No More Bad Body Image: 7 Amazing Steps to Appreciating Your Shape

Let’s continue the body-image conversation with Tiffany Stewart, Ph.D., of The Body Image Project! Yesterday we talked about how society’s love of being in “control” may contribute to body hate. Today, it’s all about solutions…

HealthyGirl: When you’re in the thick of a body crisis, sometimes you wonder if you can in fact come out the other side of a confident and well-balanced person. But people can.

Dr. Stewart: Yes! But make no mistake, it’s a process. It’s a commitment to thriving. It doesn’t just happen; it takes purposeful thought and behavior. However, when we let go of our need to control every part of us and our circumstances surrounding our appearance, things start to fall into place.  When we put health as the center point, everything aligns around that…that is the jumping off point to thriving. We have to devote purposeful attention and action to shift our concern with body image to meaningful reflections and actions towards health and well-being.  This is the difference between simply surviving (to survive the day) every day and actually thriving (to grow and prosper).

Body image is a journey just like our life journey. It has ups and downs and periods of empowerment and pain. Often, our lives are better than we imagine. The more we hold on to what should be, the less we can see what is and what can be. Opening up to this possibility is a shift in perspective and the essence of acceptance…acceptance of constant change. It takes realizing that the journey is about the journey, and not about certain preconceived expectations and outcomes. When we are able to cultivate this vision for ourselves, we unlock our own ability to let go of judgment and find a genuine appreciation, not just of the body, but of the whole person. When we are able to cultivate appreciation and peace, there is contentment—even if all the flaws aren’t fixed. In that contentment, one is able to move beyond being stuck in the “should” position to make healthy changes in their own life.

HealthyGirl: What specific steps can we take to improve our body image?

Dr. Stewart: We can contribute to our own improved body image and that of others through a few main steps:
1. Become aware: The answer is to stop, become aware of your thoughts, emotions and behaviors every day. Evaluate your perspective. Evaluate what you are buying into. Evaluate the ways in which you break down your own self appreciation and confidence. Then, begin again. Every day is an opportunity for a fresh start…of thinking, behaving, regarding the self.
2. Become a skeptic: We choose what we buy into and digest from the media….when we are aware. Call into consciousness what you know about airbrushing photos and the extreme Hollywood measures taken towards thinness and body alteration when viewing popular media or taking others’ opinions into account (they might be buying in as well). Also, comparing ourselves to others is just as damaging as buying into media. We all have unique bodies with unique requirements to be healthy and happy.
3. Cultivate a new way of being: We must cultivate the way we evaluate bodies and selves. This includes negative thought patterns and behaviors that reinforce those negative thoughts. We must mindfully move from self-criticism and judgment of ourselves and others to celebration, pride, compassion, and gratitude when it comes to our appearance and the general life we lead. Otherwise, we can drown in the failed, self-imposed standards.
4. Cultivate gratitude and kindness related to body and self: We need to learn to value what we have, not seek what we value. Recognizing what we have versus what we don’t is key in thriving in our bodies and minds. The first step is to stop resisting the bodies we have and acknowledge them in their entirety, including strengths. Be kind to yourself, when you feel you succeed and when you don’t.
5. Cultivate health: The next step is to assess our health status and habits, and identify what good health would actually mean to our particular body size, shape, conditions and overall life.
6. Practice that shift every moment of every day, on purpose. Some moments are harder than others, but bring your attention and behavior back to the practice of awareness, gratitude, kindness, health, and action.
7. Show others. If we are not aware, we too can promote unrealistic standards and pressure on others to meet those standards. We need to reinforce our friends and loved ones in cultivating a healthy body, body image, and self-worth. We don’t do this by beating up our own bodies in conversation, criticizing others or validating others’ negative body talk or behaviors. We have to set the example. We have to be the beacons of body image peace for others to follow. People respond to what we genuinely embody in our everyday lives. Something to think about. Every time we validate or celebrate that “control” in others or others’ perceptions of how they “should” be versus how they are now and their efforts to be healthy, we further perpetuate this problem among us. All you have to do is be you…the best you that you can be. Health, self-worth, inner strength, and confidence are intricately related. If we can acknowledge our strengths and maintain our health, our confidence thrives…and comes through to those around us.

The bottom line on body image is that we need to shift the tide from a focus on what is lacking, and  judgment of ourselves and one another (based on unhealthy and unrealistic standards),  to health, wellness, and appreciation for what is.

