A staggering 97 percent of women admit to having at least one negative body thought a day, according to a Glamour survey. Even worse? Many women admit to having as many as 100 hateful thoughts about their bodies every day.
Unfortunately, this can have lasting repercussions on both your physical and mental well-being. There is good news, however. It is possible to reverse negative body thoughts, feel better about your body, and lead a happier, healthier life in the process. Here’s what you need to know.
The Positive Body Image Imperative
“‘Body image” is the way that you perceive your body and assume that others perceive you. This image is often affected by family, friends, social pressure, and the media,” says DoSomething.org, a global movement aimed at promoting positive change. Over time, this can lead to a number of negative outcomes, including eating disorders and low self-esteem.
Negative body thoughts directly contribute to the body image epidemic, according to experts. Psychologist and body image specialist Ann Kearney-Cooke, Ph.D., told Glamour: “
Neuroscience has shown that whatever you focus on shapes your brain. If you’re constantly thinking negative thoughts about your body, that neural pathway becomes stronger—and those thoughts become habitual. Imagine a concert pianist. Her brain would have stronger neural pathways that support musicality and dexterity than someone who hadn’t spent her life practicing.”
It follows that the first step in addressing negative body image is to reverse negative body thoughts. Continues Kearney-Cooke:
“It’s absolutely possible to create neural pathways that favor affirming thoughts.”
In other words, rather than cataloging your perceived weaknesses and shortcomings, catalog what you feel good about instead. Eventually, insists Kearney-Cooke, this will become a habit.
How Exercise Can Help
Experts also recommend the amazing role exercise can play in helping people feel better about the way they look. Of course, the more you move your body, the more healthy your body will become. (Not convinced? Sign up for a trial pass at Brick Bodies and see for yourself.)
It doesn’t end there. Even if your body stays exactly the same, you’ll still feel better about yourself by exercising. In fact, working out may be even more vital to boosting body image than actually losing weight or changing your body shape. Said one exercise enthusiast, “Hitting the gym or horseback riding makes me feel like a fitness rock star. It’s the biggest confidence booster for me.”
Working out can even transform negative body image into something truly transcendent, appreciation of and gratitude for your body. Psychologist Nichole Wood-Barcalow, Ph.D. told Glamour:
“Next time you’re, say, cursing your wobbly arms, pause and think of their purpose—is it to make you feel bad? Or to let you hug your friends and enjoy life?”
Despite the benefits of working out, we’ve all been in the same position at one point or another–feeling bad about our bodies and asking ourselves how to get motivated to work out. The solution may lie in a surprisingly simple concept, namely, understanding what you can and cannot control. Because while your body may never look like the models in magazines and commercials (and they’re the first to admit they have airbrushing to thank for that), you can commit to positive body image practices, including exercising. In doing so, you’ll kick off a virtuous — not vicious! — cycle of learning to embrace your best self.