Body Image—It’s Not What You See, but How You Feel
“If you can learn to like how you look, and not the way you think you look, it can set you free.” — Gloria Steinem
Tara is 5’ 5”, weighs 132 pounds; her hair is the color of chestnuts and her lips naturally want to curl into a smile. She has square shoulders, small breasts and a little pooch at the edge of her thighs that comes from her mother’s side of the family.
When she stands in front of a full length mirror this is what she sees: a too-short woman, at least fifteen pounds overweight whose hair is dull and boring and whose nose and lips are too thin. What about collagen? she thinks again, pouting her lips and imagining a mouth like Liv Tyler or Uma Thurman. She pushes her breasts together, looking for some sign of cleavage and turns away in self-loathing when she views her thighs.
Tara’s mother looks in the bathroom mirror each morning and pulls back the skin on her cheeks and throat, trying to get an idea of how much better she’d look with a face lift. Are the wrinkles around her mouth deeper this morning? She smiles to flatten them out. It looks like a smirk.
Meanwhile, Tara’s friend, Doreen, is counting calories and adding up fat grams. She’ll skip breakfast again this morning. Go to the gym instead.
A woman’s relationship with her body is the most important relationship she’ll ever have!
How sad that in our culture it is primarily not a loving relationship, but rather a relationship that causes insecurity, fear, self-doubt, shame, guilt, low self-esteem, and all too often, self-hatred.
In the U.S., at least 5–10 million girls and women and 1 million boys and men are struggling with eating disorders—anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder (compulsive overeating). And the odds of finding a person who doesn’t have at least some body image issues are slim.
Ours is a nation that starves, diets, purges, binges and exercises to the point of creating serious health problems, sometimes even causing death. And most of us are at least dissatisfied and at worst even hate some parts of our bodies. This is especially true for women, but men have body image issues, too.
How to turn the self-loathing into self-loving? Like all good and lasting things, it won’t happen overnight. It begins with small, positive steps. Here are just a few.
- Find at least one thing you like about your body. Write it down. Tomorrow, find another.
- Practice good posture, hold your head high, straighten your shoulders.
- Tell your body how much you appreciate its wondrous abilities.
- Get rid of all the clothes that you don’t like or that make you uncomfortable.
- Challenge the media’s definition of beauty.
- Nourish your body with a healthy diet, regular meals, lots of water.
- Slow down and remember to breathe.
- Move your body; not just exercise, but play, dance, skip, stretch.
- Pamper yourself with comfortable clothes, soothing beauty rituals.
- Post signs telling yourself how beautiful you are, inside and out.
- Tell your friends how beautiful they are, inside and out.
The way to a positive self-image begins with a conscious choice to make peace with and accept and love your body. However, eating disorders can cause serious health risks and may require professional help.
If you’re concerned that you or someone you care about might be suffering from anorexia, bulimia or compulsive overeating, please don’t hesitate to call, or contact the National Eating Disorders Association hotline: