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Be Body Positive - Do You Know How to Love Yourself

13 Oct, 2016
By Daniela Massenz
When you look in the mirror - what do you see? We're often our harshest critics when it comes to our appearance and achievements. Time to silence that inner critic and embrace ourselves for who we are.
"No matter what, no matter who tells you that you don't look good, that is only outside," says former Miss Universe, Alicia Machado, who was accused of getting too fat during her reign. "You are more than some weight. You are more than some phase. You are more than if you are short or tall, or you are black or you are white, or you are skinny or fat or whatever. Your value is how you can work, how you can feel for the people around you."

Helpful hints for teens and families

Whether you're a teen or know a teen who is trying to find their identity, here are some tips to make the transition easier.
Get experimental! Freedom to play with clothing, hair and make-up can help you discover your own identity and style (although that may change from one month to the next).
Teens are usually desperate to belong and fit in - and some of this may lead to inappropriate clothing choices. Having the freedom to experiment may help a young person to realise that what they see in the mirror, while not exactly the same as everyone else, is a reflection that they like.
Consciously compliment what’s on the inside as well as the outside,
Engage in conversation about what appearances mean and to set reasonable boundaries. Most importantly, be good role models - if you appreciate your body, chances are the teens in your life will appreciate theirs too.
Good nutrition and exercise play a very important role at every stage of life but particularly when ideas about body image are being formed. Helping teens to make healthy eating choices is vital to avoid eating disorders.
Because of the endorphins released when we exercise, if we exercise regularly, we maintain a happier mood and are more easily able to maintain a positive image of our bodies. Remember, however, that over-exercising is as bad as under-exercising, and may be an indication of an unhealthy obsession.
Teasing may be very hurtful. Try not to draw attention to budding boobies or bum fluff on the chin. And brother making fun of 'puppy fat' can have serious long-term consequences. Just don't do it.
If a teen you know is struggling to cope, seek help sooner rather than later, and keep an eye open for changed eating patterns, drastic weight loss or excessive weight gain, excessive covering up of the body (which may be evidence of hiding self-harm), depression, etc. It's hard to know what is normal teen behaviour and what is more serious, but if your alarm bells are ringing, trust your gut.

Pop culture really doesn't help

No matter what our age, when we're bombarded from every angle by the Kardashians - people who have made a career purely out of their appearance and 'lifestyle' - it's hard not to compare. But just remember: this is all they do. They spend huge amounts of time and money enhancing what they like, 'tweaking' what they don't and having 'a fabulous life'.
And it also doesn't help that we live in the age of social media, when we're always on - and our lives are reduced to a series of selfies and posts about our fabulousness. But stop and think honestly - is it possible for anyone to always be having such a fabulous time? Life is a messy business, and we are not always at our best both physically or emotionally, and some days are just bad hair days. We choose to show only the best of ourselves, and while you may be comparing your life unfavourably to your friends, you're not seeing the full reality. Rather work on things that are important to you and make you feel good.
The images portrayed in advertising and in fashion and beauty media are also usually completely unrealistic. Starting with raw material (i.e., models) that are already chosen for their adherence to social standards of beauty, never forget that they've also had the benefit of a whole crew of make-up artists, lighting, skillful photography and of course Photoshop, which can change a slice of pizza into a model - literally. We've seen it. Click here.
So how is it possible for any normal human person to wake up and expect to look like that and live up to the pressure? Even Marilyn Monroe couldn't compete. She once famously said about her lovers: 'They go to bed with Marilyn and wake up with Norma Jean'.

Then there are teens

Of course, when we approach adolescence, many of us become consumed by our looks. It is absolutely natural for adolescents to become more interested in their bodies in light of the changes that are taking place, as well as to become more interested in other peoples' bodies as they reach sexual maturity. In the mating game, you want to be as attractive as possible to the opposite sex. Belonging to the group is never more important than in early adolescence and conformity is one way to belong, until you get a better sense of who you are and where you belong.
This is where self-esteem is so important. If you feel comfortable in your own skin, you are automatically more attractive and self-assured. How we begin to feel about these changes and whether or not we are able to accept our unique shape and size depends greatly on our experiences, the opinions and feedback of others and by cultural messages we receive.
Negative comparisons of people who don't fit the stereotype of male and female beauty can have a serious impact. Pre-teens and teens, especially girls, often begin to compare their appearance with their friends as well as media images. As they mature, their idea of their body image becomes more complex.
Over and above body image, self-image becomes less about simply what can be seen in the mirror and also begins to include our talents, values, unique characteristics as well as relationships. Being part of the cool group, in the A team or achieving academically puts a huge amount of pressure on young people, just at the time we're are figuring out who we are and what we like.
These social pressures can result in negative expression such as depression, eating disorders and self-harm, not to mention escapism into substance abuse. And it's not just girls... Boys are affected just as much as girls, although they tend to be less vocal about it!
Happily, in most cases, most of us are able to negotiate this difficult time and emerge with a reasonable body image - but there are many who don't. Parents and older sibs need huge amounts of empathy (they were there once!), patience, support, and perspective.

