In Britain there’s a definite sense that what we look like determines what we’re worth as people.
Millions of us spend every day trying to whittle our stubborn bodies into what we’re told is the perfect shape. When we look in the mirror after a gruelling gym session and see nothing even vaguely resembling Kiera Knightley’s washboard abs, it’s easy to feel more than a little gloomy.
Psychologist Cynthia Bulik believes too many people let the way they look govern their self-esteem. She says it’s time to stop basing how we feel about ourselves on the size our jeans, and start focussing on our achievements and positive qualities.
She suggests we follow these three tips to start feeling good about our bodies:
1. Realise that self-esteem has nothing to do with your body
Body image and self-esteem can easily become tangled up. It’s important to see them as two separate things. You can dislike your hairstyle, but don’t let that affect how you feel about yourself. Just because your hair didn’t go the way you wanted that night, doesn’t mean you should spend the evening cowering in the corner, avoiding eye-contact with other people. Caring too much about your appearance restricts your life and limits your opportunities.
2. Reacquaint yourself with your reflection
What do you notice when you first look in the mirror? Most people focus immediately on their flaws – a spot on the chin, a piece of spinach between the teeth… Instead, says Cynthia, we should work on a new internal dialogue. When we make eye-contact with our own reflection, we should say something positive to ourselves that has nothing to do with what we look like. For example, did we do particularly well at work that morning? Congratulating ourselves for our mini achievements can help to develop a healthier relationship with the mirror we usually berate.
3. Don’t body bash
Although we may not like to admit it, our own body insecurities can often spill out into nastiness about other people. We might think ‘she shouldn’t be eating that’ when we see a large woman eating a burger, or ‘she shouldn’t be wearing that’ when we see a voluptuous woman squeezed into a mini dress – but thinking these thoughts only reinforces our own weakness, in that we equate body image with self-worth. If you feel a nasty thought enter your head, counteract it with a nice one. Perhaps the woman with the burger drops a few coins into a charity pot, and the woman with the mini dress kindly holds the door open for you. Focus on people’s good qualities because these will have a much bigger effect on the world than a few of inches of extra body fat.
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