Summer is almost here – barbecues, days on the lake, fun in the sun… but what if you, like 45% of men and almost 90% of women¹, struggle with body image? Putting on your trunks or bikini could feel more like a personal challenge than a wardrobe choice. Thankfully there are many ways to support healthy body image and block body shame – let’s talk about some of them.
1. Notice what amazing things your body can DO.
Take time to thank your body for carrying you. Going for a hike with your dog, having the best dance moves at the club, and even giving the World’s Best Hug™ are all amazing things your body can do. You don’t have to run a marathon or do a handstand, or even be able-bodied to be worthy – you already are, inherently.
2. Explore who you are, inside.
Make a list of things you like about yourself which are not at all related to your body – start with 10 items, re- read it, and see if you can add more over time. Taking time to honor who you are, your thoughts and feelings, is a way to practice self-compassion from the inside out.
3. Unfollow anyone that makes you feel bad about yourself.
On social media, it’s easy to compare your life, body, and experience to the perfected and filtered versions that people (or companies) promote. Instead, you can follow body-positive and body-neutral people who are happy and loving toward themselves, to find inspiration and support. Give yourself permission to remove triggering content from your feed, or even contact the companies if you feel up to it. But the same shame we feel when comparing online can come up in our face-to-face interactions too, so…
4. Surround yourself with supportive people.
Family, friends, peers, strangers and partners can all say negative, triggering, or hurtful things (intentionally or not). These conversations can be hard, but not allowing your loved ones to shame you for your food choices, body weight, or appearance is an important way to set boundaries. If you feel like you don’t have support, reaching out to a therapist or finding a support group can be helpful in starting your journey.
5. Challenge the voice in your head that says you or your body are “bad.”
Negative self-talk is tough because you would (probably) never say such harsh things to your best friend, but it happens almost instantly in your head! You don’t have to perfectly silence that voice, but practice in naming it and challenging it can create space for new voices to chime in. Imagine you were talking to your best friend: what do you like most about them? Notice the tone and warmth you give to them, and practice directing it to yourself.
You can practice these as often as you need, and if you still struggle with body image, or occasionally feel down on yourself, you can work toward body neutrality. When you can’t love your body, you can appreciate it and the things it offers while accepting the things about it you cannot change.² We see it in social media posts and jokes: “Beach body? The beach is going to get whatever body I give it!” Underneath that humor is an opportunity to practice compassion for yourself; it is not a matter of success or failure, it’s a practice and an effort.
If the pressure you feel to change your body, weight or a specific aspect of yourself is overwhelming, you can get help! NEDA offers a helpline and screening tool, to help you determine where to start.³ Having a therapist, registered dietician (RD/RDN), and physician in your corner can help you tackle challenging body image issues that may feel too overwhelming on your own.
- Grabe, S., Ward, L., & Hyde, J. (2008). The role of the media in body image concerns among women: A meta-analysis of experimental and correlational studies. Psychological Bulletin, 134(3), 460-476.
- Poirier, A., & Meltzer, M. (2017). Forget body positivity: How about body neutrality? The Cut, retrieved from https://www.thecut.com/2017/03/forget-body-positivity-how-about-body-neutrality.html.
- National Eating Disorders Association. (2018). Eating Disorders Screening Tool. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/general-information/ten-steps