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Publication #FCS2253

Improving Your Body Image: Tips for Individuals, Families, and Professionals 1

Eboni J. Baugh, Caroline Dunn, and Karla Shelnutt2

Our body image is a picture we have about our body's shape, size, and weight that comes from what we see in the mirror and our minds. Body image can be positive or negative, depending on what we “see” when we look at ourselves and the feedback we get from those around us (Slade, 1994). Messages from society, family, peers, and the media also contribute to the way we feel about ourselves and our body image. All these factors working together create the individual views we have of our bodies.

If you have a positive body image, you feel proud of your body and have a realistic view of and expectations for your body. People with positive body images may occasionally feel self-conscious, which is normal, but do strive to celebrate and appreciate their bodies (NEDA, n.d.).

Unfortunately, some people have a negative body image. Shame, guilt, and anxiety about our bodies, and/or a distorted view of what we look like, can be signs of a negative body image. Seeing yourself as unattractive, unworthy, and awkward can be difficult, and may lead to more serious problems. People who struggle with negative body image often suffer from depression, low self-esteem, and eating disorders, and may even contemplate suicide (NEDA, n.d.). Whether you have a positive or negative body image, you can benefit from information to enhance your view of yourself. This publication provides information and tips to help improve your body image.

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Credits: Creatas Images


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Strive for a Healthy Body

Make it your goal to become healthy through regular activity and proper nutrition. Don't focus on weight, body size, and shape. Think about health, fitness, and enjoying yourself.

Focus on Your Positive Points

Do not define yourself only by your appearance. Develop and nurture the many gifts, skills, and abilities that make you unique (Neumark-Sztainer, 2003). Admire and accentuate the qualities you feel good about. Remember that beauty is a state of mind that has infinite definitions.

Limit Your Exposure to Negative Images from Your Environment

Research shows that accepting negative images (from media, friends, family, etc.) poses more risk than being exposed to those images (Halliwell, Easun & Harcourt, 2011). Reject negative images from your environment by limiting the amount of time you spend with them.

(For example, negative images can include the following: people who judge you based on your appearance, magazines/television/movies focused on one standard of beauty, etc.)

Take Notice of All the Cool Things that Your Body Can Do

Remind yourself of the many things that you can do with your body—walking, running, jumping, dancing, breathing, laughing, hugging, smiling, etc. Practice them daily! Involve yourself in activities that help you tune into your body, such as yoga, Pilates, tai chi, etc. Research shows that participating in exercise can actually improve body image, and you might surprise yourself with all the amazing things your body can do (Campbell & Hausenblas, 2009).

Develop a Positive Social Support System

Surround yourself with people who are confident and encourage you to be your best. Build a network of friends, family, and co-workers who enjoy life and participate in your healthy lifestyle. Find a walking buddy or a lunch partner with healthy eating habits. Limit the time you spend with and place limits on people who make you feel self-conscious and inferior. In addition, avoid those who point you toward unhealthy habits (Neumark-Sztainer, 2003).

Be a Role Model

Both parents and children can be role models. Be sure you are a model of healthy behavior, no matter your age. Encourage other members to be active, make healthy food choices, and speak in supportive language when talking about your body. Focusing on the positive aspects of your own body as well as others' bodies has benefits for everyone (Neumark-Sztainer, 2003).

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Credits: iStockphoto


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Devote Time and Energy to Helping Yourself and Others

Have a plan of action for those times when you may feel low. Turn your focus on helping and not hurting yourself. What can you do for yourself that would be positive? Make your day better. Take a walk, catch up with an old friend, play with a pet, etc. You may even turn your thoughts to making someone else's day better. Helping other people often makes us feel better about ourselves and our situations.

Keep in mind this is not a complete list. There are many other things you can do to boost your body image. In fact, most of us are already contributing to our own positive body images without even realizing it. How often do you focus on your actions and who you are as a person instead of how you look? Do you ever say, “Good job, self!” or compliment yourself during the day?

By no means does this list include everything you can do to improve your body image, but it can be a starting point for action. Use it as a guide for creating a new, positive, encouraging perception of yourself. If you already have a positive body image, this can reaffirm the healthy habits you already have.

References

Campbell, A., & Hausenblas, H. A. (2009). Effects of exercise interventions on body image: A meta-analysis. Journal of Health Psychology 14(6), 780–793.

Halliwell, E., Easun, A., & Harcourt, D. (2011). Body dissatisfaction: Can a short media literacy message reduce negative media exposure effects amongst adolescent girls?. British Journal of Health Psychology 16(2), 396–403.

National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). (n.d.). What is body image? Retrieved from http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/what-body-image

Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2003). Preventing the broad spectrum of weight-related problems: Working with parents to help teens achieve a healthy weight and a positive body image. Journal of Nutrition and Education Behavior 37, 133–139.

Slade, P. D. (1994). What is body image? Behaviour Research and Therapy, 32(5), 497–502.

Footnotes

1.

This document is FCS2253, one of a series of the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, UF/IFAS Extension. First published: September 2006. Latest revision: July 2013. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Eboni J. Baugh, former assistant professor, Caroline Dunn, doctoral student, Food Science and Human Nutrition Department, and Karla P. Shelnutt, assistant professor, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville FL 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.