Learn To Love Your
Body by Susie Michelle Cortright
Twenty-four percent of women and 17 percent of
men say they would give up more than three years of life to be
thinner. Thatís according to a poll conducted by Psychology Today
At the same
time, studies show that half of American women overestimate the size
of their bodies.
Sociologists who study the
western-world phenomenon of poor body image attribute the problem to
a variety of factors, including media and cultural influences, as
well as parental and peer messages. The advertising industry ties
the already complex issue of body image with materialism. A slender
body is associated with wealth, health, and attractiveness. A
heavier body is associated with sloth, indulgence, and a lack of
Psychological factors can add to the
effect of media and culture. Girls who experienced sexual abuse or
an emotionally difficult puberty are more prone to body
dissatisfaction as adults. So are women who feel they have little
control over their lives.
Women who have felt the most brutal
blows from poor body image say it is not a single factor acting in
isolation. Jenifer Tracy, who battled bulimia for nine years, says a
combination of factors, such as a non-supportive family environment
and a poor self-image, snowballed in the presence of cultural
"If I had love for myself or
love from my family," Tracy says, "it would not matter
what a model looked like, and it would not affect my personal
The Dangers of Body Dissatisfaction
When we realize that it is a
combination of influences that lead to body dissatisfaction, we
empower ourselves to solve the problem. We can seize power by
breaking the chain of these influences wherever we can.
Carolyn Strauss is a top plus-size
model, author of Specialty Modeling, and a nationally recognized
expert on body image issues, from fashion to self-esteem. Her
accomplishments now include her own clothing collection featured on
the Home Shopping Network. Through it all, she helps other women
move toward a more positive body image.
Strauss says the biggest danger of a
negative body image lies in the power it gives away. "When
someone has a poor body image, she will try to find validation from
outside to make her feel better. The next diet, the next fashion
fad, the next boyfriend, anything but where she is now. Instead of
living in the moment, she may find herself living for Ďwhen I look
better,í" Strauss says. "Remember, the goal of most
advertising it to make you Ďnot OKí so that, upon using that
product, you will become OK. I say, start OK and then youíll only
buy what you choose to have for yourself."
Most of us can think of a time when
we thought a new haircut, diet, or lipstick would turn everything
around for us. But that mindset can lead to a lot of wasted time and
money. Constant self-monitoring can also drain your energy, and it
can even lead to depression and hostility.
A University of Toronto study,
published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, found
that women who were interviewed after seeing magazine ads that
featured female models showed a significant and immediate decrease
Poor body image can lead to crash
dieting and excessive exercise, which can, in turn, lead to poor
nutrition, injuries, and depression. In itís most dangerous form,
a negative body image may fuel an eating disorder or Body Dysmorphic
Disorder (BDD). When you are continually distracted with physical
appearance, the energy of your mind, body, and spirit is diverted
from more salient endeavors.
If you feel that your body image has
become a pre-occupation, donít hesitate to talk to a counselor or
therapist. Amoreena Brewton, a mother with a background in sociology
and counseling, has conducted research on women and body image. She
says, "Some people are too deeply entrenched in their body
issues to resolve them on their own. Often,
there are personal or familial issues at play when a person has an
eating disorder, so seeking professional help is highly
Tracy agrees. "In the end, my
success came from the deep desire to stop, which had been inside of
me for years, and then getting into serious therapy with an eating
disorder specialist. Having someone who focuses on just that area
was a true lifesaver."
Make small changes.
A global change in cultural and
economic structures would, no doubt, help us all achieve a more
positive body image. But there will likely always be supermodels,
paid endorsements, and the unstoppable "quest for the
Instead, enforce changes on a smaller
scale. Brewton suggests we stop allowing those negative forces into
our lives. "Donít buy Cosmo, buy Redbook," she says.
"Look at really powerful, intelligent successful women whom you
admire as often as possible. For example: Oprah, Rosie, Hillary,
Martha, your mom, your grandmother, your daughter."
Use positive affirmations.
