Every time Janine, a 28-year-old elementary school teacher, addresses the PTA, she thinks about her saddlebags.
Thirty-six-year-old Nancy, a marketing executive, is so afraid of outgrowing her size-8 wardrobe that she chain smokes instead of eating.
Sarita, a 40-year-old mother of two, won’t meet her husband’s colleagues because she hates her “big, bumpy nose.”
In an age where some people would gladly shave years off their lives in exchange for being thin, these women are not alone. Admittedly, it’s hard to ignore the message sent by the fashion industry, magazines and movies: Not only do looks matter—they’re all that matter.
Not liking your reflection can hamper your ability to assert yourself. You may tend to expect less from yourself and from others and have trouble making decisions. A poor body image may prevent you from enjoying simple pleasures such as a day at the beach, sap your confidence and put a damper on your sex life.
In the extreme, disliking your appearance can set the stage for anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating disorder, depression and sexual dysfunction.
Because happiness and, yes, even good health depend in large part on a positive body image—if you’re turned off by your body, you may not give it the necessary care and attention—it’s important to accept yourself right now. Start with these tips:
- Appreciate the ways in which your body serves you. You’re able to walk, talk, hear and hug.
- Each day, find at least one part of your body that’s beautiful—your hair, your eyes, your fingers, your neck.
- Find enjoyable ways to incorporate movement into your everyday lifestyle.
- Wear attractive, well-fitting clothing. Don’t wait until you reach your ideal weight to enhance your wardrobe.
- Don’t weigh yourself more than once a week. Constantly assessing your body size, whether you use a scale or regularly try on a snug skirt, reinforces the link between body image and self-worth. (“I’m bad because I gained two pounds.”)
- Stop comparing yourself to other women and judging others by their appearance.
- Strive for a healthy weight that’s within your reach. (If you have to subsist on rice cakes to maintain your weight, it’s not within your reach!)
If displeasure with your body seems to have taken over your life, discuss the problem with your healthcare provider. He or she can help you decide if counseling is appropriate.