Seven Habits Of A Healthy Body Image

We don’t consider most commercial campaigns to be uplifting, profound, or even a potential life-changer. But the good folks at Dove have done it again with their moving “Real Beauty” spot. In this ad, we meet a real-life forensic artist who sketches two pictures of each woman he meets – one is based on that woman’s own description of herself, and the second is based on descriptions given by other people. And as it turns out, it’s all in the details: As we see one woman describe her chin as “jutting” and “big,” another person described it more kindly as a “nice thin chin.” One woman focuses on her “chubby face” while a man describing her talks about her “nice blue eyes.” The reveal at the end is a powerful one: We see each pair of sketches, side by side. We can tell that the two portraits are of the same person, but the one based on other people’s descriptions are significantly more flattering. It’s heartwarming to watch these women realize that their negative self-talk and critical self-images have had a real impact, and that maybe, as the ad indicates in the final frame, “You are more beautiful than you think.”

Most women can identify with this. Whether you tend to be self-deprecating in order to seem more relatable or down-to-earth, or if you’re truly burdened by low self-esteem, don’t underestimate the power of a healthy body image. Here are seven simple steps to help us discover our own real and authentic beauty:

1. Set Realistic Goals. As we get older, we often compare ourselves to the 22-year-old self we remember. And, of course, we fall short. That’s why your first step is to look truthfully at your body, without judgment or self-criticism. So what do I mean when I say to “set realistic goals.” Here’s a good example of one: I want to look and feel good for my age and for the basic type of body I have. That might mean focusing on vitality, fluidity, and freedom of movement, rather than obsessing over the number on the scale.

2. Take Charge of Things You Can Change. Any changes you make to your physique will always be relative to your own basic body type. Whether you’re a long and narrow ectomorph, a soft and curvy endomorph, or a muscular and athletic mesomorph, your basic shape will remain as you become heavier or leaner versions of it. There are many aspect of your body you can change, though, to improve your appearance and your well-being:

  • Muscle-to-fat ratio
  • Posture
  • Muscle tone
  • Core strength
  • Fluid movement

3. Adapt to What You Can’t Change. How do you make peace with less lovable body parts? First, realize that the problem isn’t the feature itself; the problem is that it bothers you. Here are some techniques for changing your perspective.

  • Resizing: Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Imagine the feature that bothers you. See it as clearly and vividly as you can, noticing every detail. Now see a box around it, like the frame around a picture. Imagine the frame shrinking, and watch the picture shrink as the frame closes in…smaller, smaller, smaller, until it seems miles away. Now quickly shift gears, calling to mind a happy memory, and all the associated details. Fill the screen in your brain with these new images. Smile, and open your eyes.
  • Celebrate It: Liberate yourself. Celebrate the part of your body you don’t like. Put the body part on full display, using gestures and body language. Exaggerate it. Thrust it forward. Flaunt it. Put on some music and do a dance highlighting it. Be bold and make the universe acknowledge it. If you can make that part of you seem lovable, it may just become more lovely.

4. Focus On Function. Focus more on what your body can do than how it looks. Train yourself to see the functioning of your body for the miracle it is. Write down five things you like about your body – functional or aesthetic – and read the list aloud to a friend.

5. Look Beyond Your Body. Widen your awareness. Make a list of the things you’d like to do in life but are afraid of doing – then ask yourself what’s stopping you. Identify something you think you might be able to accomplish in the coming weeks, and the steps you’d need to follow to achieve it.

6. Stop the Ranting and Rating. It’s human nature to make judgments, but some women seem to make a profession of it. When you’re focused solely on appearance, suddenly it’s all you see. Remember, you have to stop judging others so you can stop judging yourself.

7. Take Charge of Your Environment. If you hang around people who are always talking about appearances – with men who view women as “arm candy,” or women who can only talk about other women’s clothes or bodies – it’s hard not to buy into this limited view of life. When you’re with people who take a broader view of the world – people who involve themselves in the world of ideas, art, politics, charity work – you’ll start being appreciated for all you have to offer.

Remember, it’s a choice. You can choose to shrug off the illusion of perfection. And once you make that choice, you’ve suddenly given yourself the freedom to enjoy life in the body you have.