Wow. Today I am going to practice gratitude toward my body, for everything that it is and everything that it does. What about you?  xo…Sunny

P.S. We’re not done with Dr. Stewart yet! She’ll be coming back with another amazing guest post next week—this time about exactly what to do right in the moment, to shift your thoughts away from a bad body image day.

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33 Responses to No More Bad Body Image: 7 Amazing Steps to Appreciating Your Shape

  1. Aviva says:

    Hi Sunny, I’ve been reading your blog on and off for months and I absolutely love it. How cliched it may sound: you are an inspiration. Oh, and today I’ve managed to keep a box of popsicles in my fridge without eating the whole thing for the first time in months! Progress!

  2. […] Today’s favorite posts. HealthyGirl interviewed Dr. Tiffany Stewart, co-founder of The Body Image Project, and included her insights in these two great posts: “The Source of Bad Body Image: It’s Not in Your Jeans” and “No More Bad Body Image: 7 Amazing Steps to Appreciating Your Shape.” […]

  3. Malin B says:

    Great article! :) I just found this blog but I’ll definitely stick around and check it out a bit more.

  4. Darth Kater says:

    Oh, if only you knew what I’ve put myself and my body through over the years, how brutally hard I am on myself, how warped my self-image has been (is!), and the never-ending war I fight with myself!

  5. Nikki says:

    I love this! I see so many articles/blogs across the net about body image, and how we should treat ourselves… But I’ve got to admit that I hope I continue to see them popping up, because the more times a person reads about this - the better.
    I went through a really long time in my life with eating disorders, and still have my issues that I’m working on… It does take hard work, every day, just to learn how to accept yourself for who you are.
    What people need to realize is that in the end, we only have ourselves. We need to be HAPPY with who we are, otherwise life is really sad. Happiness doesn’t come easy, either, but it does come.

  6. zingzangbar says:

    Mental health needs to be the focus of every ritual to keep healthy, everything else follows. What is good for brain? everyone knows it…repeat the cycle everyday and you will be prettier inside out and definitely more than what you see in the mirror :-)
    Have a nice day ladies…you are doing a grreat job

  7. This is an outstanding post. It was tough enough to try to conform to some kind of Hollywood and media ideal before the days of computer imaging. Now, the ideals the media have put before us aren’t even based on real people. They have been altered into some kind of fantasy notion of what is “beautiful.” We all get to realize that the only “ideal” is each one of us: our healthy, productive, loving selves. That’s what makes us beautiful.

  8. Elizabeth says:

    Hi Sunny,
    Great post! Body image issues should be part of every school’s curriculum. The issues start so early and we need something to counteract the media’s unrealistic version of beauty, the pressure to be “perfect”, and the girl/women comparing that goes on well into adulthood.
    Great work!

    P.S. We’ll send you the interview questions this week. =-)

  9. […] Turning the Tide By Loving Your Shape 06/07/2010 by athenapearl I’ve been looking around at my fellow bloggers pages, and recently found this great one by HealthyGirl, entitled ‘No More Bad Body Image: 7 Amazing Steps to Appreciating Your Shape’. […]

  10. Raul says:

    Great post and very true! Being healthy can make you feel great both inside and out. Go and run outside and feel the air on your face…I know that makes me feel wonderful. I workout not just because I want to be healthy, but because it releases so much stress and allows me to feel great every single day!

  11. This is fabulous! Most women I know are not pleased with their body in some way.

  12. excellent post, step 2 is my favourite, and I try to become a skeptic every day. you’re right about the fact that our body image has the off and on days, as well.

  13. Beth Luwandi says:

    Oh yeah! This is the VERY thing I am doing and blogging about… in a more personal experience sort of way. Just rolled this site. Thank you Sunny. And good work! Congratulations on getting “Pressed.”

  14. trequartisti says:

    I think “don’t give more importance to others’ opinions than you would to your own” should be on the list.

    Most people really shouldn’t have body image issues AT ALL.

  15. PeacockWings says:

    great blog!
    its a great read.

  16. awesome. it’s good to see a blog tackling this in a realistic way…keep it up! Rose

  17. dimamatta says:

    you always think you know such tips, but it’s also always necessary to read and remember them every once in a while. thanks for posting them :)

  18. Wonderful Blog - Great Info.

  19. lawyergal says:

    I would say mindfulness is the key to healthy body image. If you are mindful of what you are eating, then your body will reflect this.

