Now that fall is approaching, you’re probably feeling relieved that “swimsuit season” is coming to an end for the year. You are definitely not alone. But just because you’re no longer on the beach in a bathing suit doesn’t mean you’re not going to be negatively affected by fall’s fashion lineups in the latest fashion magazines you find laying around. Let’s face it: The mainstream media is all around us, year-round, constantly selling us images of skinny, totally fit men and women as the “ideal” we are supposed to emulate. If we don’t happen to look just like the models we see in magazines (at least 97% of us don’t), we end up feeling bad about how we look—and this can wreak havoc on our self-image and self-esteem. For example, one study found that three minutes spent looking at a fashion magazine caused 70% of women to feel depressed, guilty and shameful.
The good news, however, is that you don’t have to be so affected by society’s current beauty ideal and can work on developing new mental muscles, which will help you learn to accept and even love the skin you’re in. The specific tools to help you improve your body image come from the work that I do as an eating disorders psychotherapist. I use them regularly with clients who struggle with body image, and they have wonderful results when used consistently.
10 Tips for Loving Your Body
1. Focus on what magnificent things your body allows you to do, rather than how it looks.
2. Keep an index card in your wallet or day planner with a list of 10 positive things about yourself, excluding physical attributes. Read it over when you get “fat head” (definition: thinking you are physically fat when you have a negative feeling). When this happens, say to yourself: “Fat is not a feeling. What emotion am I actually feeling underneath this?”
3. Wear clothes you like that feel comfortable, especially materials that feel luxurious against your skin.
4. Throw out your “thin clothes.” Only keep clothes that fit you really nicely now, and get rid of “the ones I’ll wear when I’m size ____ again.”
5. Do the activities you love to do regardless of your shape and size—don’t stop doing what you love because of what you look like on the outside.
6. Hang out with others who aren’t obsessed with their size and shape, and what they eat. Spend time with people who focus more on enjoying the fabulous gift called life instead.
7. Remind yourself that you are beautiful exactly as you are because you are a child of the Creator/God/the Universe/__________(fill in the blank).
8. Move your body in ways that leave you feeling strong, exhilarated, flexible and centered, and do it regularly.
9. Learn to tune in to your body: Eat when you are hungry. Rest when you are tired. Get out and move when your body needs it.
10. Stop reading fashion magazines and following movie stars, thinking they’ve got perfect lives. They don’t—some of them have full-blown eating disorders and other addictions.
4 Learn-to-Love-the-Skin-You’re-in Exercises
1. Write a list of 10 positive things about yourself, excluding physical attributes, on an index card, and keep it in your wallet, day planner or somewhere else you will notice daily.
Homework: Read these positive things twice a day — once in the morning and once before you go to bed. These are optimal times of the day to let new thought patterns absorb into the brain.
2. Write a list of the clothes you like that feel comfortable, especially materials that feel luxurious against your skin.
Homework: Start wearing these clothes regularly, and notice how you feel in them.
3. Make a list of the clothes you own that make you feel bad about your body when you look at them or wear them.
Homework: Give these clothes to your favorite charity and, for each item you get rid of, replace it with a piece of clothing that you wrote about in the previous question.
4. Write a list of all of the physical activities you enjoy doing but avoid because of how you look.
Homework: Do one of these activities anyway daily, or a few times a week, and focus on the pleasure that comes from doing that activity.