Promoting a More Positive Body Image
By: Maurine Anderson
Let’s be real—it’s crazy hard to be a woman with high self-esteem in today’s society. We live in a world that values physical beauty tremendously. The media is filled with standards, tips, and advice on how we should look, and the number of photoshopped images we encounter on a daily basis is astounding. The pressure can be so unbearable that it leads to eating disorders, addictions, and more. This isn’t to say that the media alone controls your self-esteem, of course. It is merely to say that the low self-esteem you may feel when thinking about your body is completely valid, if unfounded.
So how, then, do we overcome the myth that our bodies as women are anything less than beautiful? Here are a few key insights that I’ve found really help to promote a more positive body image and stronger self-esteem.
There is more than one way to be beautiful.
Take a moment and think about the many women you consider to be beautiful. Do all of them look exactly the same? Do they all have exactly the same body type, height, eye color, and style of hair? Chances are they don’t. There is no reason, then, that you should feel pressured to conform to any one preconceived notion of beauty. Just as you have admired someone else’s fine hair, thin lips, or curvaceous legs, so, too, can you admire your own.
Work out because you love your body; not because you hate it.
I’ve seen that quote floating across the web, and I don’t think it could be any more apt. Studies have actually shown that people with self-compassion are more likely to accomplish their fitness goals than those who exhibit self-disdain. So, if you find that self-disdain is a primary motivation behind how you eat and exercise, consider making a shift in your attitude toward health and fitness. Health and fitness routines can contribute significantly to having a positive body image, but only if the motivation behind them is rightly placed.
Social media can be toxic.
It’s important to note just how negatively social media engagement can influence us. Stop for a moment and think about what most often triggers negative feelings about your body. Was it seeing a photo of a woman with stick-thin legs on Instagram? Was it seeing a friend post on Facebook about how far they are in their fitness plan? Was it seeing your favorite blogger post about eating the largest donut you’ve ever seen, only to realize that you would most definitely gain weight if you did the same thing? Whatever your triggers are, chances are social media made the top of your list.
Moreover, you should know that cyberbullying is real. This article, for example, points out how social media, in a way, disconnects people from reality. People feel safe under the guise of an anonymous identity. The result is that people feel more comfortable being cruel to others online. This phenomenon contributes to increasingly high levels of cyberbullying. So the next time someone makes a snide comment about how you look or how you dress, just remember that social media can be an unusually vicious realm.
The things we make, make us.
I took a pop culture course in college, and one phrase from that course has always stood out to me: “The things we make, make us.” It was originally a catchphrase for Jeep, but the phrase actually describes our relationship with the media incredibly well. Think about it. The media is, in a way, a mirror that reflects who we are as a society. TV, newspapers, magazines, online publications, blogs, and more all work to create content that resonates with people. These media outlets want viewership and readership, so of course they are going to cater to their consumers. (Maybe that’s a pessimistic view of the media, but there’s no denying that there’s truth to it.) Meanwhile, the media in many ways shapes how we think and feel—about ourselves, about our immediate surroundings, and about the world as a whole. Media and society are constantly influencing one another.
The point I’m trying to make here is that while the media can have a lot of influence over how we view ourselves, we also can have a lot of influence over the media. Wonderful dialogues are already taking place online. You have ad campaigns like Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ and Aerie’s #aeriereal that are working to chip away at societal standards. You have supermodels going public about the amount of stress and pressure they are exposed to in their industry. Beauty bloggers are getting more and more candid about the way makeup can alter your appearance. We have a long way to go in changing societal beauty standards, of course, but I think it’s pretty empowering to know that we can start reshaping those standards, starting with ourselves.