Maintaining a healthy body image in our society is really, really hard. The images you see every day in the media probably don’t reflect your body or experience, especially if you’re trans, queer, disabled, “plus-size,” and/or a person of color. We’re bombarded with images of thin, white, cisgender people, and conditioned to view these images the only way to be beautiful. In reality, there are SO many ways to be beautiful! Pressure to conform to these narrow ideas of beauty can prevent you from seeing your own unique beauty.
There are multi-billion dollar industries out there that rely on you feeling like you’re not good enough. Combating these forces and loving your body is a radical act!
Adolescence is an especially challenging time because your body is constantly changing. It’s natural to gain weight, get breakouts, and grow body hair during your teens. This makes some people feel like their body is out of their control, which can be an odd or scary feeling. On top of that, everyone develops at a different rate. Being the first (or last!) person in your class to grow breasts, get your period, have a deeper voice, or grow facial hair can also take a toll on your body image.
Learning to live with, appreciate and even love your body is a lifelong process—and it’s not always easy. In fact, it can be really hard. It is worthwhile, though—your body is the only one you’ll ever have. Figuring out how to love and care for yourself now will help you stay healthy and happy throughout your life.
How do I learn to love my body?
- Take some time to observe how you talk to yourself in the privacy of your own mind. Do you put yourself down? Criticize the way you look? Compare yourself to your friends or celebrities? Would you say that to a friend? If not, why do you let your inner hater say it to you? Negative self-talk is incredibly common, and can be very damaging to your body image and self-esteem. Learning to recognize when you’re doing this negative self-talk is the first step in quieting your inner body shaming voice.
- If a negative thought like, “I hate the way my arms jiggle” pops into your head, think of three kind things about that body part instead. Maybe those arms carried your little sibling around today, or made the winning shot in last week’s basketball game, or drew a really cool comic. Maybe you can think of something else that you love about your body, like your brown eyes or thick hair. Maybe you’re having trouble appreciating anything about your body today, but can recognize your quick-wit and cooking skills. Some people find it helpful to write these three kind things down. Consider keeping them in a journal or on a notepad so you can look at all the ways you appreciate your body when you’re feeling down.
- Engaging in body-focused self-care practices like painting your nails, having a solo dance party, or taking a bath can help you appreciate what your body does for you. Some people find that exercising or playing sports also helps them appreciate their body, but pay attention to your motivation—are these physical activities making you feel better about your body, or are you just using them as a way to change the way your body looks?
- Seek out images of people who look like you and look amazing. There are a ton of great body positive messages and accounts on Instagram, Tumblr and other social media sites. Check out this list of body positive Instagram Surrounding yourself with positive representations of people who are beautiful in all different ways can help you appreciate your own uniqueness.
If you’re having trouble quieting your inner body-shaming voice or you feel so self-conscious that it’s stopping you from having fun or doing everyday activities, consider talking to a counselor or therapist. A professional can help you change your inner voice patterns and cultivate some self-love.
If you’re 10-22 years old and live in NYC, you can make a free, confidential appointment at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center for mental health care and other comprehensive health services—no immigration restrictions, no insurance needed.
The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is located in New York City. It provides comprehensive, confidential, judgment free health care at no charge to over 10,000 young people every year. This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.