Four Ways to Improve Body Image in the Social Media Age
The journey towards a positive body image is such a powerful and nuanced struggle for many people, and often faces additional hurdles introduced by the social media age. The introduction of countless and widely available editing software, widespread usage of photograph and video-based social media, and "influencer" culture means that carefully curated images are constantly bombarding our eyes, minds, and hearts with the message that if you don't fit the box...you've got some work to do. Here are three ways to think differently about body image in the social media age, and cultivate gratitude for the skin you're in.
1) Recognize the pervasiveness of "boxing in" of the human body
Our media culture is obsessed with "boxing in" the human body. Images on products, on TV commercials, in shows and movies, and on the internet, we are faced with CONSTANT imagery that people who are successful, happy, and popular look a certain way. This subliminal messaging makes us believe that there is a "normal", when, in fact, the human body is unequivocally unique in all forms. Take a look around you and recognize each time you're faced with an image, description, video, internet link, or any other content that curates or emphasizes a human quality that has been called "normal", "good", "beautiful", "handsome", etc., and take note. I can bet that you will notice significantly more images and messages that you would notice passively, but that you nonetheless see every single day. Any content or message that you see every single day will undoubtedly impact your daily thoughts, feelings, and even expectations, regardless of your conscious awareness. Gaining awareness can help you combat these thoughts and feelings, and replace them with something else, turning the tide in your own mind towards positive self-image.
2) Explore your own feelings surrounding your body image
Negative body image is often a "geyser" indicating veins of deeper feelings, experiences, or expectations underneath. Looking in the mirror, you may feel general unhappiness with your image, or you may have specific complaints regarding your own self-image. Walking down the street, you may recognize jealousy or feelings of guilt or frustration over body image, feelings of anxiety or embarrassment, feeling that others are looking or judging, or other unpleasant experiences. Take note of when you're experiencing these feelings and what specific feelings come up for you in those moments. For instance, if you're especially unhappy with the size or shape of your stomach every morning when you wake up and look in the mirror, dig deeper. What is the feeling that arises? What would happen if your stomach was smaller? What would you gain? Who would notice? What would change about your life? What would happen if the size/shape of your stomach didn't change? Attending therapy can be a great way to explore these thoughts and feelings, and go deeper.
3) Introduce gratitude specifically about your body
Noticing these feelings arise for you around body image can help you explore and create a new internal pattern for how you think about your body image. Speaking gratitude into your daily thoughts about your body image may may feel unpleasant; however, praising your body for what it does can help you cultivate a more balanced self-concept and prime you to challenge negative self-talk surrounding your body image. Start by finding one positive thing that you like about your body, and praise it. It may feel overwhelming to find something to praise, so it's okay to start small. For example, all of my toes work and they help me to walk and stand. This is a somewhat silly example, but it is true! Another one may be, I appreciate the size of my ears because I'm a good listener, I like the length of my arms because I can always reach my bedside table for my favorite book, I like how tall I am because I can reach the upper cabinets and people ask me for help, I like my eye color because it matches my mom's. Including some form of active gratitude for your body and body image can help you move into a new state of awareness and mold your ability to challenge your thoughts and your feelings with gratitude for yourself, your body, and your abilities.
4) Consider others' examples
Think about the people in your life that have impacted you. Were you impacted by them because they fit into a perfect "box" of physical traits or for another reason? What are some relationships that have positively affected you? What about those individuals or relationships were meaningful to you? Consider what traits these individuals had that were impactful, meaningful, or beautiful? What traits do you have that you're proud of, that are not physical traits? What do you contribute to relationships that is unique, impactful, or meaningful? Taking the time to think about your self-image outside of physical traits can help you round out your self-concept in general and can help you see physical traits in a different light.
Curating an awareness of how the media and social media influences your body image, exploring your own thoughts and feelings surrounding body image, introducing gratitude, considering your meaningful and impactful relationships, and attending therapy, are a few steps you can take to begin taking steps towards a more positive self-image!