What's Your Body Image? (Part Two)

Whether you are a male or a female, an unhealthy body image can damage your self-esteem. Rita Freedman, author of "Bodylove: Feeling Good About Your Looks and Yourself" writes that, regardless of appearance, people who view their bodies favorably tend to have higher self-esteem than those who view their bodies unfavorably. The relationship between your body image and self-esteem has little to do with how you really look. It has more to do with what you believe and what you think other people believe about your looks.

Components of body image
Freedman says there are five body image components - visual, mental, emotional, kinesthetic, and historical. The visual component consists of what you see when you look at yourself and what you think others see. The mental part of body image is how you think about your appearance and what you say to yourself about your body. The emotional side of it is how you feel about your body. The kinesthetic factor is how you sense and control your body parts. And finally the historical element is how your body image is shaped by a lifetime of experiences.

To change your body image from an unhealthy one to a healthy one, you need to make improvements in all five components. You need to be comfortable with what you see in the mirror, say only encouraging things about your body, feel good about your body, use your body for activities other than just appearance improvement, and forgive whoever said negative things about your body in the past .

The "ideal" body does not exist
There is no such thing as an ideal body because ideals change all the time. Besides, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Today's "ideal" body is slim, lean and defined. Yet, this type of body was not always considered attractive. Trying to achieve society's ideal of beauty (past, present or future) is to setting yourself up for failure since, invariably, many of us will not fit into whatever is deemed the ideal body for that era.

Attractive people can be found in all sizes and shapes. If you feel you need a role model to look up to, choose one who closely resembles your own size and shape so your aspirations are realistic .

Exercise for fitness and health, not just for appearance
Let's not kid ourselves, improving our appearance is important to most of us. However, exercising only for appearance's sake is a flimsy reason to workout. Chances are high that you will burnout and get discouraged when you cannot achieve the "look" you are exercising so hard for. You will probably also fall for all sorts of wacky diets, gimmicks and gizmos that promise to enhance your façade.

Train for a sport or a fitness event
It is good to have a fitness goal that is not related to weight loss or appearance. This will take your focus away from what your body looks like to what your body can do for you. Exercising to prepare your body for a marathon, biking event, hiking trip, etc. is a way to improve the kinesthetic component of body image.

Stop saying negative things about your body
We can be our worst enemy. Negative self-talk sabotages your efforts to improve your health, fitness, and appearance because "discouraged people perform poorly". Every time you say something negative about your body, stop. Analyze why you are saying those things and what triggered you to say them. Change the negative statement into a positive one. For example, if you say to yourself, "Yuck, my stomach is so soft", stop and ask yourself what provoked you to say that. It might be that you were trying to put on a tight pair of pants and noticed some "folds" spilling out from the top of the waistband. Change your negative statement into a positive one by saying, "These pants are too tight for me to wear right now. I will look great in something else that is more comfortable and more flattering to my figure. I am working on reducing my abdominal fat and one day, I will wear those tight pants."

Don't allow other people to say negative things about your body
I have seen grown women cry because a friend or relative has said something negative about their appearance. Men may not show their feelings as openly but I know many of them are also bothered by negative comments about their bodies.

Unfortunately, it seems to be in our Pinoy culture to make disparaging comments about other people's bodies as casually as if we were talking about the weather. Friends and family are not the only culprits. Household help, sales clerks, masseuses, beauty parlor staff - everyone in society seems to think they have the right to tell you what they think about your body.

A few years ago, I accompanied a friend, who had just returned from vacation, on a couple of errands. In the space of three hours, seven people told her she had gained weight. These people were the bank teller, the checkout girl and bag boy at the supermarket, the two receptionists, shampoo girl and hairdresser at the beauty parlor. None of these people had the right to say anything about her body. I don't think they even realized the emotional distress they caused her.

Body image experts say not to respond passively by keeping quiet or aggressively by attacking people who make negative comments about your body. They recommend asking these people the open-ended question, "You are saying that because….?" By forcing them to finish the question, it makes the other person reveal what their motives really are for saying those negative things. It also gives you a chance to tell them how it makes you feel when they say those things. Try it and watch the other person squirm as they try to justify why they said that to you! They probably will never do it again.

Learn to love your body
To love your body, you must be comfortable with your appearance. Dr. Elena Ramirez, staff psychologist at a Vermont weight and health management center, shared with Prevention magazine a body image exercise to encourage body acceptance. Ramirez says to slowly acclimate yourself to your image in the mirror by spending a few seconds a day looking at yourself with clothes on. As the days pass, wear less clothes, until you are looking at your body completely naked for a few minutes at a time. Ramirez says that many people cringe at looking at their bodies and develop unrealistic ideas of what it really looks like. By facing your fears, you conquer them. This exercise helps you to love your body in a healthy way - celebrate your good points, resolve to change whatever bad points are within your power to change, and peacefully accept that which you cannot change.

Develop your spirituality
Focusing on God and eternal matters makes obsessing over your body seem downright petty. The bottom line is that this life is temporary and so is your body. Think of your body as the vehicle through which your true self can live the life you were given to the fullest. Treat your body well through regular exercise and healthy eating habits because it is the only one you will ever have in this lifetime. Count your physical blessings instead of bemoan the fact that your legs will never be model thin.

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