Billy Joel sang, “I love you just the way you are,” but millions of Americans are not singing his tune when they look in a mirror. Americans are obsessed with their body image, and most are critical of what they see. Being satisfied with your body can result in living a happier, more productive life.
The National Eating Disorders Association describes body image as:
- How you see yourself when you look in the mirror or when you picture yourself in your mind
- What you believe about your appearance, including your memories, assumptions and generalizations
- How you feel about your body, including your height, shape and weight
- How you sense and control your body as you move. How you feel in your body, not just about your body.
Each season brings on a new set of challenges. In the summer we are faced with wearing bathing suits and shorts. Fall means squeezing back into our jeans. With winter come the holidays, overeating and finding the perfect outfit for a gala event. In the spring we begin to shed the layers of clothing that hid the imperfections we saw in the mirror. And the cycle continues.
Do we even have a chance of improving our body image? The association says “Yes!” most definitely, and offers this advice:
“We all have our days when we feel awkward or uncomfortable in our bodies, but the key to developing positive body image is to recognize and respect our natural shape and learn how to overpower negative thoughts and feelings with positive, affirming and accepting ones.”
So how do we overpower negative thoughts and feelings with positive, affirming and accepting ones?
These five widely accepted tips for improving body image can make the difference:
1. Appreciate what your body does for you. This body allows you to walk, talk, work, dance and express love.
2. See the whole person when you look in the mirror–-your intellectual, spiritual and emotional being.
3. Dress for your body style, not for what is in style.
4. Think of how you appreciate others for who they are, not how they look. Now give yourself that same courtesy.
5. Be an individual, not someone driven by unattainable media images. (The average model is 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 110 pounds. The average woman is 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 142 pounds.)
Having a positive body image does not mean living an unhealthy lifestyle. Exercising regularly, getting plenty of rest and eating healthful foods should still be a part of your daily plan. The point to remember is that healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes.
Carrie Marquardt, Fitness Director of the Meriden YMCA, says, “It is not about the numbers. You could be a size 10 or 12 and be in the appropriate weight category for your body. You could also look perfect and still have problems internally.”
She lives by the 80/20 rule. “Eighty percent of the time I eat healthy foods and am consistent with exercise. Twenty percent of the time is for parties and having fun.” By following that rule, Marquardt has maintained her weight and dress size for 20 years and is very comfortable with her body.
So, what’s the skinny on body image?
If you maintain a healthy lifestyle, accept your natural shape, appreciate what your body does for you, and see yourself as a whole person and not just the shell, you will also change how you feel and have more energy to enjoy the things you like to do. And the next time you look in the mirror you will be able to say with a smile:
“I love you just the way you are.”