At 5 1/2 months pregnant (for the third time) my body has been through a lot of changes. Watching my expanding waistline (which is miraculously hidden from view in this pic) always amazes me. I enjoy showing off my baby bump, but as for the other parts of my body, I do my best to keep those intact. And as I've gotten older, I've started noticing parts of my body that I've never really paid attention to before. So when I noticed that my arms looked a little, shall we say "softer" than I remember, I was a little discouraged. But then I thought about body image, and the value we place on our bodies. Our bodies are valuable, and deserve to be treated with the utmost respect and care, but it becomes a problem when we equate our value with our bodies. And in fact, when we start to believe that we can fix our problems by altering our bodies (like with plastic surgery), and we do so repeatedly, then we're treading along the lines of a disorder, otherwise known at Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). That's a disorder characterized by a preoccupation with one or more perceived defects in physical appearance that is either not observable or not a big deal to others. A hallmark feature of the disorder is the urge to perform repetitive behaviors (e.g, excessive grooming, mirror checking) or mental acts (e.g., comparing oneself to others) as a way to cope with concerns about appearance.
While most people who have concerns about their bodies would not qualify as having full blown BDD, I think many of us can agree that we tend to overvalue our bodies while devaluing so many other things we have to offer. So for those of us who are less than satisfied with our body image at least some of the time, here are 5 tips to help you feel better about it.
1. Focus on other parts of yourself you find valuable (and I don't just mean another body part). I've met with many young girls that struggle with significant anxiety over their bodies. And they seem to believe that life would be so much better if only their legs were "____er" or their lips were "_____er." While many of us want to improve our looks, we often don't spend enough time focusing on other good things about us. Maybe you're funny, a really good friend (that's me), or smart (me again, ha!). These qualities are just as valuable as any other part of you and deserve to be noticed.
2. Put together a healthy regimen (even if you don't follow it exactly). If you don't like your arms or belly do something to change it. But don't throw in the towel if you miss a day or two. The mere act of putting together a healthy diet or exercise plan puts you in the mindset you need to start making healthy changes, and leaves you in a much better position than if your were just wallowing about something you don't like.
3. Create an inspiration mood board and put it where you can see it. An inspiration mood board is meant to inspire you. So refrain from including size zero models who do not reflect a healthy and realistic body image for you. Perhaps there's a celebrity, model, or friend whose body type is close to yours and reflects a healthy body image you'd like to have. Or maybe you found an inspirational quote that make you feel good about yourself and your body. All of these would be great for your mood board.
4. Buy clothes that fit. This may seem obvious, but many of us can get caught up on the size of clothing. I know I've been known to get a little uncomfortable when I've had to go up one dress size. While a smaller dress size might feel good when you try it on in the store, it doesn't feel so good when you go home and try it on away from the "skinny mirror" you were using in the store dressing room. It may be helpful to know that standard clothing sizes are loosely defined, and what was a size 7 in a store several years ago may not be a size 7 today. Also, sizes run differently in different stores and even among similar garments in the same stores. So if you focus on buying clothes that fit no matter the size, you'll likely feel better about your body image because when you're comfortable in your clothes you move better in them and it shows.
5. Do unto yourself as you would do unto others. Think about your slightly overweight or plump best, good friend, or someone overweight you admire. What are the thoughts you have about him or her? Do you ever think, I really like you but I'd like you more if you weren't so fat? I would hope not. In fact, I know some really great people whose larger body size make them, well, them and it works. I don't separate their bodies from who they are, so why should we do it to ourselves? Just as we can love and admire a friend whose body type may not fit the ideal, we can also love ourselves even if we are not completely satisfied with our bodies.
Do these tips sound like something you would or have tried? What are some other things you do to feel good about your body image?