We live in a world obsessed with image and beauty. There is no escaping the magazines at the checkout line with air brushed and touched up individuals, seemingly calculated to instill imperfection into the casual onlooker. Flip on your television and immediately you are bombarded with commercials and programs trying to define what is beautiful and exploit the body. And let's be honest, who hasn't walked by a Victoria's Secret and had the urge to set fire to their unrealistic and ridiculous ads? According to dosomething.org, "Around 91 percent of women are unhappy with their bodies ... and only 5 percent of women naturally possess the body type often portrayed by Americans in the media."
I find a way to distance myself from the ideal body - even if my self-esteem does take a hit when my eyes settle on these artificial images. My defense mechanism of choice is usually sarcasm, "Yeah, well, I'd look like that too if I had Photoshop." And then I go on my way.
That is until I'm side-by-side with another mom at the grocery store who has 2 more children than me and is probably half my size.
Most women can probably identify with feeling constant scrutiny and discontent with our own outward appearance. You may have felt belittled by the thoughtless remarks of another, left at the mercy of a Maybelline ad, or really just don't believe you are beautiful right now at this very moment. So my question is: how do we make it stop? How do you say, "Enough!" to all the years of taking jabs at yourself? How do you stop the comparing, the belittling, and belief that your self-worth is measured by the number on the scale instead of who we are as person? My answer: One thought at a time.
Some of the most beautiful people I know don't look like runway models. I am blessed to be surrounded by individuals who know how to listen and cry with me, serve without thought of themselves, and make me laugh on days I want to throw in the towel. But most importantly these beautiful people see and know my imperfections - physical and otherwise - and love me anyway. Unlike diet fads or fashion frenzies, the pure, unconditional love and compassion for another human soul is what will stand the test of time and is what makes a person truly beautiful.
Accentuate the positive and think of yourself as a whole person, not just a body
Show yourself a little love each day. I've seen a great quote floating around Facebook and Pinterest: "Be nice to yourself. It's hard to be happy when someone's mean to you all the time." Instead of groaning when you see your reflection first thing in the morning, start naming all the quirks and talents you do like about yourself each day. "I have a great sense of humor. I have great eyes. I love my smile. I can make a killer cheesecake. I am a good listener." Focusing on and loving the little details of your personality will not only reinforce a positive self-image, but derail you from negative thoughts and obsession with the ideal image. You will start to see yourself as a complex, beautiful individual not just as an imperfect body.
Do away with the things or people feeding an unhealthy self-image
Maybe you unknowingly perpetuate the mindset of not ever measuring up. What kinds of magazines do you subscribe to or TV shows do you watch? Just like certain foods are harmful to the body, certain programs can be just as damaging to the mind and distort our perception of beauty. Throw it out, turn it off and avoid people who dwell on outward appearances. You really just don't need one more critic in your life.
Don't dodge compliments. I don't know why it is so hard to just say, "Thank you." Accept them whole-heartedly and graciously and try not to undermine them. For some reason, I have a tendency to add some sort of excuse as to why I might look nice at that moment in time, "I'm going on a date tonight, thought I should attempt to look good." Let the compliment sink in, enjoy it and, most importantly, believe it.
Set healthy goals and remember your sphere of influence
We should want to improve and set goals for a healthy lifestyle. But we need to be careful with how we approach and discuss our goals - especially when we have little people observing and internalizing all we do.
If you want to lose weight, be wary about what you say. Saying things like, "I just have to lose 10 lbs. this week so I can fit into my bathing suit," emphasizes that losing weight, no matter the cost, is what matters most - not healthy eating and or exercising. Instead say things like, "I work out because it makes me feel good. I eat healthy food so I can have energy and do all the things I love to do." Children watch and emulate the things we love and obsess over so be mindful of how you approach your goals for self-improvement.
At one point or another, we have all felt the sting of imperfection in our appearance. If you truly want a more positive self-image, it starts with you. Set reasonable, healthy goals and redefine what is considered beautiful. By emulating those attributes you will not only allow you to be comfortable in your own skin, but you will win the battle with self-deprecation in a beauty-obsessed world.