Do you feel good about the person in the mirror?
It takes practice to learn to catch the negative thoughts you have about your body and re-frame them.
You may have mastered the art of shutting down body shaming. But if you're committed to cultivating a healthier body image, you'll also need to tackle the negative things you say about your body. Sometimes that negative body talk comes in the form of conversations with others in which you badmouth your body, but other times these conversations happen in the privacy of your own mind. Psychologists refer to those unspoken conversations you have with yourself as "negative self-talk."
Consider what kinds of thoughts go through your mind when you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror. Do you say kind things to your body? Or do you disparage your body for every perceived flaw?
It takes practice to learn to catch the negative thoughts you have about your body and re-frame them. But over time, you can change the mental habit of berating your body and learn to think gentler, more accepting thoughts. Try these suggestions to get started.
Initial Thought: I look awful.
Replacement: I'm not happy with the way I look today, and that's okay. Everyone feels like that sometimes. But how I feel about my appearance does not determine my worth as a human being.
No one (Seriously! Nobody!) feels good about how they look all the time. It is completely human and normal to have times when you don't love what you see in the mirror. But the last thing you want to do is to compound those bad feelings by beating yourself up just for having the feelings in the first place. It's popular these days to suggest that everyone should feel beautiful at all times. That's a ridiculous standard. It's much healthier to accept that sometimes you'll have negative feelings, then move on from those feelings.
Initial Thought: I hate my body.
Replacement: I will treat my body with compassion.
Your body is the only home you'll carry with you for your entire life. It has gotten you through everything you've faced in life so far. It deserves your respect and kindness. Talk to your body the way you would talk to someone you love. If you have a negative body-thought that you would never say to someone you care about, nip it in the bud. Imagine what an unconditionally loving friend would say to you about your body, and talk to yourself with that type of language instead.
Initial Thought: My legs (or whatever body part you're targeting) look disgusting.
Replacements: These are the legs that move me around in the world. These are the arms I use to hug the people I love. This is the stomach that helps me take nutrition from my food and turn it into energy to do the things I care about.
Instead of thinking about your body parts in terms of how they look, think about all of the amazing things they help you do. Even if you're not completely able-bodied, your body is still the vehicle that brings your impact to bear on the world around you. It helps you communicate. It lets you take in the beauty you see around you. It allows you to create, give, and share. It might be imperfect, but a little gratitude can go a long way in helping you reconnect more positively with your body.
Initial Thought: Everyone else looks better
Replacement: Today, I'm going to focus on things that have nothing to do with how I look.
It's human nature to compare yourself to other people. But when it comes to body image, this is a habit that doesn't do you any favours. You can't win this game - there will always be someone who seems more attractive than you are. Instead of comparing yourself, just quit the game. Grab control of your thoughts and redirect them to something that matters more than how you look. Think of a positive quality you have that has nothing to do with your appearance.
Remember you don't have to feel beautiful to take good care of your body. You can practice kindness and compassion toward your body even when you don't love how you look. The more respect and kindness you can show your body, the easier it will be to make the choices that help you take good care of it. You can start generating that kindness and respect by catching your negative body-thoughts and moving them in a healthier direction.
Renee Engeln is a professor of psychology at Northwestern University