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Yes, You Can Learn How To Truly Love Your Body (& Improve Your Self-Esteem, Too)

Photo: Getty
body image issues body shaming body negativity

It's not too late.

It is often taboo as a psychotherapist to actually give out advice. I often wrestle with simply speaking a fancy quote one might see on social media as an anecdote; almost as if I am trying to put a Band Aid on the Grand Canyon. In other words, what’s the point?

However, when working with women of all ages (from teens to retirement), a common thread that is raised is that of self-esteem, especially when it comes to body negativity and body image issues. When this topic of self-esteem is brought up, I tell them, “Your parents only knew and did what they thought was best. It might not have been the best for you, and that’s what we have to figure out."

Women’s bodies have always been a heated topic of conversation — and even when not explicitly discussed, there is still a large pressure for women to look a certain way in order to gain approval, whether in the workforce, dating scene, or among peers. And if you don't fit the mold, you might experience body shaming or self-inflicted body negativity.

While a similar pressure undoubtedly exists nowadays for men, the standard to look a certain way has never been higher for women.

Yet, what if our families thought it was a good idea to motivate women to look their ideal best from a place of body shaming, body negativity, and/or body criticism? Surely this wouldn’t be the best way to inspire a person from an outsider’s perspective, but in some cultures and traditions, this way of parenting has been around for many generations.

And unfortunately, the way that parents learn how to parent is, well, from their parents — so this is a difficult cycle to break.

If you have experienced body shaming or were raised with body negativity but are ready to take steps to turn those feelings around, the good news is it's not too late. You can overcome your body image issues.


RELATED: How To Be Happy With Yourself (And Stop Caring So Much What Other People Think)


Here are 5 steps to take that can help you overcome your body image issues and start learning how to truly love your body:

1. Focus on your body's health, not looks.

Be aware of what is healthy for your body. Only you and your physician can have this conversation. According to most medical professionals that I have interfaced with, and just from observation, there does not appear to be a “one size fits all” approach to what this means. Different medical professionals might even give out varying medical advice, according to their own specialty and background.

If there is a threat to your health and it affects your relationship with your body, then it is worth exploring first and foremost to see with your doctor what changes, if any, need to be made.

2. Break the cycle of body negativity.

After the first step above comes awareness of how you would like to approach being a parent to yourself. This may seem like a ridiculous notion, but once you realize that you are in the driver’s seat in terms of how you wish to cultivate your own journey once you are an adult, this comes with a lot of freedom and room from which to grow awareness.

You can grow awareness through meditation techniques, taking time away from the busy world to listen to your own thoughts and get to know where you stand on issues, or taking a yoga class to be in the present moment.

3. Ask yourself some questions.

The next step involves doing some inner assessments and reflecting on a few key questions. Your parents, partner, or family might have had a certain ideal for the way in which you are supposed to look, but what is your ideal? Where does that ideal come from? Why is it important for you to look that way? Are you happy with yourself? Are there parts of your body you are happy with and other parts you are not?

4. Show your beautiful body some love.

Once you have identified the specific areas about your body you are happy with, take some time each day to show your body some love. Our thoughts are like physics: In the discipline of science, a body set in motion will remain in motion. If we have negative thoughts about ourselves, it will likely cycle into guilt and shame for having those negative thoughts.

That then leads to what are known in psychology as cognitive distortions, or irrational thoughts and beliefs about ourselves (“I hate my thighs; they look like cottage cheese; I’m really fat, so I must be unlovable”).

5. Keep your momentum going.

Learn to catch ourselves in a positive moment so that we can take note, reward ourselves, and therefore guide ourselves to an increase in positive affirmations to continue the love.

Passing on the love to others in the form of genuine compliments can be helpful in reminding ourselves to pay it forward. Learning how to watch our peers as they may fall into the trap of “fishing” for reassurance (“Are you sure this dress doesn’t make my butt look huge?”) and working towards the ability to appreciate the diversity of all shapes and sizes.

And ultimately, we must come to understand that our ultimate goal is not to strive for Photoshop perfection, but to be the most healthy, genuine, and best version of ourselves — on the inside, as well as the outside.


RELATED: Why Choosing Happiness Is The Only Way To Get It


If you're struggling with body image issues and are ready to take steps towards loving yourself as you are — while working toward becoming your best self —  Dr. Maxine Langdon Starr, a licensed marriage and family therapist in California who specializes in adolescents and young adults, can help. If you'd like to reach out to her, you can visit her webpage.