Body Image: What is it and How to Overcome it?

“In owning the parts of me that I so badly wanted to ignore and hide, I’ve dismantled the shame I’ve held for years, and began building self acceptance for myself in it’s place.” – Lenea Sims

I was watching the Bollywood movie “Gunjan Saxena” last night, and when she didn’t get admission in Air Force because of her “permanent disability”(not my words) of being 1 cm shorter than the requirement, it triggered something in me.

Don’t get me wrong – I understand the height requirement in Air Force, but I am just talking about my trigger of height being referred to as “permanent disability”.

Yes, I have body image issues.

  • I am short (5’1″), and my whole life I have been the butt of others’ jokes.  And yeah, when someone asks me how tall you are, I do say 5’1 & half as though my self-worth is attached to that half inch.
  • I don’t have smooth perfect skin as I would want it to be.
  • I am not as skinny as I would want to be (although I am healthier and stronger than many people I know).
  • I have grey hair that I am always trying to hide.

But, I also know I am beautiful inside and out.
I have beautiful eyes, a mesmerizing smile and people usually think I am way younger than I actually am (see how I slid that in)

Then why do I criticize myself (or why do we all criticize ourselves)..
Wish the answer was that simple because body image issues are so deeply ingrained in our society that we tend to constantly obsess over a certain body part or our perceived (yes, it is perceived) flaws.

According to American Society of Plastic Surgeons, Americans spent $16.5 billion on plastic surgery in 2018. This money was spent on things like breast augmentation, liposuction, facelift, tummy tuck, nose reshaping, wrinkle treatments, chemical peel, etc.

If only we spent that money on creating a positive self-image, so we didn’t have to change our physical image to feel good about ourselves.

Body image issues are deep rooted in our childhood.  I still remember people making remarks, “Your sisters are so tall, what happened to you?”.  Well, guess what, I really wanted to listen to your funny stupid comments, so I decided to stop growing – do you have a problem with that?

On a serious note, what do you think that would do to a young girl’s body image.

We all have heard those comments:

  • You are too skinny
  • You need to lose weight
  • You should use a fairness cream
  • No one will marry you because you are too short or too tall..

Yes, those are true especially in south Asian culture. And it just blows my mind that it is always about who will marry you if…..
Look at the Netflix series “Indian Matchmaking”. Within the first 5 minutes of the show, tall, fair, and skinny were used  as desirable characteristics in a prospective match.

What people don’t realize is that we internalize those messages at a very young age and then attach our self-worth to some physical flaw, which was not even there to begin with.

And then to top it off, mainstream media portrays unrealistic images showcasing beauty standards that are almost impossible to meet.  Add to that social media and it’s a recipe for internal conflict about body image.  “Her picture got more likes and comments – may be because she is more beautiful than me.”

I can go on and on and on about all that’s wrong in our society leading to this body image pandemic (interesting word choice there), but let’s talk about how we can overcome it.

Make a List of things you like about your body 
Write down 10 things you like about your body on little post-it notes and put them around your house or a mirror that you use a lot. Read them whenever you look into the mirror. Repetition is the only way to change our subconscious negative beliefs. And the next time, the voice in your head tries to tear you down, build yourself up using one of these positive affirmations.

Appreciate your body
Change your language to change your body image. Our language is very powerful; how we talk to ourselves matters more than we realize. That little voice in our head can shape how we feel about ourselves and our body. We spend the most time with ourselves, so we have to ensure that we are gentle and kind to ourselves.
Change ‘I hate my stretch marks’ TO ‘My stretch marks are a reminder of the life I have created inside this body’ Change ‘My thighs are too thick’ TO ‘My legs allow me to go places and see this world’.
By being thankful for our body, we are using the power of gratitude to shift our perspective.

Mirror Work 
Mirror Exposure therapy is used for people with Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Interestingly, anyone can use this to change their flawed perspective towards their body. There are different versions of Mirror Exposure therapy (read here).
Basically, looking at yourself in the mirror and describing your body using neutral or positive terms contradicts the negative beliefs that we hold about our body. Continuous exposure to mirror also aids in habituation so that our physical appearance can no longer affect our self-worth.

Surround yourself with those who lift you 
This part is pretty obvious; however in today’s social media driven world, it is hard to ignore the ‘so called perfect bodies’ thrown at us from every direction. You can curate your newsfeed to boost your self-image instead of feeling insecure and anxious about it. Be more mindful when scrolling the gram and pay attention to your emotions. If a particular person makes you more conscious of your body, unfollow them. Fill your newsfeed with accounts like @bodyposipanda or accounts that don’t talk about body at all. Following accounts that are focused on compassion and positive self-image can boost your self-worth and take the focus away from bodies. Here is a great article about how social media use is related to body-image.

Appreciate all the other amazing qualities you have 
Lastly, shift your focus towards all the great strengths you have that are not related to your body at all. Unfortunately, so many of us tie our self-worth to our body image; however, the truth is our body is not an indication of our success level. My coach, Kathleen Cameron is a curvy plus-size woman and she allowed her body image to hold her back for way too long. And once she started focusing on all the other amazing qualities she has, she literally changed her paradigms to become an overnight success. She recently made a 7-figure income in just 7 months and still is a curvy strong woman.
Here is a personality test you can take to dig deep into your strengths so that you can take the focus away from your body, and love yourself for what you truly are (not someone defined by the seeds planted by others).

To sum up, I want to highlight that your path in life, your purpose, your success is not determined by your looks or the flawed perspective you have about your body. Your self-worth is way deeper than the physical appearance that people tend to judge you on.

Fore-warning: it is not easy to do all this otherwise we would have accomplished this a long time ago, and I wouldn’t be writing about it. First things first, take a deep breath and say “I am ready to do this” and ignore that damn little monkey mind talking non-stop.

I am also so grateful that I belong to a generation of moms who are breaking these generational curses and raising strong little humans who hopefully don’t have to deal with the same taboos and stigmas that we were raised with.

Love and Sunshine

Body Image: What is it and How to Overcome it?