10 ways to feel better about your body before Christmas

A positive meme

Mean memes seem to be the thing of the moment as I write this blog. The disgusting practice of posting pictures of supposedly unattractive people on social media and encouraging ‘tagging’ others as some sort of joke or insult, has thankfully come under fire.

Stories of people such as Lizzie Velasquez, a motivational speaker and author, with a rare congenital disease that prevents her from accumulating body fat, have been covered in the Metro and other papers, have helped to shame some of these bullies. It may be that the practice will decline, or, such is the perversity of our society, it may increase them.

One of the things that strikes me about some of the pictures that I have seen used for this purpose, is that many of those depicted are actually looking pretty happy!  The people who post these images, like the rest of us, are focusing on the wrong thing.

Lizzie Velasquez is a classic example of a person who has made their limitations into their strength and been able to make a difference because of that.   She is a person whose beauty on the inside, shines through on the outside.

Many clients come to me with issues over the way they look. They may see me because they feel they are overweight, because they feel old, or because they are too young. To a greater or lesser extent their physical appearance may, or may not fit in with their own assessment of themselves. In particular, many women who see me to lose weight are attractive, even glamorous people who just don’t happen to have the classic body shape that they feel is required.

The key message I have to impart to all my clients, is embodied in my catch-phrase ‘Look after your mind, and your body will look after itself’.  The very first step, and the ongoing challenge, for anybody interested in losing weight, or changing their appearance generally, is to love what they are already and to live in their own skin.

By that token, I believe that you can look great now by taking some simple practical and mental steps, some will work better than others for each individual, so pass over the ones you find most challenging and try some of the others:

  1. Smile
    When we meet someone for the first time, the instinct is to look at their face. As social creatures we need to feel the warmth of others, and so a smile stands out far and above anything else. Whatever your shape, whatever your size, if you can smile then the focus is on who you are. If you don’t feel like smiling, do it anyway! There is scientific evidence that smiling, even without feeling good, increases the endorphins released in your own brain, as well as those of the person meeting you. Keep smiling, and like anything else, it will become a habit and people will like you for it.
  2. Stop wearing black
    Yes, I know, black is slimming. I have never bothered to look into the psychology of this, but I do know that there are other psychological messages that black clothing can send, and some of these are not particularly helpful. Yes, it can be sexy, in some contexts, it can also be morbid, depressing, or just boring. Let’s be crazy about this and imagine if everybody wore black to look slimmer?  Why not add some colour into your wardrobe if you are guilty of this. By all means look at the current colour trends and wear those, or choose colours that suit your mood, your personality or your overall style. Be yourself and you will feel and look better.
  3. Choose clothes that fit
    This is a well-known fashion tip, baggy clothes on a thin frame; tight clothes on a large torso; these just emphasise the very thing you may be wanting to hide. If you buy clothes that fit you, you will feel more comfortable in your own skin and you’ll look more natural.
  4. Dress for yourself
    Wear clothes that you love and that you love to wear. Anything that adds to your feeling of self, and self-worth, will help improve the way others see you too. I envy those whose clothing makes a strong statement about who they are.
  5. Dress for a loved one
    At the same time, if you are in a close relationship, or if you trust and love others in your famiy, ask them what they like to see you in. Listen to their advice and consider whether it is something you can try out. If you know the way you dress makes a lover feel good about you then that too can help with how you feel about yourself.
  6. Imagine you are somebody you admire
    Do you have a hero or heroine? It may be someone who deals with similar issues to you, or it may simply be someone who you think is amazing, in any walk of life. Imagine being that person when you walk down the street, when you talk to strangers, when you are alone.  Doing this will improve your self-esteem and also affect things like your posture, your way of interacting with others. Treat it as a game if you like. You may not be able to keep it up all the time at first, but eventually it may even become a part of who you are.
  7. Challenge your negative self
    Much of our body image issues stem from the things we say to ourselves. These are often based on beliefs about the world that are handed down to us from our parents, siblings and friends. Things like ‘you are too fat to be attractive’, ‘I am ugly’, ‘mutton dressed as lamb’, ‘I can’t lose weight’, ‘It is big headed to say I am good looking’.  This self-talk is deeply damaging and I am sure on some level you know this. Often the advice is to confront this running commentary head on and challenge the logic of its assumptions. An alternative is to side-step it entirely. Behind every one of these negative phrases there is a positive intention hiding. Often it may be a way of protecting yourself from hurt or disappointment, or to prevent you taking ‘risks’. Whatever the positive intent of the phrase is, and whether you can identify it, just say to yourself – ‘I know you mean well and I choose to feel good about myself, because…’. The because can be your own positive statement about yourself, or it can be a direct logical challenge to the self-talk such as ‘people have lost weight before’, ‘many overweight people have fantastic relationships’, ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, ‘dress to impress’, ‘being confident about my looks shows strength and strength is beautiful’.
  8. Find and focus on the things you like about your looks
    We often naturally focus on our least attractive qualities. Find out some of the great things about the way you appear to others, maybe ask a loved one to help. Do you have great skin? Is your hair a good style or colour? What about your nails, your feet, your eyes, even your voice. Focus on one or more of these things and take pleasure in them.
  9. Walk tall.
    This one always makes me think of an old Val Doonican song that goes ‘walk tall, walk straight and look the world right in the eye’.  When we have a poor self image we often walk in a hunched up manner, or we tend to turn in on ourselves when others look at us. If you walk tall and straight you feel better about yourself and you convey a confident image to others. It is a statement about your right to be on this planet and be loved for it.
  10. Strip off!
    Ok, it’s not everybody’s first thought but British Naturism, the main national organisation for naturists in this country, argues that going naked alongside others ‘often feels like you are removing your worries, stresses and particularly any hang-ups you have about your body.‘  If you think this is something you want to try, the society has a list of venues, events and clubs, as well as advice and information.

Now about those memes?  Maybe it is time we started posting positive images for people to be tagged in.  On my facebook page I have created and posted my own upbeat meme.

Why not go over there, find the picture and share it. Tag the people you love most in it and get them to do the same. Let love go viral!

Robert Sanders is a therapist and life coach, supporting people in their present and helping them create their future.

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