The holidays are here, and that means celebrating with family and friends. It also means lots and lots of delicious food. But instead of looking forward to champagne toasts or your aunt’s specialty dessert, you might be seeing warning signs and calorie counts. Why?
Poor body image has a greater negative impact on us than just dreading looking in the mirror. Here are four reasons why it's important to love your body and yourself now more than ever.
01. It’s key to mental health.
Research shows that being more critical of one’s body image is associated with higher incidents of depression. And low body image is directly linked to low self-esteem.
But the opposite is also true. When you're confident about your body and the way you look, you feel better about yourself and your abilities. You are, in a word, happier. Unfortunately, one study shows that self-acceptance is a habit many people practice the least.
Yet it’s no secret that many women struggle with poor body image. I see it in my work as a therapist with female clients of all ages. While there is no one source for poor body image, the media does play a significant role. One study found that the female participants reported greater body dissatisfaction after viewing images of women with idealized body types.
02. It spreads kindness.
Our peers also play a role in perpetuating unhealthy body image. One study found that, for 9- to 12-year-old girls, conversations with their peers about appearance was significantly related to the degree in which the girls internalized ideas about thinness. This internalization of thinness ideals was also significantly related to body dissatisfaction among the girls. Recall the scene from Mean Girls when the girls stand in front of Regina George’s mirror and criticize every little thing about their appearance. How often do you see your reflection and make a critical judgement about yourself?
One study in The Journal of Social Psychology found that voluntarily practicing a small kindness for just 10 days increases life satisfaction. For 10 days, replace negative evaluations of yourself with positive, more accurate assessments. Give your body image and self-esteem a boost around your girlfriends, and their body positivity will follow suit.
03. It helps you reach your health goals.
A 2007 study from researchers at Wake Forest University reports that participants who received a small reminder to have self-compassion (e.g., "I hope you're not too hard on yourself") exercised better self-discipline when asked to eat "forbidden foods" like donuts and candies.
We are lying to ourselves when we say that we will be happier and that life will be better once we’ve lost those ten, fifteen, twenty pounds we’ve decided we need to lose. Treating who we are now as a holding pen until “real” life begins only holds us back. Most diet plans center around deprivation and neglect. Self-compassion is the missing ingredient.
04. It helps you let go of perfectionism.
The trouble with glorifying an "ideal" female body type is that it’s just one of many. Media often tells us that being a box, a pear, a heart-shape, or an hourglass is not ideal. Yet body image and beauty ideals come and go across cultures and history. Today, we often perceive that being the thinnest version of ourselves is "ideal".
We might wish for washboard abs or toned arms, but body type is not a measure of health, strength, or beauty. Take a look at photographer Howard Schatz’ series of Olympic athlete portraits. These individuals are in peak physical condition for their chosen sport and their body types could not be more different.
Self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff and colleagues found that body appreciation is associated with less perfectionism and fear of failure, as well as a greater ability to deal with stressors. Love your body shape because it’s yours and because it helps you do amazing things. Focus on what your body can do and not on what it isn’t.
Embracing who you are today makes you a happier, kinder, healthier, and braver human being. You are still you whether or not your body weight or shape fluctuates. Yes, self-compassion is hard work and can seem like an uphill battle. But you're worth it!
Photo Credit: Corynne Olivia