How to Develop a Positive Body Image: Your Gentle Guide to Loving Your Body

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This is the last part of 4-part series on body image—how I hated my body for a long time, learned to love my body eventually, and how you can achieve a positive body image as well.

Female bodies

In writing this series, many of you have shared your personal insecurities with your body. Some of you struggle with your body weight like I did. Some of you struggle with your skin. Some of you struggle with your facial features, such as not having a sharp enough nose, not having big enough eyes, and so on. Some of you struggle with your specific body parts (e.g., your thighs, waist, belly) and wish they look different.

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For sure, poor body image is a rampant problem in today’s society. Many of us scrutinize our bodies in the mirror all-too-often, berate our bodies for not looking a certain way, measure them against bodies of certain idols/celebrities, then wonder why our bodies can’t look just like those idols/celebrities. I used to be like that, and it was one of the most exhausting periods of my life.

Today, I love and embrace my body. I love what I see in the mirror. I appreciate what my body has done for me and will continue to do. I celebrate my natural facial/body features and my present height/weight. And I can’t be happier with this relationship I have with my body.

How to Start Loving Your Body: A Gentle Guide

Considering that our body is the only place we have to live in, it’s pertinent that we build a positive relationship with it. 

Today’s article shares an extensive guide to love your body. These are the steps I have taken in moving from someone who didn’t love her body at all, to someone who fully embraces what her body is today and continually improves it to be better.

My wish is that those of you with poor body images will find this guide helpful. Sure, you may hate your body today. Sure, you may have body parts which do not match your ideal body vision. Sure, you may wish that you have an entirely different body altogether. Regardless, it is possible to develop an unconditional, unadulterated love for your body—just as I have. This guide will show you how.

1. Identify the things you do like about your body and start loving them.

Someone with self-body-hate has a tendency to zoom down right to the hateful parts of his/her body whenever he/she sees the mirror. Even if there isn’t anything to hate about a particular body part, he/she can look at that body part and spot imperfections, because the default lens he/she sees his/her body is that he/she has a hateable body and there is no redeeming factor about it. I can relate because this was the lens I used to wear.

If this is the case for you too, I want you to try something different. The next time you look at your body, look for things that you do like instead. Maybe you have lips that are nice and pouty. Maybe you have killer curves. Maybe you have beautiful eyes. Maybe you have a great smile. Maybe you have nice cheeks. Maybe you have lovely dimples. Maybe you have nice teeth.

Whatever these things are, notice them. Then, celebrate them. Give them credit for being what they are.

Then, make this part of your daily routine whenever you look into the mirror or see images of yourself.

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This appreciation process was what I did in my early phase of overcoming my negative body image. My natural tendency then was to notice my body “fats” and put them down repeatedly. This would include my tummy, my “thick” thighs, my double chin, my baby fats, and my round hips. Hence, imagine how tough it was when I gave myself the challenge to look into the mirror and spot things that I liked instead.

While my mind drew a blank for the first few seconds, something soon got my attention—my complexion.

I have a natural, fair complexion which many people often compliment. My mom told me that when I was born, my relatives saw me in the hospital and immediately referred to me as “Snow White” because of how fair my skin was. On the other hand, there are tons of girls in the society who have to turn to whitening products and treatments just to achieve fair skin like mine, or perhaps never even achieving a level of fairness like mine. I realized how lucky I am to have the fair skin as I do today.

Next, I noticed my lips. I suddenly noticed the beauty of my lips in a way I had never noticed before. People have often praised me on my lips before; they would say I have a nice shape to my lips; some (guys and girls alike) have said that they look very kissable.

Then, I saw my eyes. Oh yes, my eyes, I thought. How could I have forgotten about them? I have always loved my eyes due to their roundness; I always thought they help when giving cutesy doe-eyed looks. I have also always loved the high density of my eyelashes; people have often asked me if I have mascara on even when I don’t have any, because my eyelashes are so dense.

And the list went on.

With each feature I noticed, something new would catch my attention. Suddenly, I realized there are so many things worth liking about my body—perhaps even more than the number of things I was hating about it. I just had not noticed the former because I had been so busy hating on my body all this while. I felt sad, as it meant that I had been denying my body of the appreciation and love that it deserved.

What did I do then? I began to celebrate the things that I liked about my body. Every time I looked into the mirror, I would dedicate time to appreciating my face and body. It came to a point where the celebration of my looks is now part of my daily routine—not out of narcissism, but out of self-appreciation.

Check out as well: Day 16: Appreciate Yourself of Be a Better Me in 30 Days Program

2. Recognize your body is not at fault.

As I had shared in part three, I used to let out my body woes onto my body. D*mn you body! I would think, Why do you look so ugly? Why do you look so fat? Why do you have so much excess flab? I would berate it endlessly, as if it was the bearer of my appearance problems.

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However, I later realized that my body is simply a neutral entity with no emotions. So what if I hate it? So what if I keep scolding it? It’s not going to look any different (as a result of my hating and scolding). If anything, looking back, I actually felt that my body probably looked more haggard than it should because I was harboring so much negative energy against it.

