~ Abigail Legge
An Australian study conducted in August found that 80% of women are unhappy with how they look and it seems that the same number of men (80.7%) talk disparagingly about their own or others’ appearance. If you have struggled with body image problems in the past, you are most certainly not alone; and a healthy, positive body image can seem like an unattainable goal at times. But it’s not. Learning to appreciate yourself and your body is a life-long process, but it’s an exciting one, too: trying out new hobbies, forming relationships and learning what matters to you will all help you to grow as a person and develop a positive outlook towards almost everything -- including your own body. Here are a few ideas to point you in the right direction:
Exercise is an amazing way to get in touch with your body. When you exercise in moderation, you have the opportunity to release stress and focus on building yourself up -- and the post-workout endorphin rush can’t be bad for you, either!
Yoga in particular centres around the idea of balance and acceptance, making it an ideal form of exercise for anyone struggling with their body image. One study of women new to yoga found that, while 74% of the women reported some type of body image issue at some point in their lives, 75% reported improved body image after beginning yoga. Another great ‘mind-body exercise’ is pilates, which is also reported to have a positive effect on body image in many cases.
A slightly different form of exercise, which I also recommend looking into, is strength training. Instead of concentrating on reaching a certain milestone in terms of physical measurements, or basing your progress on what you see in the mirror, you get to focus on building strength -- a totally different kettle of fish. And if you feel like you’re physically strong, you’re likely to have a more positive body image, as this study shows.
GET ENOUGH REST!
We all know that feeling of being over-tired, and how it tends to make daily life more of a struggle than when we’re well-rested and energised. University of Pennsylvania researchers found that subjects who were limited to only 4.5 hours of sleep a night for one week reported feeling more stressed, angry, sad and mentally exhausted than usual. When the subjects resumed normal sleep, they reported a dramatic improvement in mood.
Excessive worry about body image can lead to the temptation to over-exercise, or to neglect your body's need for rest and sleep. Always remind yourself that resting is not the same as being lazy; it’s a basic human right! Try to make sure that you:
- Get as much sleep as you need (usually between six and ten hours a night)
- Allow yourself to relax and unwind. If you find it difficult to sit still without fidgeting excessively, try some relaxation exercises or meditation
- Limit your daily exercise: it is recommended you don’t exceed 90 minutes a day of high-intensity exercise
- Give yourself at least one day’s rest from exercise a week -- you deserve it!
REMEMBER THAT BEAUTY SHINES FROM THE INSIDE OUT!
If you do good deeds, chances are you’ll feel pretty good about yourself as a result. A recent study conducted in the US found that 76% of volunteers have felt physically healthier as a result of volunteering. They identified four key benefits of volunteering that have a positive impact on the volunteers’ health:
- Health: volunteers say that they feel better physically, mentally and emotionally
- Stress: volunteering helps people manage and lower their stress levels
- Purpose: volunteers feel a deeper connection to communities and to others
- Engagement: volunteers are more informed health care consumers, and more engaged and involved in managing their health
So consider volunteering at your local charity shop, or getting involved with volunteer campaign projects.
If volunteering isn’t for you, don’t panic: look into picking up a new hobby! Ever been tempted by life drawing classes? Music lessons? A language course? That obscure society you signed up to at freshers’ fair, but keep forgetting to go to their meetings? Hobbies can be a great way to relieve stress, particularly when you’re studying at university -- luckily, uni is also one of the best places to try out all sorts of new things! Clubs and societies are also a great way to meet new people and widen your friendship circle :)
The important thing is to keep yourself busy and interested in what’s going on around you. That way, you’re less likely to get bogged down with negative thoughts about yourself. The more you ‘practise’ getting involved in things, the more natural it will become -- and I speak from personal experience!
STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHER PEOPLE! STOP IT!!
Comparing yourself to people around you is a really destructive habit: you shouldn’t have to prove your self-worth by looking better than other people. Instead, try to remind yourself that a positive body image can only come from your own mentality -- what other people look like is totally irrelevant! Catch yourself the next time you notice you’re comparing yourself to others -- it’s really, really not worth it. It’s also worth remembering that everyone has insecurities of their own, even if they seem perfectly content with themselves. Don’t let jealousy stand in the way of your own happiness and well-being!
Lastly, never feel guilty about having a positive attitude towards yourself. You are your own life-long project, and you deserve to be proud of everything that you are and everything you hope to become!