BY LOUISE SHARP | July 10, 2015
Low body confidence is an issue which affects all of us from time to time, irrespective of age and gender. It is recognised as a significant social and public health problem in the UK and throughout much of the rest of the world. Statistics show that 60% of adults say that they feel ashamed of the way they look. This feeling of shame often leads to engaging in less social interaction, leading to isolation, and in turn poor mental health.
Worryingly, evidence gathered by the YMCA shows that low body confidence in young people can lead to unsafe sex, drug and alcohol abuse, and youth unemployment. In addition to this, a report commissioned by the Government Equalities Office found that low body confidence is undermining academic confidence and performance in adolescent girls, with some even missing school due to their body image concerns. Some women are going as far as simply not turning up to work or job interviews, showing that body image concerns are even preventing women from reaching their potential and contributing socially and economically to society.
But we live in a culture where a woman’s thinness and beauty are highly valued, and where wealth and success are often considered to go hand in hand with this image of perfection. We’re fed images via the media of ridiculously thin but extremely glamorous women, and these images are seen by teenagers in a time when they are particularly susceptible to peer pressure.
Low body confidence is not exclusive to women and girls; men and boys suffer negative body image too, but are less likely to admit to being affected, as it is seen as less socially acceptable for men to admit to caring about what they look like enough to experience any hang-ups.
It is the aim of many advocacy groups to change the way the media portrays women, with national and international efforts being made to make marketers take responsibility for displaying unrealistic and unachievable images of both men and women. But we cannot simply reply upon a change in the media to change the way we feel about ourselves, as body confidence is not solely down to what we see. There are a range of social, cultural, psychological and biological factors that influence body image.
We need to act as individuals and change the way we perceive and feel about ourselves. So, what follows is ten tips for achieving body confidence: a mental detox to have you feeling better about yourself in no time.
1) Surround Yourself With Positive People
Every day we are surrounded by and spend time with a variety of people, but negative people can affect your own outlook, particularly of your body image. Choose to be around people who will make you thrive, even if this does mean some drastic changes to your social life. The transformation should empower you, lift your mood, self-esteem and body confidence.
2) Recognise the Use of Image Manipulation, and That Altered Images Are Altering Our Minds
These ‘perfect’ images we see in media aren’t all they seem. Celebrities have spent hours in make up, photographed under strategically placed lighting and air-brushed to perfection. Blemishes are removed, limbs are lengthened and stomachs are flattened, as demonstrated in the below clip. Learn to recognise that these alterations are unrealistic and recognise the harm that they are doing to your own self-image.
3) Celebrate Your Body and All the Amazing Things It Can Do
Shift your focus away from what you body looks like to what it can do. Our bodies are our means of getting about, seeing, feeling, smelling. It is the means in which we come in contact and get to know the world. We should appreciate and respect it for that.
4) Make a List of Things You Like About Yourself, Read and Add to It Often
These things don’t have to be physical attributes. What you look like is only part of who you are. Think of all the things you do and do well, such as your ability to make others laugh when they most need it, your quirks, or your ability to smile even when things get hard. These are all qualities that need to be celebrated. And when the critical voices start making themselves known, there’s some evidence to the contrary.
5) Overpower Negative Thoughts With Positive Ones
We affirm statements about ourselves and the condition of our life with every thought and word we speak, and we practice this habit subconsciously. As we ponder over specific thoughts again and again, those thoughts become beliefs. Pretty soon these beliefs become our reality, and the condition of our wealth, health and relationships depends upon our habit of perception. Practicing positive affirmations is life changing. Use more positive self-talk. When you find yourself in the midst of a negative thought pattern, stop and replace it with an opposite statement. So stop hating yourself because you ‘look horrible’ and learn tell yourself that you love yourself unconditionally.
Research indicates that exercise can help to improve body image. People who exercise and workout regularly are more likely to feel self-confident than those who are largely inactive. Body image is a strong component of self-esteem – and taking part in an activity that you enjoy, and that you gain a sense of accomplishment from, will help to build your self-esteem. Other benefits gained from exercise include overall better mood, sleep quality and energy, as well as reducing your risk of stress and depression. Exercise also releases endorphins which create feelings of happiness through euphoria.
7) Practice Self Acceptance
Self-acceptance is embracing yourself as you are right now.
“You really have to look inside yourself and find your own inner strength, and say, ‘I’m proud of what I am and who I am, and I’m just going to be myself.”
– Mariah Carey
To get to a place of self-acceptance you have to be able to know and understand who you are, which is likely to mean making some changes. You may have to face some fears and step outside of your comfort zone. It’s about separating who you are from what you’ve done, and understanding that everyone makes mistakes, and that’s how we learn and grow.
8) Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
Everyone has something they wish they could change about their body. Wishing you had someone else’s hair, smile, or teeth takes away from what uniquely is you. Learn to accentuate the qualities you like and minimize the things you don’t. Start to look for beauty everywhere, particularly in places you wouldn’t ordinarily expect to find it, then you will learn to find it in yourself. You might not be able to squeeze into those size 8 jeans, but you still have that killer hair.
9) Focus on What You Have the Power to Change
If you want to change something about yourself, do it. If it’s your hair you don’t like, try a new haircut. If you’re unhappy about your weight, look into changing your diet or maybe joining an exercise class. The sooner you start making the changes, the sooner you will start to feel better about yourself.
10) Invest Your Time and Energy More Wisely
Rather than worrying about food, calories and your weight, use that time and energy to do something to help others, whether it’s an individual, or even getting involved in charity work. Sometimes reaching out to other people can help us feel better about ourselves and make a positive change to our world.
And that’s it! Do you have any tips we haven’t covered here? Be sure to let us know in the comments below.