How To Change The Way You Think About Body Image Issues

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woman looking in the mirror

Do you have a distorted body image? The definition of body image is one of those concepts that everyone knows that it means, but not exactly.

Body image is how you see, feel, and think about your body. It's how your brain interprets your body and its various parts, on any given day, in any given moment.

Body image is usually categorized as "positive" or "negative." It can change and is different for different body areas.

Your body image is your interpretation of your body. This is key. You're trained to interpret your body in a specific way, with specific standards that have nothing to do with anything except the diet industry’s profits.

RELATED: 3 Reasons Poor Body Image & Eating Disorders Often Go Hand-In-Hand

If you have distorted body image issues, you can re-train yourself to think differently.

You don’t have to feel bad about your body or see or think about it negatively, regardless of what may be happening with them.

Changing your body image takes some work, but it's, hands down, a healthier path than deciding that your body must be different to be acceptable. How you interpret your body is much more in your control than your body size.

Body image is complex. It's processed in nine different areas of the brain and influenced and impacted by a variety of factors. Once you understand what influences body image, you have the strategies to change it.

Which factor influences how people define their personal body image?

Body-related messages

Let’s start with the most easily identifiable culprit — society. There's a beauty standard applied to all bodies, as if all bodies are actually supposed to look the same.

If your body varies from this ideal, you are substandard and less valuable. It’s more than a little ridiculous when you stop and think about it. But you don’t stop and think about it, which is a problem.

You buy the beauty standard as if it were the truth. You take in all of the messages you've received about bodies from your family, friends, and the media and apply them to your body.

You expect your body to look the way others tell you should look.

If you want to change your body image, one hugely important strategy is changing how you take in body-related messages. You don’t have to see them as truth or believe that your body is related to your worth.

Be a critical consumer of media and all messages about bodies and weight. Learn about diet culture and weight stigma.

You can get started on a few books like "Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight" and "The Body Is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love."

Notice your expectations of how your body should look or behave. What are these expectations based on?

Curate your social media to eliminate anyone who celebrates only one body type as acceptable and beautiful.

Notice when your family or friends talk about their weight and body size, or calories, or diets. What are they telling you about what is important to them and what misinformation they’ve bought into?

Body image is about how you feel about yourself.

Body image is how you feel about your body, which is related to how you feel about yourself. If you feel like you’re not good enough, you're going to feel the same way about your body.

If you carry shame about yourself, you'll feel shame about your body. But, if you love yourself, it's much harder to hate your body. If you accept yourself, you don’t judge your body.

How you feel about yourself matters. There are many ways to get on the paths of self-love and self-acceptance.

Naturally, I believe psychotherapy can be extremely helpful as well as other healing modalities and strategies. One brief session of equine therapy changed my life.

Practicing loving-kindness, firing your inner critic, and practicing self-compassion are three on-point strategies to try.

You can also practice this affirmation several times a day for two weeks: "What if it’s possible that I am acceptable and worthy as I am, without having to change anything?"

Notice how the people around you (including those in your social media feeds) make you feel about yourself. Move closer to those who make it clear how acceptable and loveable you are.

RELATED: Why We Need To Change The Way We Talk About Body Image, Health & Wellness (Like, Now)

Big picture: Change your focus, not your body.

Did you notice that none of the strategies I’ve discussed involve changing your body?

What your body looks like is such a small slice of the body image pie. If you don’t believe me, pay attention to how many people with "good" bodies are dissatisfied with them.

It's almost irrelevant to your body image — you will find a way to be unhappy with your body if that’s where your head is.

Most of the strategies for changing body image are based on changing our focus, paying attention to something more useful than body judgment.

You can only change your focus when you're aware of it in the first place. Start by spending a day or a week paying attention to all the ways your body image shows up.

Notice how you see your body, how you feel about your body, and how you think and talk about your body.

Once you're aware of when your focus is on a distorted body image, you can do something about it.

Move your focus away from negative body judgment whenever you notice that your mind has wandered in that direction.

Remind yourself of your goal of changing your body image.

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You don’t have to pay attention to how your body looks or what your weight is — they have zero relevance when it comes to your worth or fabulosity.

The things you tend to focus on with such intensity, like your looks and weight, are not usually relevant to your ability to thrive in life.

The natural next question is, "What should I focus on instead of body image issues?"

It almost doesn’t matter, as long as it is not negative body judgment. But it’s a good idea to have an "alternative focus" ready ahead of time.

You could think about what would help you thrive in life.

You could think about what you love about your best friend.

You could think about a T.V. show or podcast.

One of my favorite suggestions is to focus on body neutrality. Having a "neutral" body image is not focusing on the body as a point of judgment at all.

Body neutrality reminds you that the purpose of the body is not to look a certain way but to allow you to live. (You know, that little thing — life). There's nothing to judge about that.

When you think and feel about the body through a body neutrality lens, you're paying attention to how your body is allowing you to experience life. You're not holding a distorted body image then. 

There are many ways to practice this.

Notice all the ways your body is working at this moment. If there are parts that aren’t working as well as they could be, you can notice that too.

Focus on the best parts of being alive — or the best parts of today — and what role your body plays in those moments.

Appreciate that your body just does all its thousands of jobs, that together keep you alive, without you having to do anything other than eat, drink, and sleep.

RELATED: I Hated My Own Body So Much It Almost Killed Me

Suzanne Manser is a licensed psychologist with a private practice in Northeast Portland, OR. For more information on her services, visit her website.

This article was originally published at suzannemanserphd.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.