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A Practical Guide to Improving Your Body Image


Admitting the Problem

You know it's a problem. You know thin wasn't always in. You're disgusted by the rash of eating disordered celebrities. You've evaluated your own warped perception of yourself at "How Bad is Your Body Image?" You know you need to change.

Bookstore shelves are lined with self-help books geared towards improving self-esteem, and particularly body image, but many turn out to be rants on the state of society with no practical advice you can actually implement into your daily life. That's why I've written this guide, both as an offering to the masses of women, young and old, who underappreciate themselves, and as a reminder to myself - however hackneyed it may sound, the only person who can define my self-worth is me.

Creating a Solution

The key to feeling better about yourself is not to change your body, as the diet industry would have you believe, but rather to change the way you feel about your body. The best way to do this is not intellectually, but on your body's terms, through the five senses:

You are not what you eat. Your body takes what it needs from nutrition, and the rest passes through. What last are the messages you take in from your environment, day in and day out. You are what you what you read, what you hear, what you say and do.

Change What You See

Stop watching those tv shows. Stop reading those magazines. You know the ones I mean. You call them a "guilty pleasure," but in reality, they cause only pain. Under the guise of improving your sense of self-worth, they offer a barrage of airbrushed images, negative advertising, and impractical advice geared towards changing your body. Deep down, you know it's true: no matter how much weight you lose, you could always find something wrong with yourself.

Need extra convincing? Statistics show that 70% of women feel significantly worse about themselves after only three minutes looking at a women's magazine. We see hundreds of altered images for every one normal body we encounter every day. Not only are people with model's bodies a tiny percentage of the population, they are extensively retouced. Your favorite actresses and singers? They don't look like that either. Even if your brain knows this, your eyes sometimes need reminding, so check it out.

When you feel bad, instead of shopping around for the latest tips on how to get flat abs, sit down with a good book, go see an art show at your local gallery, or read over your favorite inspiring quotes (some of mine can be found here).

Change What You Hear

Listen to music that lifts your spirits, rather than depressing you. This doesn't mean restricting yourself to easy listening or instrumentals. Just be aware of the lyrics of your favorite songs, and the messages they send about women and their bodies. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Choose not to spend too much time discussing food, diet, or exercise. If you have friends for whom these are central issues, take note. Girlfriends can be a great source of support, or a self-fueling engine of destruction. You can help steer conversations into more positive and constructive spheres. Talk about feelings, about hopes, fears, struggles, achievements. These are the important things, the things that friendship is based on.

For once, try talking to your body on your body's terms.

For once, try talking to your body on your body's terms.

Change What You Say

When you look in the mirror, chances are you give yourself a running commentary. "My legs are too fat, my stomach's too round, my breasts are too saggy, my face is too lumpy..." Sound familiar? Instead of focusing on the negatives, try your hand at some self-affirmations. Find the things you like about yourself, and hone in on them. When you get dressed, concentrate on emphasizing your strengths, rather than covering up your "weak spots."

Instead of doing a mirror-check before you leave the house, take some time to check in with your body. How do you feel in what you're wearing? If you have a favorite scent, let that be the "finishing touch" to your outfit. It's fine to glance in the glass on your way out, to make sure no tags are sticking out, but do a mental count of three in your head as you run your eyes over your image. When you find your eyes dwelling on what you consider a "problem spot," give yourself three seconds, and when the count is up, it's time to move on.

Pamper Your Body

Change What You Do

In marriage counselling, a common exercise given to couples who have "lost the spark" is to have each person write a list of things that make them feel loved, and the other is responsible for doing at least one of those things every day. Your body is your life partner. It's important to treat it well, so that it can return the favor.

Appreciate what your body does for you. When you find yourself bogged down in negative self-talk, remind yourself what part each organ and extremity plays in helping you live a full life.

Remember "do unto others...?" Apply it to your body. Pamper yourself with homemade spa treatments. At mealtime, give yourself time to enjoy each bite you take. With exercise, forget "working out," "cardio training," and "burning fat." Chances are, you're not as big as you think. (A study found that women overestimate the size of their hips by 16% and their waists by 25%, yet the same women were able to correctly estimate the width of a box.) Choose activities that allow you to focus on the wonderful sensation of inhabiting and moving your body.

Count Your Blessings, Not Your Calories

If you do need to lose weight for medical reasons (and bad body image doesn't count as one), there are healthy ways to do so, but unless your doctor tells you to, you're better off without diets. Recent studies have shown that dieting takes a huge toll on both your mental and physical health, and that you can make significant improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol, and activity levels without shedding a pound.

