Self-Image…what do you see?

5 08 2014

Have you ever stopped to think about how you truly view yourself? Perhaps you think about it all too often. When you look in the mirror, what do you see…and more importantly, what effect does that image have on how you feel? Thanks to the media, we have become accustomed to extremely rigid and uniform standards of beauty. TV, billboards, and magazines, and not to mention social media, are everywhere, which means that we see ‘beautiful people’ all the time, making exceptional good looks seem real, normal and attainable, and perhaps even expected.

Expertsbody_image say part of the problem in our body-obsessed culture is that many women — and increasingly more men — have highly unrealistic expectations of what weight loss can do for them. Too often, they think hitting their ideal weight will make them look like a swimsuit model in a magazine, and they’re disappointed when that’s not the case. Failure to achieve these unrealistic goals can lead to depression, anxiety, and loss of motivation, as well as dysfunctional or damaging behavior. Research has shown that when people are feeling low or in a bad mood, they experience greater body-dissatisfaction. That dissatisfaction skews perception toward the negative even further, increasing the emotional decline and undesirable side-effects.

“You have to look at retraining your brain and understanding that you have been reinforcing this negative image for probably a long time,” says Adrienne Ressler, a body-image specialist and national training director for the Renfrew Center Foundation. If you are constantly critical of yourself, your image, your food choices, and your weight, you must begin to realize that your ideals are based on the notion that we are defective, which is simply untrue. If the tape playing in your head is constantly tearing you down, where is that getting you? Be honest with yourself…not anywhere good!

So how can you change the tape?
First, get over the fear
Fear of regaining the weight is very prevalent in those who have worked hard to lose it, says Joshua Hrabosky, a psychologist at Rhode Island Hospital. People who’ve gained and lost and gained again may be less likely to embrace a new image that they worry won’t last. “They’re still in the back of their minds waiting for the other shoe to drop,” he says. Change your mode of thinking so that you have mini-goals to work toward. And be sure to celebrate when those goals are met…and of course, set new ones.

Next, rationalize your thoughts
No negatives People who expect perfection can “get stuck in dichotomous thinking that you’re fat or you’re perfect, and there’s no gray area in between,” says psychologist Leslie Heinberg, who counsels bariatric patients at the Cleveland Clinic. “So if you’re not perfect, you’re ‘fat.’” But if you take the time to step back and put things in perspective, there is very likely a list of attributes that define you that are completely unrelated to your weight, body type, or clothing size. What are those…yes, I am suggesting you make a list right now. Do any of them surprise you? Do any of them really make you proud or happy?

Finally, (with those positive thoughts in mind) take control…and take action!
Our bodies shape our identity, and our identity is intricately linked with the body that we were born into. Exploring these connections can open up new areas of understanding. “Body image is a lot harder to change than the actual physical body is,” says Elayne Daniels, a psychologist in Canton, Mass., who specializes in body-image issues. Using the positive elements you see in yourself, think about what they make you capable of…and then make a list (yes, another one) on how and when you plan to do those things. For example, if you listed “compassionate” as an attribute, perhaps you might call a friend to help him/her through a life event. Then, take note of how you feel after that activity. Did it empower you, boost your mood, increase your confidence or just give you an overall sense of satisfaction?
These are the elements of life that we thrive on. The negative drags us down, while the positive makes us better able to be productive, and feel content throughout the process. Find what you are good at and embrace it. Use those abilities to help you get better at the things that challenge you. Celebrate the steps made in the “right” direction along your journey. And know that simply being a more content individual will likely lead you to more success.

Here is an interesting experiment to consider…

Want more thoughts on this topic? Check out Dr. Renee Engeln’s TEDtalk on “Beauty Sickness” at

headshot cropped - Copy


by Stephanie R. McWilliams, M.A., Health Behavior Counselor




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