We might not be fully aware of it all of the time, but diet culture is constantly present within our society. We are bombarded with messages that our bodies are not good enough or do not meet a standard of “beauty”. Through advertisements on television, radio, the internet, and social media (especially social media!), we are presented with unrealistic images and messages that we see as the “norm” and that we are failing in some way if we do not look like these people. This can be very damaging to the relationship we have with our body, as well as impacting the developing self-image of young people. Due to this, it may be helpful to actively implement strategies to combat these messages and create a positive body image. Here are some top tips to encourage positive body image:
1. Model a healthy relationship with your own body
It is common to focus on and highlight all of the elements of ourselves and our body that we do not like. This models to others that it is okay to talk negatively about ourselves, and that it is self-involved to speak positively about oneself. Our children and other people around us learn by listening to what we say and observing our behaviours as adults. If you are frequently talking about dieting, disliking your own body, or trying to lose weight, this models to others that this is normal behaviour. Instead, model what you would like for other people – highlighting what you like about your body.
2. Do not label food as “good” or “bad”
When we label food as “good” or “bad”, we assign value to food. As well as this, we start to label our own behaviour or ourselves as “good” or “bad” based on the foods we have eaten. This sets up an unhealthy relationship with food and creates judgements around the foods that we eat. Food is neither good nor bad, it is just food that provides energy and nourishment for the body. The key to a healthy relationship with food is to be able to listen to what our body wants and needs and to be able to eat flexibly, from a diverse range of food groups. Food is fuel!!
3. Appreciate what your body can do
Instead of focusing on all of the negative aspects of your body, appreciate your body for what it allows you to do. For example, you can run, jump, swim, walk, play with your children.
4. Remind yourself and others that we are not just a body
A lot of people place their worth solely on their external appearance, but there is so much more to us than simply the way we look. For example, when describing what you like about your closest friend, I doubt the first thing you say is “I love how skinny they are” – you are more likely to describe their internal qualities because that is what truly matters. Highlight this to yourself and others in your life.
5. Limit exposure to negative information about body weight and shape
There is a lot of media content that enhances problems with body image. Most advertisements you see encourage the idea that you are only worthwhile if you look a certain way. Some of these messages are hard to avoid (e.g., television and radio advertisements), but we can limit our exposure to these by unfollowing social media accounts that encourage weight loss or control, or whose messages only serve to distort your own relationship with your body. Follow accounts that build you up instead or bring you down.
6. Notice the thoughts that you have about your body
In cognitive behaviour therapy, we know that our thoughts influence how we feel and then how we behave. It is common for people to have negative thoughts about the way they look, which then leads to feelings of dissatisfaction and sadness. A lot of the time, a lot of us do not take notice of the automatic negative thoughts that we have about our bodies and how these impact our feelings. We listen to these thoughts without being fully aware, even though they may not be true or helpful for us. If we tune into these thoughts, we can start to challenge and change them to help us start to see our body in a more positive light.
7. Show your body compassion and love
Your body has done an amazing job of carrying you through life up until now – show it the love it deserves! Do things that celebrate your body and makes it feel good e.g., exercise that you like, yoga, stretching, get a massage.