If you have problems with binge- or compulsive-eating, or any other eating disorder, please seek help. There is a life beyond food. And while it may seem easier at the moment to obsess over pounds and pudge, in the long term, dealing with the feelings that cause the obsession is the only way to make a change for the better.

Information on Eating Disorders

  • The Signs And Symptoms of Eating Disorders
    As many as ten million women and one million men are fighting a life-and-death battle with anorexia or bulimia every day. One out of every four anorexics will die of complications from her disease. Yet, the amount of misinformation about eating disor
  • Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS)
    Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, or EDNOS, is a mental illness characterized by disordered eating patterns that do not meet the full diagnostic criteria for anorexia or bulimia.
  • Pro-Anorexia: The New Online Predator
    Thousands of young women log on every day to glean tips and tricks from their fellow disordered, post "progress" pictures and update their weight stats. Do you know what they're looking at?
  • Common Myths About Eating Disorders Debunked
    The amount of misinformation about eating disorders floating around is staggering. So I'm doing my part. I've listed the most common myths I've come up against, and laid out the facts in response.
  • Top Ten Worst Things to Say to Someone With an Eating Disorder
    As someone with insight, I've compiled a list of the top ten worst things to say to someone with an eating disorder, both from my own experience, and horror stories from other eating-disordered women. Some of the worst offenders to an anorexic might
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mwilliams66 from Left Coast, USA on May 30, 2012:

I love your hubs. This is a fantastic series and quite frankly it is just what I need to be reading. Thank you so much for sharing your insight

Leah Limor from New York City on May 19, 2012:

What a great message! We really do have to take the power back from the barrage of images that our culture forces down our throats and instead make peace and begin to love ourselves and recognize our unique beauty. Voted up and awesome.


Mathew Raindrops from India on March 13, 2012:

Very good information. Thanks for sharing.

naturalsolutions on September 20, 2011:

I'm pretty sure all woman who will try to read this hub would feel so confident;) really nice hub and tips.

movingfinger on August 04, 2011:

Everyone knows what to do but when it is put across as simply as you have makes a difference...gr8 hub and should help many ppl out there

MarittaC from Utah, USA on May 06, 2011:

I LOVE your hubs!!! Wonderful! Thank you for the practical advice, common sense, and spirituality that you've given us. Can't wait to read more and send all my friends and their daughters here to read.

C. Ramsdell on July 03, 2010:

You may have already thought about this, or could be doing it already, but I really hope you're writing a book. The world could use your insight.

Anthea on March 29, 2010:

A quote I quite like

Beauty is that Medusa’s head

Which men go armed to seek and sever

It is most deadly when most dead,

And dead will stare and sting forever


Medusa is a character from Greek Mythology - a woman transformed by a Goddess, who has snakes for hair and when one stares into her eyes one turns to stone.

Cassandra Mantis from UK and Nerujenia on December 09, 2009:

We are very image conscious as people, we can't help it. We learn to be like this, we are conditioned from an early age to be conscious of our appearance, and of wanting to improve it. Kids have it tough these days, they want to be accepted and want to fit in!

Imageflair from Singapore on December 08, 2009:

Very imforming hub, I believe that image does play a major role in life because you never get a second chance to make first impressions. I have a business that helps build confidence in adults and children through image and etiquette develpoment and I believe that through that everyone can be a success no matter the size or shape or color.

dnrkrishnan25 on November 10, 2009:

nice hub.....

franciaonline from Philippines on August 10, 2009:

Your hub should be read by women who are obssessed about physical beauty as defined by the media. This is a really edifying hub. Thanks for sharing this here.

kindra on January 26, 2009:

On the change what you say thing, it says to say good things about yourself.... there is nothing good about me at all....

Barry Rutherford from Queensland Australia on October 27, 2007:

Very Good blog women cannot expect nor should they look like retouched models wearing the most expensive impractical clothes designed to support some designer in absolute luxury.

How you feel inside as you say is more important. The older I get the more important i see this as a 'big issue' in life. Often I see beautifully dressed women dressed to the nines but then you look at their face and can see the emotional torment both wanting attraction/attention & then at the same instant abhorring it..if u get my the mental enional feeling aspect is not quite matching the image they have locked themselves into..

JazLive from Decatur on September 25, 2007:

Yes, I agree, women should seek for themselves the type pampering we give to babies - love, affection, encouragement, ... ;)

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