“Mirror mirror on the wall,
You don’t get to make the call
Of who I am, or how I see,
The beauty inside and out of me.”
Body image encompasses so much more than what we see in the mirror. How we look, how we feel, our memories and our expectations all factor into body image. Beyond our personal histories and feelings, societal messages also influence body image. Sometimes, those societal messages can feel relentless and pervasive, lurking everywhere around us.
Cultivating a positive body image can be challenging in this environment, but it is so important. Negative body image is a major risk factor for the development of an eating disorder. During and after eating disorder treatment, relearning how to think about one’s body is a major part of eating disorder recovery.
With so many considerations to navigate, it can feel overwhelming to start building a more positive body image. Where do you begin? I’d like to share a few tips that might help you along the way.
1. Practice noticing the positive.
When they look in the mirror, people with positive body image report that the first thing they notice is something they like about their appearance instead of something they dislike. While you can’t retrain your gaze overnight, you can make a conscious effort to identify aspects of your reflection that make you happy. Perhaps you find joy in wearing a piece of clothing in a beautiful color; maybe you notice that you share the same smile as all of your siblings. With practice and a conscientious approach, you can slowly shift your gaze from critical to appreciative.
2. Wear clothes that fit.
Sometimes we conflate the way our body looks with the way our body feels. Feeling physically comfortable goes a long way toward a positive outlook. Clothes that don’t fit well – either because they’re too constricting or too loose – can heighten a sense of self-consciousness as we move through and take up space in the world. Seek out clothes that feel just right for you.
3. Take control of your social media feed
Social media can be a significant channel for negative body image messages. Unfollow or mute accounts that don’t lift you up – whether it’s a college friend selling diet products or a celebrity about their every meal and workout. But here is what’s tricky about social media… it’s here to stay. And it can be a wonderful place if you know where to look. Social media is a place where representation thrives. Anyone can put out content, and once you dive into the beautiful world of folks celebrating body diversity, showcasing intersecting identities, and doing the work to dismantle oppressive beauty standards, you are in a very special place indeed.
4. Change your mindset around movement.
My stepbrother recently sent me a video of my niece, clad only in her underwear, dancing and somersaulting in their living room to David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel.” She was living in the moment and loving what her body could do. Take a tip from my niece and bring a new perspective to movement! Our culture has taken a lot of the fun out of moving our bodies by turning movement into an exercise (no pun intended) in manipulating weight, shape and size. Fight back and celebrate yourself by setting movement goals independent of appearance, and in sync with your body’s capabilities. Dance in your undies to David Bowie – this is a judgement free zone.
5. Be forgiving.
No matter how much we might strive toward body positivity, we won’t all love our bodies. People who live with chronic pain, with body-related trauma, or in bodies that don’t match their gender identity might especially struggle with the idea of “body love.” Rather than striving toward body love, perhaps we should explore body acceptance. Or body appreciation, which has more to do with value than with emotions. If you still look in the mirror sometimes and don’t feel great about what you see, it doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. The key is to briefly note how you feel and then move on, rather than letting the negative thoughts preoccupy your mind day and night.
While the mirror on the wall might not be going anywhere, the mirror does not get to make the call on how you see yourself. Keep these tips on hand, and perhaps – if it helps – stick a few on the mirror as a reminder. You are so much more than what the mirror can see.