When you catch yourself commiserating
over tight blue jeans, donít let your mind get stuck in the
negativity. When that negative voice does emerge, follow it with 10
positive thoughts. Tracy says repetition is key. "It begins
with re-recording the negative messages in your own mind, which are
so painful," she says. "I have probably re-recorded that
message over 500,000 times, and I keep losing it. But itís easier
to find for the next time."
There are tools to help you
re-program the thoughts you direct at yourself. One successful
example is the "Think Right Now" series of audiotapes and
software programs: http://www.bestselfhelp.com/toprated/thinkrightnow.htm.
Once you navigate yourself out of the
negativity rut, youíll feel better about yourself, and youíll
better understand your power to create and maintain a healthier
mind, body, and spirit.
Remember your spiritual
"The first thing to remember is
that the Universe does not make mistakes," Strauss says.
"You are where you are for a reason. Acknowledge this and then
choose how to proceed with the next minute, hour, day, of your
For the religious and spiritual among
us, body image may instantly improve with the simple reminder that
God gave you the body you have for a reason. He didnít make you to
look like Cindy Crawford because you arenít Cindy Crawford. He
wants you to be healthy enough to do your lifeís work. To live and
work at an optimum level. So, accept His creation, and nurture it.
Surround yourself with supportive friends.
"As I began to recover little by
little from bulimia," Tracy says. "I did not surround
myself with people who were as concerned about body size. I put
myself among beautiful, strong, and intelligent women who really put
little emphasis on looks."
Brewton also recommends surrounding
yourself with friends whose focus is not on exteriors. "Other
women can make the biggest difference in our lives by being mentors
and leading by example," Brewton says. She suggests we find a
group of women to meet with regularly to discuss issues important to
our lives, but, she says, donít focus solely on body issues.
"Obsessing as a group is no
better than obsessing as an individual," she says. Find a group
of supportive women, either in your neighborhood or online. Then use
this safe, non-critical environment to empower one another.
Focus on health.
Change your relationship with food.
Food is fuel for active living. Strive not for a number on the scale
but for a weight at which you feel strong and energetic. Ask
yourself if your diet contributes - or takes away from - your health
and energy levels. When we stop focusing on our bodies, and begin to
focus on our health, our bodies have an easier time finding our
Researchers at the Stanford
University School of Medicine have discovered that people who start
a weight-loss program when they feel happiest about their body are
more than twice as likely to lose weight as people who are less
Tracy proves that we can control how
much power food has over us. "One of the most important factors
in my success has been to eat everything and anything I want,
whenever. I do not diet, restrict, or make rules for myself in any
way. This sets my life up so that I donít ever feel restricted and
needy for food. It has taken a lot of the importance out of food for
me," Tracy says. "Since I quit my bulimic behaviors, I
have lost 15 pounds, my face and cheeks are not swollen, and I feel
Change your relationship with
Regular exercise creates power and
endurance, which can help you enjoy more activities. Can you hike as
far as you like? Would you like to try kayaking? Do you know the
joys of a "runnerís high"? Find an exercise you enjoy.
If you hate aerobic dance, donít join an aerobics class. If you
hate the gym, donít spend your time there. Instead, experiment
with exercises youíve never tried before. Is there an exercise
that makes you feel physically empowered? Do that one. Motivate
yourself to exercise by reminding yourself about the burst of energy
that inevitably follows a workout.
Change your relationship with your
When food becomes a tool for active
living, and exercise becomes a tool for increased strength, your
body becomes a tool for your mind. Suddenly, your body has the
endurance and power to do what the mind wills. "Our bodies are
miracles, walking around in skin," Brewton says. You will never
come across a finer work of art or machinery."
Befriend your body, and ask
yourself how you want to spend your life energy.
"Imagine for a moment that you
took all that time you spend thinking about appearance and focused
on how much you love your ability to communicate well, or what a
great mom you are, or ways to solve the issue of homelessness,"
Brewton says. "If you took that negative energy and used it for
good, not only would your life improve, but the world would improve,
Susie Michelle Cortright is the author of several books for women
and founder of the award-winning Momscape.com, a website designed to
help busy women find balance. Visit http://www.momscape.com
today and get Susie's *free* course-by-email "6 Days to Less