Maintaining a healthy body image can feel like an uphill battle. It’s no secret that our culture tends to place a high value on a physical ideal that is impossible for most women. Just about everywhere you turn, there’s messaging telling us women we’re not enough—this makeup will make us prettier, this food will make our skin glow, this outfit will disguise “problem areas.” Gee, thanks.
Even though we know this mentality is ridiculous, it can be hard to fight it. But fight it we must. To counter the litany of "dos" to improve your appearance, we offer a list of “don’ts" to better maintain a healthy appreciation for the multifaceted, super-powered women we all truly are—and for the bodies that help us put that awesome into action.
01. Don’t indulge the ‘cons’ list.
Having a healthy body image is more about your mind than it is about your body. Rather than focusing on certain body parts you’re uncomfortable with, think about your body as a whole. Consider what it is capable of when all those parts work together. Make a list—and add to it often—to revisit when negative thoughts threaten to take hold.
02. Don’t measure your worth in numbers.
Clothing sizes and the numbers on the scale are nothing more than tools we can use to locate a dress that’s more likely to fit off the rack and to keep tabs on our overall health. They are not, I repeat, they are not a barometer of who we are as people. My closet with half a dozen sizes of clothing is proof that even manufacturers can’t agree on what 6, 8, or 10 means. Apart from the fact that body image isn't just about weight, numbers are no true measure of your value.
03. Don’t let the mirror dictate your mood.
Everyone’s hair does a wonky thing now and again. What we do about it is a different story. When the image in the mirror doesn’t meet our expectations, we can do one of two things: a) Focus on what we perceive as our flaws and get frustrated or b) Choose to look elsewhere and encourage the good we see in another. Offering a kind word to someone else is bound to boost your mood and make the next glance in the mirror a more positive one. Besides, beauty ideals come and go, but kindness is timeless.
04. Don’t talk down about your body.
A quote that’s been attributed to Lao Tzu applies here: “Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions.” The way we think about our bodies affects the way we talk about our bodies, which affects the way we treat our bodies. Most of us have played that unfortunate one-up game where we try to best our friends’ supposed flaws. It may feel uncomfortable at first to appreciate your body when everyone else seems to be pointing out what could improve, but you'll be surprised by how contagious body positivity can be.
05. Don’t skimp on sleep.
Not getting enough sleep is bad news for so many reasons: It makes it tougher to cope with stress, harder to make healthy choices, and more difficult to be joyful throughout the day. Our minds, as well as our bodies, need time to rest and rejuvenate to function well. Research shows that women especially need more sleep than men. Catching seven to nine hours of zzz’s is a good way to say thank you to your body by treating it well.
06. Don’t expect your body to be static.
Body composition changes over time and even throughout the course of the month. Whether your body has endured pregnancy, illness, physical training, or simply your monthly cycle, it’s not going to be the same shape it was a decade ago—and that’s a good thing. As Laura Wolk writes for Verily, "Our bodies reflect our struggles to be and find and live and understand our lives, to turn pain into joy and joy into permanent self-identity." Our cells are constantly renewing themselves, and sometimes that means changing color or shape. Despite what many cosmetic advertisements would have us believe, change is not a disease but a natural process to be expected and celebrated.
07. Don’t believe that mainstream media projects reality.
At Verily, we celebrate every woman’s unique beauty by enforcing a no Photoshop policy. Still, it can be a challenge to counteract a message of inadequacy that is deeply ingrained in a lot of our minds. Part of the solution is surrounding ourselves with strong, inspiring women who love their bodies for more than their appearance. Healthy body image is a wonderful—and much-needed—gift to pass along. By putting these tips into action, you could be that woman for someone else.
Photo Credit: Erin Woody