. Use this observation to create something new: poem, sketch, painting, or letter to that body part
7. Record positive messages the next time you are having a good day and play back/read in difficult times
These are just a few tips to help you move towards greater acceptance and less criticism. We all have our good days and those that are more challenging. Beating ourselves up in the mirror will not help! By beginning to soften your internal dialogue and using your creative juices to embrace all the individual parts that make the whole, you can begin to appreciate that each one is completely unique and perfect in making you who you are. Of course much of those internal messages come from past pain and have become automatic negative thoughts. Be patient with yourself in learning a new language and know that you are not alone. You can always reach out for support if your struggle becomes overwhelming. I offer an ongoing Expressive Arts support group for women and a free phone consultation to determine what resources would be most helpful for you.
So in the spirit of the holidays I wish you a most festive season and a healthy new year with less criticism and greater acceptance of all your perfectly imperfect quirks and qualities. Don’t forget you are fabulous just as you are and worthy of kind words from yourself. I would love to hear from you if you will leave me a post to share what strategies you’ve tried, what has helped and/or hasn’t, and how you can approach 2015 with more compassion for yourself…happy holidays with much love!