It’s almost Memorial Day, which means it’s time for the annual media blitz: ‘Get your body in bathing suit shape.’ ‘Are you bathing suit ready?’ ‘Lose weight for summer swimsuit season.’
Here’s my advice: squeeze your eyes shut, cover your ears, and shout, “LOO LOO LOO LOO LOO.” Because you really need to ignore this stuff.
Frankly, I’m amazed that this is something we’re even talking about. In an era of self acceptance, where singers like Meghan Traynor sing It’s All About the Bass and less-than-tiny celebrities like Rebel Wilson and Amy Schumer are all over our screens, you’d think we’d be done obsessing about skinny physiques.
Sadly, this isn’t the case. Negative body image and its ugly cousin, fat-shaming, are alive and well. And they seem to be getting worse. According to a survey by Glamour taken in 2014, 54 percent of women — 13 percent more than they found in 1984 — reported being unhappy with their bodies, and 80 percent said just looking in the mirror makes them feel bad. In fact, even nearly half of the women at a healthy weight thought that they were too big.
The idea that one body shape is better than another is ridiculous. I mean, what’s a perfect body anyway? If you’re healthy and strong, isn’t that a perfect body? Still, many women go through a tremendous amount of angst if they’re not a size 2.
Women seem to feel this pressure a lot more than men. A study by Yahoo Health surveyed 2,000 Americans between ages 13 and 64, and found that 70 percent of men were body-positive or neutral, while less than half of women were. Teenage girls had the most body image problems, with 94 percent experiencing body shame; boys were 3.5 times more body positive than girls. Men typically went from body-positive to body-neutral throughout their lives, while women stayed body-negative or went from ambivalent to neutral.
A few years ago Lindsey Vonn came out with a book called Strong is the New Beautiful. In full disclosure, I haven’t read it. But I did hear her interviewed on NPR, and I found it incredible that despite all her achievements, she’s not immune to body issues. I mean, look at her: Here’s a world class woman athlete, arguably the best ski racer on the planet, who at one time was dismayed because her body wasn’t a size zero. Nonetheless, it demonstrated how deeply these insecurities have permeated our society. Honestly, if Lindsey Vonn feels bad about her body, is there any hope for the rest of us?
A negative body image can have serious repercussions. It can put you at higher risk for depression, eating disorders, or other mental and physical health problems. So for your own well being, it pays to get over feeling bad about the way you’re shaped.
Here are a few things recommended by the National Eating Disorder Association to improve your self-body image:
- Appreciate what your body can do. Celebrate all of the amazing things your body does for you — running, dancing, breathing, laughing, dreaming, and yes, particularly skiing.
- Keep a top-ten list of things you like about yourself. Things that aren’t related to how much you weigh or what you look like. Read your list often. Add to it as you become aware of more things to like about yourself.
- Remind yourself that true beauty is not simply skin-deep. When you feel good about yourself and who you are, you carry yourself with a sense of confidence, self-acceptance, and openness that makes you beautiful. Beauty is a state of mind, not a state of your body.
- Look at yourself as a whole person. When you see yourself in a mirror or in your mind, choose not to focus on specific body parts. See yourself as you want others to see you — as a whole person.
- Surround yourself with positive people. It is easier to feel good about yourself and your body when you are around others who are supportive and who recognize the importance of liking yourself just as you naturally are.
- Shut down those voices in your head that tell you your body is not “right” or that you are a “bad” person. You can overpower those negative thoughts with positive ones. The next time you start to tear yourself down, build yourself back up with a few quick affirmations that work for you.
- Wear clothes that are comfortable and that make you feel good about your body. Work with your body, not against it.
- Become a critical viewer of social and media messages. Pay attention to images, slogans, or attitudes that make you feel bad about yourself or your body. Protest these messages: write a letter to the advertiser or talk back to the image or message.
- Do something nice for yourself — something that lets your body know you appreciate it. Take a bubble bath, make time for a nap, or find a peaceful place outside to relax.
- Use the time and energy that you might have spent worrying about food, calories, and your weight to do something to help others. Sometimes reaching out to other people can help you feel better about yourself and can make a positive change in our world.