I eventually realized that the only way to address my body issues was (a) to take responsibility for my body woes and (b) to work through them. This meant addressing my self-hate issues. This meant fixing my eating problems and increasing my activity level so that I would achieve a slimmer physique. These are steps which I have shared in part three of the series.

While it’s natural to finger point at your body and blame it for all your body woes because it is the one carrying the objects of disdain (such as your fat thighs, chubby cheeks, flabby shoulders, and so on), it’s futile to do so. That’s because your body is neutral. It has no soul. It has no mind of its own. It was created to support your existence and to let you live on earth.

Take responsibility for your body issues and work through them instead of sitting around and hating on your body all day long. This is where the next point comes in.

3. Get to the root of your self-body-hate issues.

Your self-body-hate arose as a symptom of a separate issue. To eradicate your self-body-hate permanently, get to its root cause.

Here are three questions to get started:

  1. What do you dislike about your body?
  2. Why do you hate/dislike your body / body part?
  3. (For whatever answers that come up from Q2…) Why?
From Q3, keep drilling into the answers until you get to the root cause of your self-body-hate. After that, devise a plan to address this root cause.

For example,

  1. What do you dislike about your body? — I dislike my small eyes, my large thighs, and my big belly.
  2. Why do you hate/dislike your body / body part? — Because they are so ugly.
  3. (For whatever answers that come up from Q2…) Why? — Because they don’t give me the attention I deserve.
    • What do you mean? — Because guys would pay attention to the girls with big eyes, small thighs, and a flat tummy.
    • Why does this bother you? — Because I want guys to pay attention to me too.
    • Why? — Because guys have rarely paid attention to me since I was young.
    • But is this the fault of your body though? — No it isn’t. My self-body-hate is merely an expression of my frustration of my lack of appeal to the opposite gender.
    • What can you do about this? Firstly, I can work on being more confident. It is said that confidence is the sexiest thing a woman can ever have. Secondly, I should embrace the natural beauty of my looks. Small eyes are beautiful in their own way too. (See Point #3 above.) Thirdly, if I have an issue with my body weight, I should work on losing weight, rather than hating my body on it. My body is an innocent party that has nothing to do with my self-body-issues.

Notice how the answers started off as surface-level responses (ugly features). Then, they quickly moved down to a deeper-level issue (not being appealing to the opposite gender) through strategic probing. This is then followed by a wrapping of the issue with proper next steps.

For whatever you may seem to dislike/hate about your body, chances are this emotion stems from a deeper-level issue, with body hate being a symptom of the problem. You need to uncover this deeper-level issue by repeatedly challenging the surface-level answers you receive from this exercise.

For me, my self-body-hate was driven by three factors: (a) my fixation with one notion of beauty, in part due to media conditioning and my childhood stories, (b) my lack of respect for my body, (c) my hatred for myself.

I overcame Factor A by expanding my notion of beauty (see Point #3 above). I then overcame Factors B and C through Points #1, #2, #3, #5, and #6 of part three. It was through resolving these three root factors that I finally overcame my self-body-hate permanently. The same will apply for you too.

Read more about addressing root causes vs. effects: How to Create Real Change In Life: Address Root Cause vs. Effects.

(Update: In addition to the above, I’ve another exercise to get to the root of your self-body-hate issues. Read: Thin You, “Meet” Not-Thin You.)

4. Work towards your ideal vision of your body, not anyone else’s ideal vision.

One of people’s key motivators to lose weight/change their appearance/look better is to appeal to the opposite gender (or the same gender for the homosexuals).

Yet, I want you to always remember to work towards your ideal vision of your body. Meaning—what do you see as the best version of your body? What do you see as your ideal weight (factoring in the healthy height and weight guidelines)? What do you see as your ideal fitness level? Work towards these visions, not other’s visions.

For example, many girls (including me in the past) strive to be stick skinny because it’s supposedly an archetype of beauty.

However, a stick skinny body is merely a vision projected by the media. Yes, perhaps some guys do like stick-skinny girls. (From my experience though, the ones who do are usually pretty thin or scrawny guys to begin with, and hence have an interest in girls with smaller physiques so they can feel more able-bodied. Most normal-sized guys actually prefer girls with some curves and meat.) But if your ideal vision of your body is to have a wholesome body with nice curves, then get that body and rock it! There will always be different guys with different tastes, and whoever likes your body will be drawn to you, and whoever doesn’t like it, won’t.

The most important thing to note is that this is your body, your life. Don’t mold your body just to match others’ visions. Work towards a body that you love, first and foremost. You are the key target audience of your body; everyone else is secondary. Look good for yourself first, then worry about what others think (or better still, don’t worry at all).

5. Embrace the individual beauty of your body. (Unchain yourself from media’s conditioning.)

Size zero. Big eyes. Sharp nose. Sharp chin. Big, pouty lips. Flawless complexion. Long, thin legs. Small waist. Big boobs.

The above is a standard list of criteria for what is perceived to be beauty for a female. 

All our lives, we have been fed a certain image of beauty by others. All our lives, we have thought beauty to mean having set features, a set look, and a set height/weight.

