How Adolescents Can Build a Positive Body Image- Twelve Tips to Get Started

As early as childhood, building a positive body image is essential for the growth of an individual. The way one views their physical appearance can affect their self-esteem, confidence, and decision-making skills. People believe that if they change their physical appearance, then they will feel better about themselves. However, in many cases, changing the way one sees and feels about themselves can make an incredible difference. Especially in adolescents, body image can present a major challenge during puberty and through the transition to adulthood.

1. Recognize That Your Body Is Unique

Your body is your own, regardless of your size, weight, or body type. You have a unique structure, one that is only yours. There are no two bodies that are exactly the same, and therefore it should be treasured. Recognize what positive features you have and turn your focus on them, rather than concentrating your energy on those features you believe are negative. Perhaps you value certain aspects about your body – maybe you have brilliant eyes, a beautiful smile, envied hair. Maybe there are some attributes about yourself that you are proud of, particularly those that you tend to value more than others. Focus your energy into being confident and proud about such features. Remember, changing the way you think can change the way you feel!

2. Be Realistic

Many people are unhappy with their bodies. It’s important, however, to be realistic about what things you can change and what things you can’t. Recognize what parts of you can be controlled, and which can’t. For example, if you have a medical illness, and must take a particular medication in order to stay healthy and have a good quality of life, but the medication causes you to gain a few pounds, then it might be unrealistic to avoid taking this medication to be thinner. Perhaps you dislike that you have always been taller or shorter than most people. It may be unrealistic to change this; instead, try to think of positive things about being tall or short. On the other hand, if you spend three days a week eating junk food and fast food, this sort of lifestyle can be controlled. In many situations, maintaining lifestyle changes is the key to keeping a healthy diet and feeling better about your body.

3. Wear Comfortable Clothes

One important aspect of feeling good about yourself is giving yourself the opportunity to do so! Wear clothes that make you feel comfortable and confident. Try to stay away from those clothes that accentuate body parts that you feel are unflattering. If you think you look good, then you will feel good about the way you look!

4. Stay Away From the Scale!

The scale can be a person’s worst enemy. You may wake up in the morning feeling great, and then once you step onto that scale, it can change your entire perspective on the day. Weight scales have been known to be confusing – they aren’t always accurate (day-to-day), they don’t reflect water retention, menstrual bloating, the late-night dinner you had the night before, the weight of the clothes you might be wearing when on the scale, or any other factor that may contribute to an increase in the scale but not necessarily your actual body weight. If you are on a weight maintenance program, it is typically recommended to weigh yourself once or twice per month, to provide better accuracy. Daily monitoring of your weight can negatively affect the way you feel and think about yourself, which only leads to a poorer body image.

5. Talk To Yourself

It’s part of a normal routine to take a look in the mirror before you leave your house for the day. But first, before you look into the mirror, think optimistically. When you start your day, decide how you’re going to feel before you look at yourself. Start your day with some self-affirmations (give yourself a pep talk about your positive features), take a relaxing shower, think of all the positive things you’re going to do that day, and come up with some reasons you are thankful for the person you are. Once you feel good about yourself and have built up some confidence and pride, allow yourself to take a quick look into the mirror before you head off to work, school, or begin your day. Remind yourself that it’s okay to like and appreciate what you look like, and focus on what positive features you have regardless of your size or body type. Learning to focus on the positive attributes of your body is a major step in improving body image.

6. Stay Far Away From Fashion Magazines

The media tends to portray women and men’s bodies as ideal and the epitome of beauty in fashion, health, and celebrity magazines. In fact, so much societal emphasis is placed on these standards that individuals often compare themselves to them to determine how they “should” look in order to be “beautiful”. However, what most people don’t realize is that these women and men have teams of people (make-up artists, designers, lighting specialists, professional photographers, and photo specialists that airbrush the flaws) that make them look this way. As a result, the final photo is not a reality for the majority of the population. In fact, magazines are constantly criticized for their portrayals of individuals as unrealistic and misleading, and not authentic. Unless you are able to flip through a magazine, realizing that the photos are more of a fantasy than a reality, it is best to steer clear of them!

7. Stay Active

Research shows that individuals who stay active feel better about their bodies. Whether it is regular work-outs at the gym, or walking around the block, exercising is a way of telling your body that you’re working. It works your adrenaline, which helps to improve mood and an overall sense of being. Do things you enjoy – walk on the beach, take a bike ride, go roller blading in the park, play with kids, build a snowman. Be active!

