“What can I do to love my body more?”
When asked that question, it’s easy to think of ab exercises or cardio workouts that will help people get to an “end goal.” For a lot of people, the end goal can mean hitting a tangible goal or benchmark. Many people I’ve interacted with have answered, “If I hit X, then I’ll be happy.” It’s true that actions achieve results, and these results may lead to higher self-esteem. Under the surface, however, the “end goal” also means improving body positivity.
Whether or not we make goals, we strive to look in the mirror and feel good about ourselves. But what happens when we get to our “ideal weight” and we’re still disappointed? It’s tempting to think of body positivity as hitting fitness goals and losing numbers on the scale. But we’re often left dissatisfied with these results because our focus is on the wrong thing.
If we want to cultivate body positivity, we can’t just focus on our bodies. Being physically healthy goes beyond what we eat, what we do to stay active, and how much we sleep. To be truly body positive, it takes the work of both the mind and the body together.
Many studies call this the “mind-body connection.” While the physical and mental capabilities of ourselves can act separately, the mind and the body are strongly interrelated. Our thoughts and emotions can impact how our bodies feel, and vice versa. In fact, most feelings have a bodily reaction to them. It’s why someone who is angry can be referred to as a “hot head” or how, when people are nervous, it feels like they have “butterflies in their stomach.”
Although the barrier between the body and the mind is slowly dissipating, we still separate them more often than we should. While a therapist may encourage his or her patient to exercise more to help their mind, the body is still viewed as something entirely separate. Yet, despite achieving tangible goals, the most physically fit person in the world could still struggle with the way he or she seems to look.
When we view ourselves negatively, it starts in our minds — not with what we do. It may feel hopeless to “change the way you think,” but it is entirely possible. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is dedicated to “help[ing] you recognize negative or unhelpful thought and behavior patterns.” Though I am not certified in CBT, I’ve seen small ways to make changes that lead to greater acceptance of self. Here are some early steps to activate your mind to see yourself more positively:
#1 Acknowledge what factors are influencing your self-esteem
It can be really uncomfortable to address the parts of yourself that you aren’t satisfied with. Many people jump to either extreme when they have negative body image — they pick themselves apart in the mirror or avoid the mirror entirely. It’s rational to bury the problem. Our natural, human reaction is to avoid discomfort.
Have you ever answered the question, “What do you think about yourself,” in an unfiltered way? Explore how you feel about yourself — your body, your personality — through unapologetic journaling. The advantage to writing it down is that, if your answer makes you squirm, you can tear it out and throw it away. Once you’ve written it down, and faced the truth of where you stand, it’s harder to avoid it. From there, it creates an easier path to greater body acceptance.
#2 Be curious as to where your body negativity comes from
Every child has that phase where they ask “why?” to everything. It turns out that kids might be onto something. When you challenge your thoughts, you realize that body imagery comes from things you have crafted in your mind — not objective realities.
Societal standards are a great example of this. Regardless of what a person does to stay healthy physically, there are deeply manifested trends about how we should view ourselves. Since trends never stay the same, the way we view ourselves tends to be based on something that is not stable to begin with. Once you realize where something comes from, it leads to a greater understanding of yourself and how you can view yourself more positively.
#3 Practice integration of body and mind through meditative exercise
Any study will tell you that exercise reduces stress and anxiety, even if the activity is mindless. I’ve seen this in my own life — going for a 20-minute walk each day calms me down and helps me feel refreshed and active.
There is also plenty of physical activity that is specifically dedicated to helping the mind. Think about the impact of including the mind while you exercise as a way to increase body positivity! I’m working on doing more yoga (due to my lack of flexibility, it’s quite challenging). While you stretch, it teaches you to relax and better orient your mind, helping you feel more centered. It’s an example of a workout that integrates your body and mind together.
We cannot love ourselves, whether physically or outside of that, without incorporating our minds and our intellect. Our bodies and our minds work together to help us function, and the more we realize the importance of both, the more gratitude we have for the gifts that they are.