Through my work with Operation Beautiful, I’ve talked to hundreds upon hundreds of girls and women, interviewed a dozen or so psychologists, and worked closely with professionals at eating disorder clinics and organizations like NEDA (National Eating Disorder Awareness). One of my first questions to these individuals has always been, “How did you learn to accept and truly love their body?” Over time, I’ve come to understand that for most of us, body acceptance is closely tied to a general sense of self-acceptance. It’s hard to have one without the other. So while many of my suggestions focus on learning to love your exterior, a lot of them are about getting comfortable with who you are deep down inside, too. If you’re struggling with body confidence issues, know that working on one area will positively impact the other.
I always close my Operation Beautiful speaking events by sharing a bit of my personal history. When I was a teenager, I went through a really rough period that included depression and self-harming. I was also a pretty pessimistic person, and I was also perfectionistic in a non-helpful way. I can still be Type A about things, but I’ve come a long way with my overall outlook and sense of self worth. I’m honest about my past because I’m proud the changes that I’ve achieved. It took a lot of work and self-reflection, but I did it. So after my little spiel at one of my more recent events, a girl in the audience raised her hand and asked me, “So does that mean that you’re always happy and always love yourself now?” She sounded hopeful – like she wanted to believe ‘the other side’ of shaky self worth was perfect bliss and happiness.
It’s not like that. I don’t think anyone’s self image is perfect all the time, and improvements are not perfectly linear. There’s going to be ups and downs in your journey, especially as you go through big life changes, like falling in love, having a baby, getting fired from a job, etc. During your journey, don’t put pressure on yourself to never, ever think a negative thought about your body – focus instead on how you cope with those thoughts and how easily you can let them go. Remember – as with so many things in life – the goal of developing body confidence is PROGRESS, not perfection.
So – here we go. My 15 suggestions for developing more body confidence.
1. Stop Negative Self-Talk
The #1 thing to do to is immediately is to address your negative self-talk, both external and internal. One thing that I hear over and over again is that many women think it doesn’t hurt them to say, “Ugh, I look so terrible” or “My skin is disgusting” or “I’m such a gross pig.” IT DOES MATTER and IT DOES WRECK YOUR CONFIDENCE. Not only that, but it impacts everyone around you, especially young girls and teenagers.
This is the simple two-step process that Operation Beautiful recommends:
Step 1: Imagine a giant STOP sign in your head. Halt the negative, nasty thought in its tracks.
Step 2: Replace your negative thought with something positive. But here’s the catch. You can’t replace your negative thought with something OUTRAGEOUSLY positive because you may not believe it. If your thought is, “My body is disgusting,” and you think, “STOP! You are a supermodel!” – you aren’t going to truly integrate that positive thought. So replace your negativity with something positive but realistic, like: “My body shows the evidence of a life well-lived – lots of downs but some ups, too. And I am thankful for everything it allows me to do, like run and hug my children.”
People often ask me if I believe that they should correct themselves out loud when they negative self-talk in front of others, and the answer is… YES. Again, it’s damaging to hear other women bash themselves, and it can be so uplifting to hear someone say, “You know what? I don’t know why I said that. I’m awesome, and I love and appreciate my body.”
2. Focus On What You Can Do
This tip complements the one above nicely. So much of our body confidence issues come from our bodies not LOOKING the way we’d like. It’s so freeing to focus instead on what our bodies can DO. After all, your body is not just for decoration! It’s easy to get caught up in appearances and forget that we should be thankful for the ability to speak, listen, see, touch, walk, laugh, and kiss.
3. Question Yourself
When you do have negative thoughts, ask yourself the following questions:
- Where did that thought come from? (i.e. From someone you are close to? From a parent? If so, should you cut this person out of your life? Is the thought from a media source you can disengage in?)
- Is that thought logical and rational? (i.e. “I am gross; no one will ever love me” is not a rational thought.)
- Am I thinking this because I’m nervous, sad, mad, or ashamed? (Follow up question – “How else can I process these emotions?”)
- Would I ever say this about a friend? Why do I think it’s okay to say it about myself?
4. Read Positive Body Image Books
Fill your mind with positive thoughts. My Operation Beautiful book is a great resource for adult women (there’s a similar book for tweens and young teens). Other awesome reads include Beautiful You: A Daily Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance by Rosie Molinary; Read My Hips: How I Learned to Love My Body, Ditch Dieting, and Live Large by Kimberly Brittingham; and Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight by Linda Bacon.