8. Avoid “Crash” Diets

The media suggests a plethora of different diets that can pertain to any person, any lifestyle, any body. The problem with many of these diets is that they tend to be unrealistic for the average person. Rather than deprive your body completely of fats, carbohydrates, or necessary proteins and vitamins (many diets restrict foods that contain these), and you are unhappy about your weight and eating lifestyle, it may be recommended to visit a nutritionist or a personal trainer. S/he can discuss some healthy weight loss goals, and different strategies in losing weight. They will evaluate your current lifestyle, and help you find ways to cut back or make changes that work for you. Crash diets tend to work wonders, but only temporarily. Rarely do they result in long term weight loss and weight maintenance. In fact, several studies suggest that those who implement crash or “trendy” diets end up successfully losing weight, but shortly thereafter, they put on more pounds than the weight they had originally started at.

9. Recognize When You Are Engaging In Emotional Eating

Have you ever been told that you are an “emotional eater”? What does this mean? People who “emotionally eat” are those who attempt to solve their problems and/or handle their stress by food binging. For example, if you get in a fight with someone, you have job or family-related stress, or you are feeling especially low in self-esteem and you tend to seek comfort in food, then you may be eating for the wrong reasons. It is recommended that you eat when you’re hungry. That is, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with a healthy, light snack in between. If you ate lunch at 12:30, had a stressful meeting, and then at 2:00 ate another meal or binged on junk food, you may want to begin making some changes. One strategy in improving body image is making lifestyle changes. If you are eating unnecessarily throughout the day, this could result in the guilt that underlies you feeling badly about your physique. Recognize when you are eating throughout the day. It’s important to eat when you’re hungry, but not as a result of coping with stress.

10. Set Goals

As with any life change, if you are intent on losing weight, becoming more fit, or changing any controllable aspect about your body, it is especially important to set goals for yourself. As with any self-improvement program, effective goal setting includes the following guidelines:

▪ Begin with small, very attainable goals

When you begin setting goals for yourself, it’s important to start small. Begin by setting goals for the first week. For example, you may decide that for the first week, your major goal is to cut out all junk food, including pizza, chips, desserts, candy, and soda. Each day, wake up with these goals in mind and consciously make an effort to avoid such foods. Another goal may be to take the stairs instead of the elevator at work every day for five days. A third possible goal may be to replace your usual pizza or sandwich for lunch with a salad, for three days that week. A nutritionist can help you properly decide what goals will help you the most, and can fit into your plan. Remember, your goals should be easy to start out with. If you begin too challenging, and feel overwhelmed or frustrated, then the goals are too large. If you don’t start small, you may get frustrated and discouraged before you even begin!

▪ Set realistic goals

You know yourself better than anybody else, so therefore when you’re setting goals, be smart about it. Set goals that you know are realistic. For example, if you know that you have no real intention of getting a personal trainer, joining the gym, or eating salad every day, then recognize this and set goals according to your preferences and lifestyle. Figure out what your ultimate goals are, and then begin writing down steps that can help you get closer to these goals.

▪ Challenge yourself

Finally, you want to be sure you are challenging yourself. While it is very important to start small until you gain some confidence in your self-improvement program, as each week passes and you find you are accomplishing your goals and your motivation increases, you may want to make your goals a little more challenging each week. For example, if the first week, you decide to cut out your two biggest weaknesses – pizza and soda, and you accomplish this, make the next week’s goals just a little bit tougher. For the second week, cut out pizza, soda, desserts, and candy. If you do this successfully, take the third week to continue doing this, and add in three days (30 min per day) of exercise. As you continue to accomplish your goals, you will undoubtedly feel better about yourself!

11. Choose the Right Friends

Your social environment can have a major effect on how you feel about yourself. If you are spending time with people that make you feel badly about yourself or put you down, it’s time to make some changes. Friends should make you feel good about yourself. After being with them, you should feel happy, confident, and accepted. If your friends obsess about their appearances or their weight, this will undoubtedly rub off on you as well.

12. Be Positive!

Start listening to yourself. If you find that you are generating negative comments about yourself in your mind, tell yourself to stop. Many people find that poor body image and low self-esteem can come from the “voice” in our head. Everybody has that voice, our conscience, that tells us right vs wrong, good vs bad. It’s the voice that tells you to ask that special someone on a date, the voice that tells you not to buy that expensive piece of jewelry, and the voice that tells you how to feel about yourself. While this voice can be useful in helping us determine the right thing to do, it can also be a vice if it’s leaving us with a negative impression of ourselves. Start listening. Determine whether or not this voice is negative and if it is, start to change it. Ultimately, this voice comes from the way you really feel about yourself, deep down. If the voice is negative, then chances are, the negativity is coming from you. It’s time to make changes!! Every time you think a negative comment about yourself, consciously stop yourself. On the contrary, give yourself three compliments every day, to help boost your self-esteem. Focus on your positive features, physically and otherwise, and make yourself feel good. Concentrate on your personality, your intellect, your character, in addition to your physical qualities. Remember, you are worth it. You’re worth enjoying your life, and feeling good about yourself.

Are you unhappy with your body? Improvement can take time, but it can happen. Keep an open mind to the advantages of helping yourself. There are always things you can do.

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