Last year, as we all obliviously banged pots and pans and cheered for a “happy” 2020, 28% of Americans made New Year’s resolutions. Among these individuals, 43% reported their resolution was to diet, and 37% reported their resolution was to lose weight (YouGov). Ironically, though, 95% of diets fail, leaving us feeling far from happy (Monte Nido and Affiliates). Dieting can be detrimental to our mental health and body image, as we may perceive ourselves as being “failures” for not losing weight.
The National Eating Disorders Association (2018) defines body image as “how you see yourself when you look in the mirror or when you picture yourself in your mind.” It is inherently easier for humans to look in the mirror and identify their perceived imperfections. We notice every wrinkle, pimple, weight change, or any other “flaw” with ease. If we are truly aiming for happiness this New Year, then we must make a sustained effort to be kinder to ourselves.
One of the most powerful ways we can show ourselves kindness and, in turn, improve our body image, is by reframing our negative thoughts about our bodies. For example, instead of looking in the mirror and saying, “I look disgusting,” we can tell ourselves, “I feel disgusting, but that doesn’t mean I am disgusting.”
Perhaps there are other times when you are looking at a recent photograph of yourself, and you find yourself shaming your body. Instead of focusing solely on how you perceive your body to look in the photo, think of what you were doing in the photo. Were you happy? Who were you with? What is something fun that happened the day the photo was taken?
We might also find ourselves comparing our bodies to the way we “used to look.” We are not taught that bodies are supposed to change. Our bodies at 17 years old are not supposed to look like our bodies at 25 years old. Our bodies at 30 years old aren’t supposed to look like our bodies at 45 years old, and so on. We, as humans, are constantly changing and evolving over time. It is okay and normal if your body changes, despite what we might have learned from society.
In addition to reframing our thoughts, we can begin to think of our bodies in terms of what they can do for us, instead of solely what they look like. For example, we can be mindful of the way our legs allow us to walk, our arms allow us to hug the people we love, and our lungs allow us to breathe fresh air and laugh.
We might also take time to notice the messages we are being sent about our bodies through social media. Take note of which accounts on platforms such as Instagram might be triggering for your body image. Taking part in a social media “cleanse” by deleting unhelpful accounts can be particularly beneficial for improved body image. Numerous studies have shown that being exposed to an ideal of thinness on social media can lead to both body dissatisfaction and disordered eating (National Eating Disorders Association, 2018).
There are several body-positive accounts on Instagram, such as @bodyimage therapist and @thebodylovesociety, that I would recommend following. If you prefer podcasts, I would recommend both Body Kindness and The Body Love Project.
Given what we have had to endure throughout the year 2020, we could all benefit from trying to be intentionally kinder to ourselves. Ask yourself, “If I talked to my friends and family the way I talk to myself, how would they feel?” We don’t always have to love our bodies, but we do owe it to ourselves to begin to try to accept our bodies as they are, instead of constantly tearing them apart and degrading ourselves.
We are so much more than our bodies. So let’s redefine the way we conceptualize this idea of “happiness” this New Year. Instead of seeking that happiness by trying to shrink our bodies, let us achieve such happiness through being our bodies’ own allies, instead of our worst enemies. You deserve that.
Chantal Crane, MSW, LSW, is a clinical therapist at The Willow Center and can be reached at 419-720-5800