Improve Your Body Image 

January 4, 2011

Our body image changes frequently throughout our lives because it involves our perception, imagination and emotions of how we feel about our bodies. The most important thing we need to know about our body image is that it is not based on fact, but is psychological in nature and is more influenced by our self-esteem than by how others actually judge our physical attractiveness. Cosmetic surgery is now one of the fastest growing "medical" specialties around, proven by the fact that women alternately starve themselves or gorge themselves as well as obsess about and hate that which makes us female-our soft round curves.

What Causes a Poor Body Image?

Society often tells us that having the perfect body will allow us to have success in every aspect of our lives, and we are bombarded by media images of women with perfect bodies. We find it difficult to resist the power of such images therefore have a tough time accepting a body that doesn't meet these high standards of perfection and become overly critical of ourselves. Some believe that there is a correlation between the development of personal boundaries and a woman's body image. Our skin is, in effect, a physical boundary which distinguishes between what is inside us and what is outside. Women who suffer from weak boundaries might end up having sex with inappropriate people because they are not able to distinguish where they end and others begin, therefore don't feel like a whole person when they are alone. Psychological boundaries are developed early on in our lives, usually as a result of how we were held and touched-or were not held and touched. Young children who were deprived of touch as infants may not be able to distinguish between what is inside and outside of them, thus turning into a person who has difficulty getting an accurate sense of her body shape and size. The other end of the spectrum is the girl who was sexually or physically abused and feels such pain and shame that she uses food or starvation to continue the familiar childhood punishments.

Change Your Body Image

Whatever the reason for your poor body image, it can be changed over time if you are willing to commit to the process. First of all question society's standards for the perfect body rather than accepting them. Realize that even if you had the "perfect" body, you would still be a human being with normal, human problems and concerns. One of the most important things you can do to improve your body image is to learn to really listen to your body and only eat when you are truly hungry. It will take a while for you to be able to distinguish between true physical hunger pangs and emotional hunger, but it is possible if you pay close attention to your body's cues and signals. Based on your genetics, body type and history, choose a realistic size for your specific body, then set small, manageable goals rather than telling yourself you won't be happy until you lose 75 pounds.

Get some type of enjoyable exercise on a regular basis, regardless of what size you are now, and work hard toward self-forgiveness and self-acceptance. Learn to treat yourself in the same way you would treat a very dear friend-gently and with kindness. Most women need to learn to ask for support and encouragement when their lives get stressful-we are taught to believe that we should be able to be Superwoman, never needing help or a hand up. You have to look at your overall life, and decide how you want to spend your precious energy resources-pursuing the "perfect" body, or enjoying your family, friends, work, school and life. We are all individual women, with a variety of weights, shapes and body sizes, and your own self-image begins in your head. Believe in yourself, and be bold enough to do what makes you happy while challenging yourself to boldly go where you have not gone before-make 2011 truly your year to shine.

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