Kelley Vargo by Kelley Vargo

Body image is a pretty complex concept. To provide clarity for the sake of this article, here is how the National Eating Disorder Association defines body image

“[Body image is] how you see yourself when you look in the mirror or when you picture yourself in your mind. It encompasses:

  • What you believe about your own appearance (including your memories, assumptions, and generalizations).
  • How you feel about your body, including your height, shape, and weight.
  • How you sense and control your body as you move.  How you feel in your body, not just about your body.” 

Body image is a concept that is housed in our minds and founded on the perspective we have about ourselves. Unfortunately, many of us do not have the most positive body image of ourselves. There are many factors that can be attributed to the development of a negative body image including unrealistic ideals, the media, our family and friends, and medical standards. The good news about body image is that it isn’t set in stone—we can change the way we feel about our bodies and make our own body image a positive one. Here are five tools to help you develop and cultivate a positive body image. 

1. Start on the inside.

Discerning the difference between reality and our own thoughts can be challenging. Our minds are powerful entities that can convince us to believe just about anything, no matter how far from the truth it may be. Affirmations are a great tool for changing the way we think about ourselves. Pick out a few statements that affirm that you love your appearance (even if you don’t fully believe them yet). Write these down and go over them daily. Purchase some glass writing markers and write your affirmations on your mirror so you will see them everyday.

2. Let go of perfection.

The media does not necessarily help promote a healthy body image. In fact, much of what we see in photos is photoshopped, airbrushed and manipulated. I learned this quickly from experience when I was training for my first figure competition and photo shoot. I never realized there were so many little tricks to creating that cover-worthy appearance, including dehydrating, tanning, manipulating the diet and specific lighting. I quickly realized this image wasn’t attainable for more than a day, but when people see that same image on a magazine cover, it doesn’t come with that disclaimer. Understanding that perfection is a myth is a huge step toward achieving a positive body image. By letting go of unrealistic ideals, we can truly value and embrace the uniqueness of our own bodies and focus on our individual strengths. 

3. Reframe your perspective.

You have to look at the bigger picture, which will help you change your perspective. If you’re healthy, have a roof over your head and have the ability to read this article, you are in a great place. However, when we are caught up in our own thoughts it can be hard to see this. Try journaling or writing down three things you are thankful for every day. You can also help change your perspective by giving out compliments, not only to others, but to yourself. Transform your self-talk from self-criticism into self-love.

4. Celebrate small wins.

Whether it’s a strong workout, an accomplishment at work, a new job or doing a single push-up, celebrate those moments and don’t be afraid to be proud of yourself. You are not defined by your body—you chose to define yourself by what is in your mind. Therefore, if you set out to do things and achieve them, celebrate them. Remind yourself how amazing you really are.

5. Love who you are.

Loving yourself takes practice, practice and more practice, but it’s so important. You are a gift to the world around you. When you spend precious time and energy not liking or approving of yourself, you are not only doing a disservice to yourself but to others as well. You are the creator of your world and have the power to do amazing things if you believe in yourself. Dr. Melissa Napolitano, clinical psychologist and associate professor at the Milken Institute School of Public Health, offers the following advice for cultivating a positive body image: “Rather than focus on what you don’t like about your body, instead think about what your body can do. Our bodies are amazing and strong. They can help us do things like train a marathon, get us from home to work, and appreciate those we love with a hug or a smile.”