We observed the way architects shape the construction of our body image. And, how the site of construction is built. However, in our fieldwork, we understood the repercussions of having others as architects of our body image. Thus, it is essential to take ownership of our body and focus on reconstructing a positive body image for ourselves. Here, I formulate 10 different activities one can do to help inculcate a positive body image.
1. Body Appreciation
Cultivating inner positivity and appreciation for our bodies can be the first step towards body appreciation. This can be done by engaging in positive self-talk. We often experience automatic negative thoughts in response to our appearance. However, we can actively replace them with positive affirmations in their place. For example,
“I am worth more than my appearance. My self-worth does not lie in my body.”
“I deserve to feel confident and comfortable.”
“My body reminds me of all my struggles and achievements. It is the only constant.”
“I choose to hold myself to a standard of health not aesthetic.”
These are some examples for you to reinforce each time you think negatively about your body.
One could also put sticky notes for themselves as affirmations on mirrors or on any screens around the house. With frequent interactions with virtual media, virtual notes to applaud your body about its functions and adaptability would also encourage you to feel positive. These affirmations can help counter the negative energy one receives through the environment.
The next step would be to focus on the functionality of the body. Our bodies are capable of accomplishing so many tasks including exercising, supporting us in work, playing sports, etc. Thus, when faced with negative thoughts about the body’s appearance, it can be useful to applaud all the functions our body performs.
2. Consult medical professionals
Consulting with professionals can help one understand the nutritional and physical demands of one’s body. Each individual has a different makeup of muscles, metabolism, etc. Hence, it is important to find out what your healthy weight and body size should be. While BMI (Body Mass Index) is often used as a tool to determine average weight and height proportions, it is actually a western measure created according to the average size of white males. Thus, it should not be used as a standard for measuring our own body's health.
3. Seek Support from family and peers (interpersonal support)
We observed how family, parents, and relatives influence our body image. It is crucial that we find support in them and they do not feed into negative insecurities about ourselves. One way of achieving this could be to dismantle their beliefs and educate them about the harm of following ideal beauty types. Additionally, building positive peer networks that provide social support, compliment inner beauty and body functionality can help rebuild positive body images. Another useful activity would be to address hurtful comments made by friends and family by having honest conversations with them.
4. Mental health professionals
Unhealthy coping methods and attitudes as a consequence of body dissatisfaction can have negative consequences. Mental health professionals including psychiatrists, counselors, and clinical psychologists can help us understand and offer insight into these behaviors. They can help decode feelings attached to eating patterns or provide support with concerns related to body shaming, eating behaviors, dissatisfaction with the body, etc. If you are struggling with body dissatisfaction and it is having a toll on your physical and mental health, please reach out to a professional!
5. Adopting healthy behaviors and habits
Exercising and eating healthy are healthy habits that can help you feel good about your body. Adding or modifying our daily routine to add movement and rich food can thus be useful. However, these activities should not be performed by adding pressure on ourselves in case we are not able to practice them. “Moderation” is the key to both adopting healthy behavior and maintaining a positive body image.
6. Mindful use of social media
Today, social media is one of the largest sources of information for us. It leads to the internalisation of unrealistic body sizes and sets standards that one should strive for. Thus, it is crucial for one to adopt “projective filtering” of social media images. Holding a schema that helps you filter the positive body image messages and let go of the negative messages.
For example, one can follow Instagram handles that pro-actively talk about dismantling the ideal body, address common struggles individuals face with respect to their body, and share positive affirmations one can make for themselves. We recommend the following handles, @Browngirlgazing, @hi.ur.beautiful, @curatebygirls, @browngirlgang, etc.
You can practice self-care for your bodies by adding any of the following steps in your daily life.
For example: Mirror Challenge
Stand in front of a mirror
Identify 3 things about yourself that make you feel beautiful.
Repeat them every day for 14 days when you come across the mirror.
Showing Gratitude to the body
You could also engage in grooming yourself to take care of the body. This act will help show appreciation for your body. For example, taking a bubble bath, etc. Showing gratitude towards the body might help you feel good about it which can help create a cycle for positivity associated with the body.
Reduce Opportunities for Appearance Evaluation
With the new world order of work through Zoom and video calls, one has more opportunity to look at their appearance on the screen. This viewing through the screen can make one feel conscious, as it allows us to evaluate appearances more often than before. Hence, it might be useful to put a sticky note where your image appears or have calls without having the self-viewing window open.
8. Inculcating a belief in your uniqueness
Art, dance, music, graphic designing, meme creation, data analysis, basketball, badminton, etc. All different activities are unique with different skill sets. It would be difficult for one to transfer expertise from one skill to another. Similarly, in the chase of a homogeneous body type, one may lose sight of the qualities that make them different from others. Valuing the body for its idiosyncrasies will reduce the need for comparison and enable us to appreciate it for itself. Therefore, it is vital for us to develop an inclusive definition of beauty. Each body is unique in their own way, this distinctiveness differentiates us from each other and helps us realize our own potential and specialty.
9. Listening to the needs of the body
Agility, alertness, and energy in our body change each day. We are able to channel ourselves for various tasks according to the ability of the body in a particular moment. Similarly, our body shape changes due to a myriad of factors. Hormonal changes, menstruation, food composition, etc have different effects on our bodies. On some days the body needs rest and may feel ‘bloated’ and on other days it is perfectly shaped and ready for different challenges. Listening to the needs of the body can be helpful in shaping our relationship with it.
10. Keep informed
What is body image? What is its composition? Who influences the body image? Answering these queries about body image will increase our knowledge and awareness about it. Understanding that body image is shaped by external factors, and not internal, can thus help us change perspectives. In this manner, it gives us a unique opportunity to reconstruct the body image the way we wish to.
I would like to acknowledge that body image concerns are often reinforced through social and cultural factors that are beyond the individual. And, one may not always have control over them. Despite the circumstances, the steps enlisted here are to help you bring small changes for yourself. The intention is to help you reconstruct the body image while influencing the way you view it. Influencing our body image is easier when our environment fosters positivity thus we should try and send body-positive messages to others around us as well. Appreciating and admiring others for who they are and not their appearance will help foster meaningful and positive relationships. Additionally, you will be able to lead the way in becoming healthier individuals.
Radhika is a research consultant with Katharsis Counselling. She is also working with the Centre for Appearance Research at the University of West England. As a research associate at the Centre, she is involved with the delivery of an intervention called 'Free Being Me (FBM)' for inculcating body positivity among school girls. Radhika completed her graduation in Psychology from Ashoka University. She aspires to pursue a Masters in Counselling in the near future and is passionate about mental health advocacy, literacy, and research.