It's no secret that women have a complicated relationship with their bodies. We're constantly inundated with images of "perfect" physiques in the media, and it's tough to not start comparing ourselves to them. Unfortunately, that comparison can lead to body image issues.
What we know from the literature is body image issues can contribute to a host of unhealthy lifestyle behaviors, such as :
- Extreme dieting
- Compulsive exercising, and
- Eating disorders
At least, it certainly started becoming tough for me after I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps (USMC) in 2009. For many years I never felt the need to compare my body to other women. However, during USMC basic training I started to pay attention to how much weight I and other women were either losing or gaining during our weekly weigh-ins.
I noticed that those who lost weight each week were praised. While those that either maintained or gained weight were often criticized. Even though I wasn’t aware of it at the time seeing other women being stigmatized because of their weight was having a huge impact on the way that I felt about my body. Since becoming a health coach, I’ve come to realize that I’m not the only one.
Research has shown that weight stigma not only impacts higher bodyweight people but lower bodyweight people whose well-being may be compromised due to the fear of becoming fat.  In other words, the fear of weight stigma can negatively impact our mental and physical health as well as our body image.
If you've been struggling with body image issues for a long time, it can be hard to imagine ever feeling good about yourself. But I'm here to tell you that it is possible! Even though thin has been the “norm” for years the tides are finally starting to turn. From Lizzo to Jessamym Stanley, we’re beginning to see a shift in the way that we think and talk about our bodies. That's a great thing!
Instead of this constant need to change our bodies, what I’ve found has worked for me (as well as others) is developing a positive body image. Further, studies have shown that a positive body image has been linked to an improvement in body appreciation, body esteem, and functional satisfaction. 
Despite the fact that it might seem difficult at first, you can overcome your body image issues and learn to accept your body exactly as it is. Here are some tips on how to get started.
Three Tips to Develop a Positive Body Image
1. Accept Yourself for Who You Are
Learning how to accept yourself for who you are today also means being comfortable with who you aren’t. Or, in some cases may never be. For instance, as someone with rheumatoid arthritis and Sjögren’s syndrome, I’ve come to accept that my body will never be where it was before I was diagnosed with two autoimmune diseases. That hasn’t stopped me from training for a half-marathon or incorporating autoimmune-friendly foods into my weekly menu. What it has done is encourage me to do is to take the rest I need in between runs. And, be mindful of my food choices to avoid autoimmune flares.
Whether you’re autoimmune or not, it’s vital that you learn to accept where you are today. But, let me be clear that acceptance isn’t about complacency. What it is about is accepting what your body can do instead of worrying about what it can’t do.
2. Focus on Your Accomplishments Not Your Appearance
Focusing on our accomplishments is about recognizing that our outward appearance doesn’t impact what we are able to accomplish. Martinus Evans is a great example of this. When Martinus appeared on the cover of Runner’s World’s January edition as a 300-pound marathon runner it broke many stereotypes about what a runner “looked” like. It also opened the door for people to consider the mental and physical health benefits of embracing a weight-neutral approach to health.  And, it illustrated what people can accomplish irrespective of their size.
Even if running a marathon is not on your bucket list, it’s important to recognize that your accomplishments aren’t hindered by what you look like on the outside. So, don’t let that be the excuse that stops you from achieving your health goals.
3. Seek Professional Support if Needed
Although I’m a proponent of self-help, there are times when we simply need professional support. Case in point, a few years ago I enrolled in a group coaching program that my mentor Steph Gaudreau was running. Despite the fact that I had made great progress on my own, I knew that I needed extra support in order to let go of some of the beliefs about my body that were no longer serving me. If you’re noticing that you’re in the same boat, it might be time to invest in professional support.
That support can come in many different forms depending on what your specific needs are. If you’re looking to putting what you’re learning about improving your body image into practice you might work with a health coach like myself. In comparison, if you’re looking to resolve past trauma that is contributing to a negative body image it might be more beneficial for you to work with a therapist. Either way, the key is, to be honest with yourself about what your goals are and how professional support can help you achieve them.
So there you have it, my body image story, how I overcame my body image issues, and how you can too. If you’ve been struggling with your own body image, I hope these steps have provided you with a simple way to start developing a more positive body image.
If you’re looking for a simple self-help practice you can implement to promote a positive body image, download my FREE Body Image Journal Prompts! These prompts will help you explore your own thoughts and feelings about your body in a safe and supportive space.
And if you ever feel like you need additional professional support, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.
- Griffiths, S., Hay, P., Mitchison, D., Mond, J.M., McLean, S.A., Rodgers, B., Massey, R. and Paxton, S.J. (2016), Sex differences in the relationships between body dissatisfaction, quality of life and psychological distress. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 40, 518-522. https://doi.org/10.1111/1753-6405.12538
- Logel, C., Stinson, D. A., & Brochu, P. M. (2015). Weight loss is not the answer: A well-being solution to the “obesity problem.” Social & Personality Psychology Compass, 9(12), 678– 695. https://doi.org/10.1111/spc3.12223
- O'Hara, L., Ahmed, H., and Elashie, S. (2021). Evaluating the impact of a brief Health at Every Size®-informed health promotion activity on body positivity and internalized weight-based oppression. Body Image, 37, 225–237. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2021.02.006
- Byrne, C. (2022, February 3). The dangerous lie of the perfect running weight. Runner’s World. https://www.runnersworld.com/nutrition-weight-loss/a38950240/dangerous-lie-perfect-running-weight/
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