At 5-foot-4, I've been frustrated for years with my height and what I called stubby legs. I'm the shortest person in my family and never understood why I was shortchanged genetically.
Today, I like my legs. They're strong and healthy and take me where I need to go, and I'm grateful for them. But it's not uncommon for people — both men and women — to be frustrated with and even hate their own bodies. I hear it all the time: “I despise my hips, my ass is huge, my breasts are too small, my shoulders are too narrow, I’m ugly because I’m bald!”
What's troubling is that when you hate your body, you're really saying you hate yourself. Metaphysics aside, what are you if not your own body?
Negative body image is an insidious form of self-sabotage that creates a vicious cycle: When you hate yourself you often stop caring for yourself and overindulge in food, drink, and smoking; isolate yourself; stay in unhealthy relationships and situations, etc. These habits affect your appearance and self-esteem, so you hate yourself more, and the cycle continues.
The irony is that if you learn to care for yourself, you can change many of the things about your body that you don’t like, focus on what you do, and break this awful cycle. While you can't change the length of your legs or regrow lost hair, you can reduce the size of your tummy and hips; you can broaden your shoulders and build muscle; you can discover new skills and strengths that you admire.
But you have to love yourself enough first to do the work and you have to believe change is possible. These are probably the two biggest hurdles to address before you can get healthier. But they're hurdles, not mountains. So here are a few tricks to getting there:
1. Stop negative chatter.
When you hear yourself start to put yourself down — I’m such an idiot! I look terrible today — whether it’s aloud or in your head, stop immediately. Forgive yourself for this old, now unwelcome habit and replay it with a positive comment or mantra.
2. Keep promises to yourself.
If you tell yourself that you're going to the gym, go to the gym. If you pledge that you'll rest after dinner, put down the work file and chill out. Keep your word to yourself, and soon you'll trust and appreciate yourself more.
3. Don't compare and despair.
Stop comparing your body to anyone else’s. It is your body, no one else's, and it can never be anyone else's. The good news is that you can improve the body you have. For inspiration, create a vision board with words like “stronger,” “leaner,” and “faster” on it. “Better” is your watchword, not “different.”
4. Focus on the positive.
Until you can embrace yourself entirely, take time to appreciate the wonderful and unique things you do like about yourself: your brain, humor, freckles, bright eyes, smoky voice, great laugh, generosity, patience ... whatever it may be. Make a list, say it in the mirror, write a song about it. Tell yourself how great you are every day.
5. Find cheerleaders.
Surround yourself with positive, healthy people who lift you up and contribute to your happiness. Limit your time with people who suck the life energy from you, focus on superficial accomplishments, and gossip or denigrate others. The moods and outlooks of other people rub off on you, so make sure you're catching infectious serenity, not negativity.
Changing yourself can take a lot of time, patience, compassion, and perseverance. But the payoff goes way beyond vanity. A leaner body builds self-esteem, protects you from disease and injury, and allows you to take on new adventures. And a healthier outlook can take you anywhere in life!
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