Whether it’s an acne-infested face, hips too wide to fit into slim-fit jeans or a shorter than average stature, many of us are dissatisfied with our reflections in the mirror. While we may work on mitigating these imperfections with scrubs, low-fat diets or pointy heels, our body images impact our physical and psychological well-being. In a blog of the online magazine, Psyche , psychologist, Charlotte Markey shares the benefits of cultivating a positive body image.
According to Markey, the percentage of people who reported being unhappy with at least one aspect of their bodies in the United States was 55% for women and 42% for men. The extent to which a person has a negative body image can vary considerably. From merely being discontented with one or two features to developing a clinical disorder like anorexia or bulimia, people’s dissatisfaction can lie anywhere between these two extremes. At times, a person’s obsession with their body can result in other psychological problems like anxiety or depression.
Markey points out that simply tending to our appearance doesn’t necessarily solve problems related to body image in the longer-term. She advocates that we deal with the “cognitive and emotional facets” of our body images as well. This is not to suggest that we stop caring for our bodies by not exercising or eating moderately.
To cultivate a healthy body image, ponder over your values. What goals do you have for yourself professionally and personally? Do you believe that how a person looks overrides the type of person they are? If you reflect on the close relationships in your life, how many of them are in your inner circle because of their appearance? While the advertising world and social media promote idealised body images that aren’t achievable by the average person, take heart in knowing that people have diverse body types and not everyone has to be slender or tall or well-toned. Remember that obsessing over your body leaves you with less time and mental energy to hone other, and possibly more meaningful, facets of yourself.
The next time you encounter your reflection in the mirror, look for something you appreciate and are thankful for. While your inner critic may immediately pounce on the fact that you harbour multiple chins, make a concerted effort to silence this negative voice by noting that your complexion is clear. Initially, expressing body gratitude may feel forced or contrived but Markey avers that with time, this practice will feel more natural and can boost your body image.
Another exercise to augment this is to make a list of around 10 functions your body performs day in and day out to ensure your well-being. From breathing, digesting, walking, singing, jumping, sleeping, your body engages in numerous actions to help you achieve your goals. Focusing on functionality, instead of only appearance, can help you cherish and nurture it better.
Nowadays, we are perennially bombarded with images of glamorous celebrities and models who sport so-called ‘perfect’ looks that aren’t attainable by most people. As we are all prey to subliminal forces, Markey suggests that we limit our exposure, to the extent possible, of these flawless body types. This might entail unfollowing gorgeous influencers and even friends who overvalue these flawless bodies.
Finally, Markey exhorts us to cultivate healthy habits of eating and exercising. When it comes to food, rather than telling ourselves that we will completely avoid junk foods, frame the goal more positively wherein you promise yourself that you will eat nutritiously as often as possible.
While your body is an integral part of your being, it doesn’t imply that your appearance takes centre stage. By appreciating and nurturing your body compassionately, you are likely to see it as an ally in your quest for happiness and well-being.
The writer is the author of Zero Limits: Things Every 20-Something Should Know and blogs at www.arunasankaranarayanan.com