    I’m a big fan of blogs that talk about body image, weight, fitness, etc, because it’s an important issue that needs to be brought to the fore, especially in this obesity crisis.

  20. […] another good blog about body image. Check it […]

  21. Great piece with advice for women of all ages. I’ve got some long seeded body image behaviors and thoughts. Changing them certainly won’t be an easy process.

  22. JessieStark says:

    I really like this post! It’s informative, without being obvious. I hope many women will find it useful. Thank you!

  23. Annette says:

    Yesterday I was watching the VH1 Show, “You’re Cut Off.” One of the exercises was to look in the mirror and, while looking at your natural self (yes, the girls had to take off their make-up, jewlery, fashion threads) and start sharing what you appreciate about yourself.

    The task seemed easily, especially because these women were all thin, no wrinkles, well done hair, and mind you, richer than ever…but even with all of these pluses…when they had to face the long lenght mirror, some of them couldn’t even lift their lashes to gaze at themselves in the mirror. One woman refused to take off her fake lashes while another turned on the host and asked why she wasn’t without make-up…completely avoiding the truth facing task at hand…in the end, the show was trying to show that everyone faces insecurities…rich, poor, fat, skinny, pretty, ugly…thus, we have to appreciate our natural gifts. She spoke over the girl’s shoulders encouraging them to dig deep and depict aspects that they liked about themselves…I’m strong, I’m kind, I’m warm, I’m loving…all characteristics that don’t go away with or without make-up, botox or boob jobs…in the end, it’s true: How can we love, appreicate and respect others if we can’t do the same to ourselves?

    We have the right to exercise appreciation, awareness, authenitic acceptance and awe of our autonomy and anatomy…

    Thanks for sharing…

    I have many blogs about self-awareness…about self-image issues, weight gaining and losing and the world of perfection…I hope you and your readers can visit my blog and join me in this journey.

    Best of luck!

  24. I really like your last point, “Show Others.” Given today’s pressure from the media and subsequently, peers, it is ‘deathly’ important that our peers no longer spread the meme-viruses spewed by the media and instead, become supporters of us… and vice versa. I think the phrase goes, “Power to the people,” yes? 😛

    With Love and Gratitude,

    The Intentional Sage

  25. pink magic says:

    thanks for the inspiring post!

  26. Songbird says:

    I absolutely agree with Dr. Stewart. I have had body image issues forever (ever since I was a teenager and I am in my ealry 40s now!) and especoally number 3 resonates with me. We all get stuck in our patterns and ruts… and sub-consiously repeat past behaviours- they sneak up on you unless you are vigilant. Many, many times I have indeed felt I have “drowned in failure”.

  27. babytyche08 says:

    Great Post! Our body is our most priced possession, it is only just that we treat it well.

  28. […] week, I was proud to be able to bring you posts featuring body-image wisdom from Tiffany Stewart, Ph.D., co-founder of The Body Image Project. As […]

  29. Nicole says:

    I like nr 5, with this from nr 2: “We all have unique bodies with unique requirements to be healthy and happy.”

    We only have ourselves. We can only feel what we feel. Feel your body and enjoy!

  30. Mindy says:

    I agree with all of this.

    I’m 26 years old, with a pear shape. I’ve always been told that I’m “fat” and “ugly” because I have small breasts, big hips, and muscular calves.

    I have a LOT of body image issues, in addition to dealing with racism and sexism.

    This article has been bookmarked on my computer. You guys rock! :)

  31. […] HealthyGirl, this and this - a two part interview with psychologist Tiffany Stewart (from The Body Image […]

  32. […] mind is a mindfulness concept that I first read about in a post by Tiffany Stewart, Ph.D. on her Body Image Project blog. When practicing it, you basically attempt come at things as if […]

  33. […] posts: Exactly How to Stop a “Fat Day” in its Tracks 7 Steps To Appreciating Your Shape A Top (Plus-Size) Model’s Thoughts On Airbrushing and Body […]

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Sunny Sea Gold

About the Author

Sunny Sea Gold is a media-savvy advocate and commentator specializing in binge eating disorder, cultural obsessions around food and weight, and raising children who have a healthy body image.