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Coping with negative body image

When I was in high school, I felt so much pressure to look a certain way. I would spend hours comparing myself to other women – people I saw on TV, in magazines, on Instagram, or even my classmates. I was insecure because I was shorter than most of my peers and felt like the shape of my body wasn’t proportional to my height. I told myself I had to change my appearance in some way in order to be “good enough”. 

Social media was the worst. I would follow lifestyle accounts to get ideas for what I could allow myself to eat, and imagined myself wearing the clothes I saw other people wearing in pictures. I developed unhealthy thinking habits and always criticised myself. It took a long time to learn to challenge these thoughts. 

When you feel yourself slipping into a negative thought spiral about your body, here are some helpful reminders to consider.

  1. The pictures aren’t real

What you see on Instagram, Facebook and other forms of social media isn’t reality. The celebrities or influencers you follow have most likely spent hours posing, styling and editing, especially if they are using Instagram as a business and need to pick photos that will capture the most attention. A lot of the time, posts on social media are no longer images people take for themselves, but they are what people want others to see.

In any given post, you only see a tiny fraction of someone’s day — literally a snapshot of it. You don’t get to see or experience the person’s life on a day-to-day basis. A picture can be dramatically altered by simple things like the way someone tilts their body, or the position from  which it is taken. Many people take advantage of this, which means that the impression of the photo’s subject that you hold in your mind — and the outpouring of misguided thoughts that follow — isn’t actually an accurate representation of the person in real life. Chances are, they are also dealing with insecurities that never make it to their feed. Because perfection is unattainable, it only left me unhappy every time I sought to achieve it.

When I started challenging and being critical of everything I saw around me, I realised I cared less about whether I looked that way or not, and more about whether I was making myself happy.

2. Your body is powerful

I enjoyed playing sports in high school and competed in several sports teams, including athletics. Even though my legs gave me the ability to run long distances and achieve many of my goals, I never felt grateful. I only saw the ways my legs embarrassed me, like the way they were too bulky and muscular. I was a strong runner but didn’t feel strong. I felt uncomfortable and ashamed from just walking down the hallway.

I reframed my thoughts so that I didn’t concentrate on what I disliked. Instead, I made a list of what a healthy body can do. For example, my body allows me to run to class when I’m late in the morning. It digests food and nourishes my body. It provides me with energy to hang out with friends and participate in activities I care about. It will give me the opportunity to create and sustain life. It’s a beautiful biological masterpiece that I love and am proud of.

3. Others don’t think about you as much as you think about yourself

I used to spend a great deal of time worrying about what other people saw when they looked at my body, until I realised that they probably never even noticed the “flaws” that I created in my mind to bring myself down. 

When I thought about all the people I admired and looked up to in my life, it occured to me that their appearance wasn’t one of the factors or reasons why I viewed them as successful and respected them.

The people who love you do so because of all the qualities that make you you — your personality, your kindness, the way you laugh and make others feel better about themselves — and not because of the way you look.

4. Be mindful

When I understood that my unhealthy thoughts would never leave me satisfied because I could always just find something new to pick on, I spent my time and energy doing things that made my body feel good. These included spending time outdoors, cooking, eating wholesome food, listening to inspirational TED talks, and practicing yoga and mindfulness.

Mindfulness teaches you that your thoughts are just thoughts. They are not facts and they don’t define you. When I spent more time trying to notice and enjoy things in the present moment, I ended up thinking less about my body image and how I would be perceived.

I made peace with the parts of my body I hated and learned to be kind to myself. The body we are given is the only body we get, so we should learn to take care of it. And part of what comes with that involves keeping your mind well, too.