When you think about your body which words come to mind? Which emotions arise and how do you feel? Are most of these feelings and thoughts negative? Did you think about how you wished that your body looked a certain way? Typically, most people don’t have a positive relationship with their body. They long to change it, they don’t feel confident and they think and talk negatively about it fairly regularly. With the new body positivity movement taking ground rapidly, I wanted to discuss how you can start loving your body by focusing on its health and functionality rather than how it looks!
Your body’s worth is not based on appearance
If you base your body’s worth, or even your own self-worth on the shape, size and appearance of your body, then you are never going to be satisfied. You are never going to be able to start loving your body. Those arbitrary goal posts you create are going to continue to move. In order to reach the next stage, in order to finally reach happiness and confidence, you’re going to have to take more extreme steps and funnily enough, the further you go, the less happy and confident you’ll feel.
During my late teenage years, due to a childhood of media conditioning and my participation in high level running, I saw my body purely as an object. If it was thinner I’d be both more attractive AND be able to run faster, win-win right?! Clue, the answer is wrong.
I am still working each day to change the negative mindset that years of body image conditioning and the self-enforced lack of food and excessive exercise did to my psyche. Initially, that work focused on loving my body for how it looked (which is important) but I was still focusing my attention on looks. I tried and tried to heal this negative attitude. If I was working out consistently and eating well I felt great, I felt like my body look good and I was confident. But if I stopped for some reason, the self-loathing would slowly creep back in. The guilt and self-abuse would haunt my mind. The problem was that I was continuing to focusing on how my body looked. I was tricking myself into thinking I was healing but really I was just disguising the same problem.
Change your attitude surrounding your body
By changing the focus onto health and functionality we can start to see our bodies in a different light. If we think about everything that our bodies do for us we will become amazed and filled with gratitude. Your heart, lungs and all of your other organs have been working non-stop to keep you alive. For most of us, we’re healthy and able to be active. Our legs take us places, our arms allow us to hold the things we love. Our eyes let us see the beauty and our ears and mouth allow us to communicate with those around us.
Next time you wish your thighs were a little bit thinner, remember that those same thighs have been carrying you around Earth for most of your life. If you long for your stomach to be smaller, think how amazing it is at digesting your fuel giving food. Our bodies are absolutely amazing and we do them a disservice by thinking of them solely as an accessory that needs to look a certain way. Start loving your body by treating it with gratitude and love, ensuring that it is healthy and fueling it with nutritious foods.
Take these steps and start loving your body
When it comes to developing a positive body image, it takes time, it takes set-backs and it takes dedication. For most of us, it’s a long journey but it’s one that is well worth the effort. I’m still on this journey and some days are filled with gratitude and love while others are filled with negativity and guilt.
Do physical activity
I want to clarify that physical activity is not the same as exercise. It simply involves being physical to the point of increasing your heart rate above resting. Add physical activity to your daily life by cycling to work, taking the stairs or going for a walk with friends. If a strict exercise regime doesn’t work for you, try being more active as a lifestyle. You’ll find that this increases not only physical health but mental well-being, cognitive functioning, ability to flourish, body image and, purpose in life as well.
Start a yoga practice
Leading on from physical activity, it has been said that for optimum functioning we should be incorporating cardio, strength, flexibility and neuromotor exercises into our physical activity lifestyle. Yoga is a great way to tick most of these boxes. With a simple 15-minute sequence you can strengthen and stretch your body as well as increase your heart rate. Yoga has also been shown to be one of the best ways to connect body and mind.
Yoga has been found to, amongst other things, decrease stress, anxiety and depression, enhance positive emotions, increase energy, boost satisfaction, improve self-confidence and self-esteem, improve our sleep quality, and aid body positivity.
Try this 20-minute beginners yoga flow a couple of times a week to start with. There are also many other videos available as well as lots of in-person classes at studios.
Body gratitude journal
I’ve spoken before about how gratitude can be a real game-changer. This can also include changing our mindsets surrounding our body. A standard gratitude practice is to write three things each night that we are grateful for that day. Body gratitude involves writing three things that we are grateful for about our bodies. It focuses on functionality and gets us to notice all of the amazing things that our bodies do for us.
Acts of kindness toward your body
This is another twist on a classic positive psychology intervention. Typically it involves random acts of kindness towards strangers but this adaptation involves acts of kindness towards your body! On one day a week for 5-6 weeks, create an environment that is kind and caring to your body. That will look different to us all but can involve things like; making a delicious and nutritous meal that you normally don’t have time to cook, taking a long bubble bath, going for a hike in nature, taking a spa day or massage, putting on a facemask, wearing an outfit that you feel absolutely amazing in, going to a yoga or dance class – literally the list is endless.
A mindful body
This exercise is designed to step away from viewing your body as merely an object. For one week take 10 minutes a day to engage in a body scan exercise. Start at the top of the head (or the balls of your feet) and scan through your body focusing on the sensations and emotions you feel at each body part. You can also incorporate gratitude by thanking each body part for its role in helping you live and function.
“The body is a ‘marvel of nature’ but it is the one marvel of nature that we least stop to observe.”
Aldersey-Williams, 2013, p. xviii
Have fun and start loving your body again
The point of these exercises is to have fun. When we first start an intervention or a lifestyle change it may feel difficult and/or uncomfortable. It’s important to notice if these feelings are because you’re starting something new or because the intervention isn’t right for you. Try out a few of them and you’ll find one that sticks. Enjoy the journey of falling in love with your body and relish in the benefits that this will bring.