12 Ways to Feel Great About Your Body

What’s going on under your clothes?

After all those winter months of comfortably concealing sweaters, that’s a question some of us don’t want to consider. If you ever feel like your body is the fleshy equivalent of a hoarder house, with weird stuff having mysteriously accumulated in ways that make you wonder if you should call in a team of experts, or maybe an exorcist, you’re not alone.

I wrote that because sometimes I feel that way. Most of us don’t think we’re perfect. 

In fact, that woman you think is perfect doesn’t think she’s perfect. Glamour magazine’s Sean Dreisbach reported on a 2011 survey by Glamour and psychologist Ann Kearney-Cooke, which found that 97 percent of women had at least one “I hate my body” moment per day, and the average women reported 13 negative body thoughts on a daily basis. 

But there are ways to KO the mean-girl thoughts. Below, I’ve compiled a list of how to kickstart a little something called How Not to Hate Your Body. Thes are suggestions that have helped me out and/or been gathered from various web sources on body image—just a few light notes, because sometimes all it takes is one spin, joke or absurdity to get out of a torpor of a bad body day. If you have a serious problem with body image it’s probably best to see a therapist. If you just need a little boost, these might help.

1. Food is labeled so you know whether it contains anything artificial. Images aren’t. Be aware of the BS you’re taking in. We consume images all the time without knowing what went into them. Become a more savvy consumer of images by looking online at photo-shopped pics like the ones in this Buzzfeed video or Jezebel’s Photoshop of Horrors. Being down on your looks because of fictional images is like being totally bummed out that Mr. Darcy is ignoring you in favor of Lizzie Bennett.

2. Look up. A Today Show/AOL Ideal to Real Body Image survey said that 80 percent of teen girls compare themselves to “glamorous celebrity images,” and that half of them are “left feeling dissatisfied with their appearance.” It’s not hard to imagine that older women are affected by these images too. But lift your eyes from the screen or the ’zine and look around you: now where are all these perfect people? Mostly they’re on the pages you were looking at. Go out into real life and look at real people. You’ll be amazed at how cute you suddenly are. In fact, go to the DMV, where there’s a crossroads of humanity. You’ll turn into Cinderella faster than Cinderella did.

3. Visit a nudist resort. You will not find a bunch of perfect bodies; you will find people who, frankly my dear, don’t give a damn. When you see people with gray hair in surprising places and they’re accepting of and free in their bodies — warts and all — suddenly accepting your own body seems like something worth emulating. 

4. Listen to the Lama. Changing who you compare yourself to isn’t my idea: the Dalai Lama says in The Art of Happiness that one way to broaden your perspective is by “comparing your own situation with those who are less fortunate than yourself. This can often make a difference, at least in helping one cope with one’s personal problems.” This isn’t to say that people with non-media physiques are “less fortunate,” just that who you compare yourself to can really change how you feel about your own situation. In fact, when you’re preoccupied with cosmetic concerns, compare yourself to someone with a serious illness or injury — it’s a fast way to be grateful for the working body you have.

5. And it probably works pretty well. Tip number one on the National Eating Disorders Association list of positive body image tips is “Appreciate all that your body can do.” Consider all that it’s doing right now: breathing, regulating your temperature, carrying nutrients, growing hair, and processing words. It stores your memories and performs fast calculations to let you catch a ball. Kind of hard to hate the thing that lets you feel kisses, play with the dog and taste ice cream.

6. Listen to the mama. Like most girls, I was enamored of movie and fashion mags when I was young but also weirdly detached from the idea that I had to look like a model. My mother, who was naturally athletic, slender and appearance-conscious, put the kibosh on that by looking at the magazines with me and saying of models, “They’re supposed to show the clothes the way they look on the hanger in the store. That’s why they’re built like clothes hangers.” That’s not a line you forget quickly, or ever, and the message was clear: we don’t all look the same and we don’t need to. Take it from UC Berkeley: treat your body with respect and, since you’re a team, you’ll both feel better.

7. It’s their job. My mom was right about models and actors: they have a job to do and they put time, money and effort into their appearances. But while it’s one thing to look nice, we all don’t have to put a professional model level of effort into our looks any more than we all need to sing like professional divas. What if an underwear model had to do your job? Could she prep a body for burial, teach algebra or run a magazine? Okay, it depends on the model, but the point is you don’t need to be prepared to jump into their job anymore than they need to be prepared to jump into yours. 

8. Get up and boogie. A 2009 study from the University of Florida found that just the act of exercising made people feel better about their bodies, whether or not they had yet seen any physical effects of the exercise. This is a tricky one because when we feel crappy about our bodies we don't feel like exercising. Heather Hausenblas, the UF exercise psychologist who did the study, says as much in the report. But it’s worth tricking yourself into getting off the couch. According to the Mayo Clinic the benefits of exercise are legion, including better sleep, weight control and decreased risk of heart disease. And if you find something you like doing you’ll want to do it: author and fitness teacher Larry Sarokin describes in the Huffington Post how to find the right exercise and pace yourself.

9. Forget size. Another excellent U of F tip is to focus on having a body that’s healthy and feels good instead of what size and shape that body is. I like this tip because having focused on size and shape a lot in the past, I know where it can lead: often to just wanting a little comfort, which is too easily found in the fridge, which just makes things worse. Focusing instead on what’s going to make you feel good from the inside out — like getting enough sleep, or walking instead of driving — pays off and once you get that momentum going it’s easier to want to keep it going.

10. C’mon, you don’t really hate your whole body. We’re all irked by some particular oddity about our appearance. But a single change you’d like to make doesn’t mean you hate your entire body. That would be like hating your whole country because you don’t like some of its current laws or lawmakers. You don’t hate the whole thing, you just fix what you can and keep going. And even minor adjustments shouldn’t be obsessed over. Clinical psychologist Jonathan Rudiger says that being invested in appearance isn’t a bad thing, but investing in it for self-worth is a bad idea: “Appearance is only one aspect of the self. In our culture, we spend too much time focused on the external while neglecting the internal." Speaking of internal effects, the Eating for Life Alliance Body Image page has great information on the effects of body image preoccupation, including its potential to contribute to depression and how it leads to detachment from all the other things going on in the world.

11. Behold the power of distraction. Sarah Etu, clinical psychologist, says in the Today story that distraction from obsessive thoughts can help, something even as simple as doing the dishes. I love this tip because, in a world of distractions, how easy it is... wait, someone’s sending you a text, an email, a Tweet, and just look at all those stories in the sidebar! I also love this tip because it’s really cool to see the power of an obsession dwindle when you realize, “Wow, I got so into ‘American Horror Story’ that I forgot why I was upset.” 

12. And the best distraction? Go hang out with people who love you, no matter what. Not only does it feel good, it’s proof all those rotten feelings are wrong. How can you be so unlovable if they love you?

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