We're not born with a negative body image - so how does this happen?

It's around the age of four that children become aware of differences in skin tone, hair texture, body sizes and shapes, and when they start hearing from friends that 'fat is bad' and 'thin is good'.
The messaging parents send out is also very important. If mom stands in front of the mirror and criticises her body shape/facial features, or is constantly on a diet, this becomes internalised by her child. Or if dad makes a teasing comment about mom's 'spare tyre' or appreciative noises about a bikini babe on TV, children take notice and internalise the feedback.
A study on 1 200 American children, published in the Journal of Child Development, showed that weight-shaming starts as early as Grade 1, with overweight children being neglected by their peers, while severely obese children were outright rejected. These children already showed signs of depression and aggression, which may continue lifelong.
What this means is that people's thinking about body size and shape is badly flawed and these flawed ideas are being passed on to children.

What about adults?

Look around you. The diversity of body shapes and sizes is enormous! And, unless you're an identical twin, there is no-one else like you!
Some of us struggle through our teens and arrive in adulthood with our body image in tatters. Adults with a negative body image are more likely to be obsessed with weight loss (even when not required), develop eating disorders and suffer from depression. While some may require professional intervention to help them regain a positive body image, we can all encourage a healthier and more realistic way of looking at ourselves.
Try these tips:
  • Focus on the whole, rather than the parts. Generally, others see us in this way, rather than focusing on any one 'bad' part.
  • Surround yourself with positive, supportive people.
  • Wear clothes that feel comfortable, work with your body shape and make you feel good, rather than whatever happens to be trendy.
  • Appreciate the wonder of your body - all the things your body does without you even realising it.
  • Be critical of social images and expectations, and be vocal when these make you feel uncomfortable about yourself.
  • Remind yourself daily of the things about yourself that you like that have nothing to do with your body, such as kindness, generosity, compassion, etc.
  • Practice gratitude daily. It's really as simple as writing down three things that you are grateful for in a diary. Include one thing you like about your physical self. Practitioners believe that it gives you a good perspective on life and takes the focus off negative self-criticism.

Dr Linda Bacon,  author of Health at Every Size, says that every child and adult needs 'the facts about body size diversity, the wrongness, destructiveness, and proven ineffectiveness of weight stigma, why "weight control" is a flawed approach to a healthy weight and contributes to weight gain, the importance of connecting to who we are from the inside out, trust in listening to our bodies, encouragement to value and pursue vitality and happiness (instead of size) as a goal, and how to care for our bodies through mindful eating, and enjoyable movement. 
We like Erin Nicole's list in The Zoe Report about negative behaviours that we should have outgrown by the time we reach our thirties. These include:
  • Negatively critiquing every photo you take
  • Constantly deflecting compliments - just accept it gracefully and say thank you
  • Telling yourself you're a loser
  • Comparing yourself to others
  • Saying yes when you mean no
  • Holding on to friendships that don't bring you joy
  • Making excuses for men (or women) who behave badly 
Watch Myla Dalbesios, the so-called 'plus size' model who featured in a Calvin Klein campaign, read her uplifting poem which takes aim at body shaming 'Where do you see your beauty?'
Now go and love yourself!

What is body image?

Body image includes how you feel about your body shape, height and weight, what you believe about your appearance and how you feel in your body.
What picture of yourself do you have in your mind? A healthy body image implies that you are able to see the different parts of your body as they really are and that you feel comfortable and confident in your body. A healthy body image also includes acceptance and enjoyment of your natural body shape as well as the realisation that physical appearance doesn’t define an individual’s personality or value.
A person with a negative body image perceives their body shape in a distorted fashion and feels uncomfortable, ashamed and anxious about their body. They are often convinced that only other people are attractive and that they are incapable of being attractive. Sadly, they may also see their body shape and size as a sign of personal failure.

Do you have a beauty problem that’s really bugging you? Ask our experts now.


Do you have a beauty problem that’s really bugging you? Ask our experts now