Imagine what life would be like if we stood in front of the mirror and focused on what we love about ourselves instead of what we wish we could change?
It seems instead that a majority of us veer toward thinking negatively, giving attention to our so-called flaws. We are bombarded with images of beautiful celebrities and models on television, in magazines, and on billboards. Even our own cell phones — Instagram, I’m looking at you — can be culprits, inundating us with photographs of people who have likely slapped on a filter and Facetuned themselves to “perfection.” What’s the result? A never ending supply of edited images and a load of viewers feeling inadequate and uncomfortable in their own skin.
All of this leads to unrealistic expectations of what we should look like, dress like, and act like. As technology advances and we’re more connected than ever, it seems that self esteem — especially of millennials — declines. Recent studies show a definite link between social media usage and low self esteem. It’s way too easy to fall down a rabbit hole on Facebook or Instagram. You can be on your feed and next thing you know you’re on your ex-boyfriend’s sister’s best friend’s page wishing you had abs as great as hers.
Despite what we may believe, nobody’s perfect! Women and men in magazines are groomed, and photoshopped to match society’s preference. And let’s not forget that the “ideal body” changes constantly with the trends. Think about it. In the ‘90s, Kate Moss was the archetype of the “perfect woman” — fairy looking features and an extremely skinny figure. Did anyone think heroin-chic was healthy? Now, the tables have turned to favor “thick” women with generous curves, a la the Kardashian family. Following beauty fads can be exhausting and dangerous.
Comparing ourselves to others is the root of all evil when it comes to negative body image. Every single one of us is beautiful in our own way, and yet we are always looking at others and coveting something that they have and we don’t — or think we don’t have. We look at ourselves and think that we aren’t good enough the way we are. Why is it so hard to just accept ourselves?
On top of this, many of us have internalized negative comments from our past that we’re unable to shake. We’re more likely to remember one cynical comment from a peer than we are to remember all of the compliments from friends. For example, I’ll always remember meeting an cosmetic dentist at a club who told me that he’d love to “fix” my crooked front tooth.
The effect of poor body image can be dangerous. Studies show that teenagers with low self esteem are at a higher risk to develop depression in young adulthood. Low self esteem is also linked with other mental health problems like obsessive compulsive disorder, social anxiety, eating disorders, and body dysmorphic disorder.
Positive body image doesn’t mean you have to stare at your naked body in the mirror for five minutes after you shower admiring each part of yourself — but if you do, more power to you! It doesn’t mean that you have to be obsessed with every part of yourself, rather, you should reach a point where you accept your appearance as it is. It’s not about perfection.
Building your self esteem takes work. If you have very poor body image, it can take years to repair. Why not start now? There are so many things you can do to build yourself up and undo a lifetime of low self esteem. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
1. Recognize That Nobody’s Perfect
No one is 100% flawless. Know that perfection is more of an idea than a reality.
Aiming for perfection will only let you down. When you’re looking at magazines or Instagram, take everything with a grain of salt. Remember that almost every image you see is edited.
2. Appreciate Your Own Beauty
Take note of everything you like about yourself. Make a list, and physically write it down. When you’re feeling bad about yourself, revisit the list to remind yourself of all your positive attributes. As your self esteem improves, you may find even more parts of yourself that you love. Add them to the list!
“She’s been amazing. I feel like I won the jackpot with her. She always seemed to understand what I was going through and guided me through it.”
– Laura K, on her therapist
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3. Don’t Rely on Others for Confidence Boosts
Allow yourself to accept compliments from people, but don’t let this be your main source of confidence. Ultimately, confidence is going to come from within you. Sure, it’s nice to have reassurance from others that you look good, but you want to look and feel good from within.
4. Take Care of Yourself
Exercise regularly and eat healthily. Working out and setting goals can help you feel great both physically and mentally. A balanced diet is key, as well. That being said, you shouldn’t compulsively over-exercise or obsessively count calories. It’s tough to balance, but try to focus on the internal benefits of a healthy lifestyle rather than the external ones.
5. Avoid Being Preoccupied by Social Media
As mentioned earlier, social media use is linked to low self esteem. Try not to get too caught up in it. Make a conscious effort to go on your social media apps less. If you’re feeling extra down about yourself, it might be a good idea to delete the apps from your phone for a couple of days for a social media cleanse.
Do I wish my lips were more pillowy and my snaggle tooth was in line with the rest of my teeth? Sure. But as I said before, it’s not about perfection — it’s about acceptance. After following those aforementioned steps, I learned to love myself, and in turn, developed a better body image than I’ve ever had before. There’s no reason why you can’t too.