How to Get Rid of Bad Body Image
Updated: Mar 28, 2021
Bad body image, we all know it too well. You catch a glimpse of yourself in a mirror or in a picture and the thoughts come raining in. "I look so fat," "my legs look huge," "my arms are fat." The torrent of self-deprecating and abusive thoughts is worse on some days than others, and it's exhausting. Has your negative self-talk prevented you from wearing a certain outfit? Go to an event? Has it driven you to dieting or exercising, drastically manipulating your body, in attempt to make the thoughts go away.
I hate to rain on your parade, but changing your body will not make the negative self-talk go away. Changing your body is only addressing the surface, and if you have a habit of berating yourself for your appearance, losing x pounds won't change that. Take it from someone who has gone through that cycle personally. I tried changing my body to quiet my mind, but every time I manipulated my body to fulfill a standard, I found a new part of myself to pick apart. I hate my stomach flab, get rid of it, and now I hate my arms. Hate my arms? Get rid of that problem, and now I hate my legs. It's a never ending cycle of self-hatred - no amount of surface-level fixing will solve this problem. The problem runs much deeper. How do you get rid of the bad body image-related thoughts once and for all? It takes work, and it takes time. It has to be something you are actively working to change - if you don't put in the work, don't expect results. Some tips?
1. Identify all the ways berating your body does NOT serve you
Does constantly telling yourself you're ugly and fat *do* anything for you? If you say it motivates me to workout or eat a certain way, that's only temporary. It also only just perpetuates the idea that there is something wrong with you, and that that needs to be fixed.
Ruminating on all the things you hate about yourself does nothing for you but ruin your confidence and takes up mental energy. Bad body thoughts stop you from engaging in certain activities - from engaging with the world. From *living* your life.
Write a list of all the ways your bad body image thoughts serve you and don't. You'd be surprised to see how uneven that list in.
2. Remove all triggers/distance from individuals who engage in fat talk/bad body image talk
To work on building a positive self image, you must create safe space around you for change. Will it help your journey if Karen is always talking about how fat she is and how much she hates herself? No... it only perpetuates the idea that we are judged only by our appearances, and that our worth as a human can only be found in our body. To change that mental narrative, you have to get rid of all the people or things that tell you otherwise. Whether that's unfollowing people on social media, hell, deleting social media as a whole, or spending less time with body-focused individuals - this process looks different for everyone. Though it might be hard and seem bitchy to spend less time with image-centric people, if you don't surround yourself with other people who are working towards/are at the place you want to be with your self image, they don't serve you. Don't keep them around, they're only slowing your progress.
3. Practice awareness / mindfulness
To break the habitual nature of bad body talk in your mind, you must cultivate and practice the skill of awareness. Bring awareness to thoughts by recognizing them as thoughts. This is called metacognitive awareness, and it acts as a pause when any thoughts come up. It allows you to stop, breathe, and choose whether you want to accept the thought or watch it pass by. Metacognitive awareness helps remove judgment from passing thoughts, and instead see them as just thoughts. Developing metacognitive awareness takes time, and for many, bad body image thoughts are so habitual, we don't even realize all the negative messages we tell ourselves throughout the day. We're so used to picking ourselves apart, that we can't see all the negative self-talk as thoughts. One step at a time. This can be developed.
For me, yoga helps me feel grounded and connects my body and mind. It allows me to focus less on what my body looks like, but on how it allows me to move.
4. Stop body checking
How does checking your body serve you? Does it change how your body looks? Maybe temporarily.
For those of you who have never heard of the phrase body checking, it is the act of obsessive thought and behavior about appearance, usually used to judge weight and shape. It can occur while sitting in a chair, feeling your stomach hang over your pants, or viewing yourself in a mirror and flexing to see how your muscles look. For a lot of people, body checking is habitual and we don't realize that we're doing it. To break that bad habit, notice what makes you want to body check, and understand how it serves you and how it doesn't.
Body checking became obsessive for me while I was deep in my eating disorder. If my hand didn't fit around my arm or wrist, I didn't deserve to eat. For me, the real consequences of my body checking consumed my life. I had to acknowledge that checking my body in this obsessive manner did not do anything for me or my self esteem, it only did the opposite. Bring awareness to this habit to have the power to break it.
5. Bombard yourself with positive affirmations/self talk about your body
While beginning my journey of recovery, I covered my mirrors with positive affirmations and phrases such as “I am beautiful as I am.” I covered my mirrors to prevent myself from habitually body checking. I covered my mirrors to slowly rewrite all the negative self-talk that flooded my mind as soon as I saw myself. By placing positive affirmations on my mirror, I subconsciously processed and internalized all the self-loving beliefs I saw, and this helped to slowly counter my habitual bad body image talk and change my self-narrative.
6. Reflect on all the non-body related things you love about yourself and invest time into developing them
If you only see yourself as as good as your body looks, that leaves you with little choice in how to define your self worth and victim to the natural changes our bodies take with aging and growing. Being body-centric and devoting all your time and resources to perfecting your body is exhausting - it's a never-ending rat race to try and find worthiness. You know how that cycle goes, and sometimes it takes hitting rock bottom to want and try something different.
These tips are only a few of the many ways you can actively work to reduce your bad body image.
DISCLAIMER: The information and other content provided in this blog, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. If you or any other person has a medical concern, you should consult with your health care provider or seek other professional medical treatment. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or emergency services immediately.