5. Sort Out Your Food And Exercise Issues
Perhaps you suspect that your body confidence issues are a significant problem in your life. You can learn more the symptoms and warning signs of Bulimia, Anorexia, and Binge Eating Disorder on Operation Beautiful by clicking those links. You can also take the NEDA screening survey online. Or maybe your symptoms don’t fit neatly into a categorize or aren’t ‘bad enough’ to qualify you for a diagnosis but you still feel out of control. Lots of women (and men) have distorted eating behaviors but no diagnosable eating disorder. You don’t have to live like that. Please, please, please reach out to a professional for help.
6. Complete The Exposed Movement Activity
Check out the incredible blog series known as the Exposed Movement, which was spearheaded by my e-friend Michelle. The movement called on women to take a photo of their body and then cover it in positive phrases. From the website: “It’s a grass-roots online movement of people loving themselves where they are. Incredibly powerful that has required an amazing amount of courage.”
Do something similar with an image of your body or simply practice the Exposed philosophy in your mind when you look at yourself in the mirror.
7. Educate Yourself About Photoshop
Learn more about how the media and marketers manipulate images you see in magazines, on billboard, and even in commercials (hello, CGI effects!). I really love the “Photoshop” tag on Jezebel.com, as well as the following short YouTube videos:
8. Walk Around Naked
Well, I specifically mean – walk around your house naked! I think this can be very freeing and relaxing… just make sure you draw the curtains. Hah. A lot of body confidence is related to anxiety about covering up your body or making sure it looks ‘perfect’ in whatever you’re wearing – it can be freeing to lounge on the couch or stand in front of the fridge and let it all hang out. It may be hard to do this, so try it in short spurts at first.
9. Take A Media Break
There’s a strong correlation between media consumption and feeling like you aren’t good enough. If there’s a particular magazine, blog, or TV show that makes you feel bad about yourself, STOP ENGAGING! I wrote a little more about this topic in this post: 3 Ways to Challenge Your Personal Narrative.
10. Keep A List Of Your Accomplishments
It is so easy to forget what you’ve accomplishment and focus on what you haven’t done right. So keep a running list of your accomplishments – everything from running a new distance to finally paying off your credit card. Re-read your list when you’re feeling down.
Get outside your own head and spend time and energy volunteering Volunteering combats depression, lifts self-esteem, and increases overall happiness. Volunteering has even been shown to lessen the symptoms of chronic pain and heart disease! (Source). As many of you know, I really love the organization Girls on the Run because it reinforces many positive body image principles and helps the next generation of young women feel stronger and more confident in everything they do.
12. Tackle A Challenging Fitness Goal
This goes back to the idea of focusing on what your body can DO. As NEDA likes to say, exercise should be for the 3 F’s: fitness, fun, and friendship – not just to burn calories, punish yourself for eating dessert, or fit into some impossible pant size. Tackling a challenging fitness goal is a great way to boost your confidence while reminding yourself of all the awesome things your body can do. Start with a 5K (I love the Couch to 5K program) or master a fun fitness class.
13. Dress To Impress… Yourself
If you’re struggling to accept your body, focus on dressing up in ways you can appreciate – whether it’s rocking awesome shoes that make you feel fabulous, getting your nails done, or wearing your hair is a pretty style. Or maybe that kind of stuff is not your cup of tea, and you’d rather get a massage or go on a relaxing walk. However you can find time and energy to focus on yourself and make yourself feel good, DO IT.
14. Compliment Others
Spread the body confidence! Compliment others. Although I am, of course, a fan of telling people that they are beautiful just as they are, I think it’s also important to also focus on complimenting ethics, actions, and ideas. Tell another woman in your life that she is amazing or spread the happiness to a stranger via an Operation Beautiful note.
And last, but not least:
15. Cover Your Mirror In Operation: Beautiful Notes
Seeing all those positive messages is an awesome way to start the day!
Your turn! I’d love to know how you’ve gained more body confidence. Share your secrets for loving every inch of yourself, on the outside and the inside.
Caitlin Boyle is the founder of Operation Beautiful, a website dedicated to ending negative self-talk. Known for its positivity and practice of leaving positive messages to brighten the day and self-perception of strangers, Operation Beautiful fights fat talk and constantly demonstrates the power of a positive act. Find out more at their website, operationbeautiful.com.