However, what if that isn’t true? What if beauty has always been in us all along, just that we are not privy to it due to our conditioning?

Our perception of beauty has been narrowly defined by the media all our lives. 

For a while I bought into this image as well. I thought beauty was a class reserved only for people who met that stringent list of criteria.

It was only when I was traveling across Europe and U.S. that I had this image demystified. I met people of all shapes, sizes, features, and colors—many of whom did not conform to the image of beauty I was brought up with. It made me realize that beauty is more than just about being a certain size and looking a certain way. It made me realize that—hey—beauty doesn’t just in one form, one shape, one color, and one size. Beauty exists everywhere—in all forms, all shapes, all colors, and all sizes

Meaning: there is no one look that is more or less beautiful than another; all looks are beautiful in themselves. This includes your look: whatever features and body type you have. It’s a look that is beautiful and unique to you, in your own special way.

The unfortunate thing is that most people are so fixated on that one notion of beauty that they fail to recognize how beautiful they truly are. And this is such a waste.

Here’s something I want you to do from now on: Rather than stack your body up against a certain mental image, see your body as is. See every single feature of your face/body as it is, without expectations of what it should be or shouldn’t be. Look. Observe. And feel.

Who knows, you may start seeing something you have never seen before. A realization of how beautiful you actually are. A new-found appreciation for your beauty. 

Read more: The Beauty of Self – Why I Used To Feel Inferior about My Looks

6. Be Grateful for Your Body

Are you grateful for the body you have today? Or do you take it for granted?

I find it sad that there are fully able-bodied people berate their bodies endlessly, while you have people who are disabled who utilize their bodies in ways better than those fully able-bodied people ever will.

Take for example, Nick Vujicic. Born with no hands and no legs due to tetra-amelia syndrome, a rare disorder, he struggled mentally, emotionally, and physically as a child due to this condition. He eventually came to terms with his disability and started his own non-profit organization, Life Without Limbs, at the age of seventeen.

Today, Nick is married (as of 2012), has a son (as of 2013), and speaks all over the world, inspiring people with his personal story of disability, personal struggle, and success.

Then, you have Matt Scott—an American basketball player. He has spina bifida – a disorder that existed before birth and caused him to be wheelchair bound. Despite that, it has not stopped him from playing basketball and winning national championships. (Check out commercial #4 of 20 Amazing Commercials That Will Inspire the Greatness in You for more on Matt Scott.)

Think about Nick and Matt, then think about how you can better appreciate your body today. Despite being disabled, they have embraced their bodies and accomplished so much in their lives. It’s a sign to us to be grateful for the bodies we have today and put them to better use.

7. Be the best owner of your body.

Last but not least, be the best owner of your body.

You may be given this body at birth. However, have you justified your place as your body’s rightful owner? Have you cared and treated your body in a way that’s in its highest good of all?

Chances are you haven’t. So many of us abuse our bodies. We smoke, drink, eat junk food, laze around (or exercise ferociously for some), hurt ourselves, deprive ourselves of sleep, etc.—without considering the damage we are doing with each of those actions.

Myself, I used to abuse my body with binge eating, ferocious exercising thereafter, and minimal rest due to my constant self-pressurization. In retrospect, I was such an unworthy owner of my body. I was blessed with this body, and yet I failed to take good care of it.

The good thing is that my previous episode of body abuse and self-body-hate made me truly treasure my body. Today, I longer abuse my body. I rest when I need to. I consume the best food for my body. I regulate my eating. I engage in a healthy level of physical activity to keep my body fit. I don’t drink except at specific social outings, and even then that only happens once every few months.

I’m proud to say that I now manage my body in a way that’s to its highest good, and I can’t think of anyone who can be a better owner of my body than me myself.

Here are some questions to get you going in being the best owner of your body:

  1. What is your ideal, healthiest diet for your body?
  2. What is your ideal level of physical activity that will keep your body at prime condition?
  3. What lifestyle habits/changes will make the biggest difference in your life?
  4. Do you have any bad habits which are jeopardizing your body and which you should cut right away? What are they?
  5. For your answers to Q1–4, how can you start realizing them today?
For more on cultivating habits:

Wrapping Up

Looking back, this series has been a long time coming. I remember wanting to write this series since several years ago, but not being able to pen it as I had yet to overcome my body-image issue then. I’m glad that I have finally resolved the issue to write this series today.

I have shared my story with my body image issues and how I have overcome them. I have shared the specific steps on how you can address your body image issues with today’s guide. It’s now up to you to apply the steps to regain a positive relationship with your body.

Body image is a topic close to my heart, along with topics like anger, emotional eating, and singlehood. For future articles, I hope to delve deeper into as-of-yet uncovered topics of femininity and sexuality, which are things which I feel are highly relevant in the realm of self-development.

Update (Jul 2013): I’ve since written a series on how to embrace your femininity (or masculinity). Start with part 1 here: How I Found My Place as a Female in Today’s World, Part 1: Growing Up with a Repressed Femininity

Also check out my other related posts:

This is the last part of 4-part series on body image—how I hated my body for a long time, learned to love my body eventually, and how you can achieve a positive body image as well.

Image: Female bodies

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