When we think of Valentine’s Day, we think of flowers, chocolate, couples and most of all, love! Although we are typically thinking of our love for another person, Valentine’s Day can also be a good moment to reflect on the love we have for ourselves. Body acceptance can be a difficult topic to navigate because more often than not, people tend to have negative thoughts about their bodies rather than positive ones. It can bring up the question, “do I need to love my body?” For most, this might feel impossible.
As with any meaningful relationship, it can be beneficial on so many levels to accept every part of ourselves. This unconditional love is about accepting the way our bodies are and seeing beyond our appearances. The journey to body acceptance (or positive body image), as with all relationships, will have its ups and downs, create a wide range of emotions and change through time.
Let’s take a dive into the concepts of body image and how we can develop a positive view.
What is body image?
We can define body image as the perception one has of their physical self and the thoughts and feelings they experience as a result of that perception. It is normal that our body image changes from one day to the next, shifting from positive and negative thoughts. It’s part of a spectrum rather than a constant state.
According to the National Eating Disorders Collaboration, there are four aspects to body image: the way we see ourselves, the way we feel about the way we look, the thoughts and beliefs we have about our bodies and the behaviours we have in relation to the way we look.
Why is it important to build a neutral body image?
We know that people with a positive body image generally have better physical and psychological health as well as better personal development. Furthermore, research shows that body dissatisfaction is the best-known contributor to developing an eating disorder, such as bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa.
Body satisfaction means feeling comfortable in one’s own body, accepting its natural shape and size, and accepting that physical image has little to do with a person’s value. Having a neutral body image does not mean being totally happy with all aspects of our bodies. Sometimes it can mean just feeling neutral about our physical appearance.
How do I achieve body acceptance?
Here are a few things to work on every day in order to move towards self-acceptance:
1. Focusing on positive qualities, skills and talents
This can help us appreciate our whole selves by reminding ourselves that we are not just our physical appearance.
2. Focusing on what the body can do physically
Thinking of the things our bodies can do for us, such as hug, walk, hold another person’s hand, create art, etc. can help us toward accepting our bodies as they are. It truly is amazing to see all of the things we can do thanks to our bodies!
3. Setting positive, health-related goals that are in line with our values
Here, we want to focus on what makes us feel good, such as fun movement, eating our favourite foods, getting adequate sleep, etc. If our actions are motivated by our values, we’re much more likely to maintain these behaviours over time.
4. Making conscious decisions about what we read, what we look at and who we surround ourselves with
Most of the photos we see in the media are altered and unrealistic. The simple act of reminding ourselves of this and unfollowing any social media accounts that make us feel poorly about ourselves can go a long way. Rather, following social media accounts of people in various body shapes and sizes can make our feeds represent the reality of the world around us.
Additionally, what we hear the people around us saying about others can play a role in how we feel about ourselves. It can be extremely beneficial to express to the people we surround ourselves with that all body shapes and sizes should be celebrated and that no food should have a moral value (ex. Placing foods in “good” and “bad” categories).
5. Getting help
There are professionals such as dietitians or psychologists specialized in disordered eating, eating disorders and intuitive eating that can help with negative body image. These professionals can help their clients better understand body image and support them through improving it.
By: Stefanie Rosser, Registered Dietitian
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