Contributor: Irene Rovira, Ph.D., clinical psychologist at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt
Most of us appreciate all the mother figures and mom-types in our lives including aunts, sisters, mentors and best friends for the love they give or how they make us feel.
We do not value them based on their weight or size.
Yet we often hold a double standard when it comes to how we view ourselves, getting fixated on appearance as a measure of our self –worth instead of our character, social connections or innate value.
Women have been breaking through various glass ceilings left and right, yet breaking free from this oppression of a ‘thin ideal’ still eludes a large majority of women in our country and around the world.
The term thin ideal encompasses an extremely narrow view of beauty that falsely idealizes thinness and equates thinness with health, beauty, success and happiness.
In more recent years, the term appearance ideal has come to be used more frequently as it reflects the ever increasing cultural criteria for achieving the “right” appearance. This is no longer simply being thin but, for women, is associated with endless culturally dictated characteristics like toned muscles, thigh gaps, bronzed skin, flawless skin and precise body ratio.
Complaining about our bodies has become a toxic habit for many generations of women. Negative body image may be very difficult to resolve without counseling and support and can plague individuals over the course of a lifetime.
For some, body image problems can be severe and debilitating, but even in the absence of an eating disorder or other serious health consequences, negative body image can influence how a person engages with the world around them.
Have you ever declined an invitation, avoided a particular place or stopped pursuing a goal because you were experiencing appearance or weight related anxiety?
If so, you wouldn’t be alone. New research from the Dove Self-Esteem Fund found, “nearly all women (85%) and girls (79%) saying they opt out of important life activities – such as trying out for a team or club, and engaging with family or loved ones – when they don’t feel good about the way they look.
Additionally, 7 in 10 girls with low body-esteem say they won’t be assertive in their opinion or stick to their decision if they aren’t happy with the way they look”. 
By committing to a shift from unrealistic beauty standards to a true “healthy ideal” based on functionality of the body, longevity and balanced wellness, we can help ourselves in the short run but also end up gifting future generations with a greater chance for self-acceptance too.
Whether you are a mom or not, Mother’s Day is a great time to start adopting these eight strategies for improving body image and breaking through the cultural appearance ideal.
7 Tips to help boost body image for yourself and future generations
1. Bust Appearance Myths: A critical first step involves identifying and challenging appearance myths that consume our society. “Talk back” to ideas such as ‘If I could look the way I want, my life would be MUCH happier’.
There is no beauty achievement that can possibly protect you from life’s hassles such as having your infant spit up on you, not getting that job you wanted or getting stuck in traffic when you’re late.
Even the most “beautiful” people by society’s narrow standards get divorced, experience grief and loss and may be very lonely. Deciding to be happy or content with your life is not dependent on how you look but comes from within.
2. Don’t Believe Everything You Think: Simply because you had a thought does not make it true. We do not have to give attention or significant meaning to ideas that enter our awareness nor must we act on all of them.
You do have the power to ignore, modify, or cope with negative thoughts about your body or appearance. It is a skill that can be developed from practice and eventually you can believe “No, I don’t have ugly legs” or “Even if that (negative thought) is somewhat true, I can still live through it.”
3. Stop Fixing, Checking, or Avoiding: You may find yourself repeatedly fixing your hair, checking your weight on a scale, or avoiding going to the beach. Your aim is to feel better and it may even calm your worry….in the short run.
However, engaging in fixing/checking/avoidance behaviors actually increases your body anxiety and is ultimately self-defeating. Your mind gets the message “I AM ugly and therefore need correcting” or “I am too fat to go there”, which has you either do more correcting or avoiding again causing a vicious cycle.
As difficult as it may be to face the body anxiety head on, you will get better at tackling life without these “crutches” and save yourself and your mind in the end.
4. Engage in Body Positive Behaviors: While one is decreasing negative thoughts and behaviors, it is important to increase body positive ones. Appreciating your wonderful body for its form, function, endurance, and longevity involves engaging in activities that feel good and nurture a positive body relationship.
Our bodies are capable of the most amazing things from the simple everyday pleasures (such as seeing a beautiful sunrise or smelling grandma’s cookies) to true miracles (such as nursing a newborn infant) and everything in between. Engaging in a new yoga move, getting a massage or going for walk in nature can help put you in touch with your body and all it has to offer.
5. Build A Life Worth Living: Tending to various areas of your life can help you feel more centered and bring greater balance to your life. Stop delaying or putting off goals and activities because you think you need to look a certain way first.
Nurturing healthy relationships, quitting toxic behaviors, finding a fulfilling project at home or work or picking up a pleasurable hobby may reinforce all the positive body image changes you have made feel even better and more satisfying.
6. Break the chains of generational body dissatisfaction. Do the women in your family spend a lot of time lamenting certain body parts or inherited “flaws” that have been passed down? Consider the language you use to describe family traits and start praising your “strong” legs instead of cursing them for being too big.
These types of changes can have positive impacts up and down the family tree as moms, aunts and grandmothers consider your new perspective and the little eyes and ears of younger generations learn body love instead of body dissatisfaction.
7. Get active in activism.
There are several organizations committed to bringing about positive societal change through greater body acceptance.
Activities include mentoring a younger girl to challenge the thin ideal or random acts of body kindness such as writing “You’re beautiful just the way you are” on a post-it in a gym locker room. Check out campaigns dedicated to improving women’s self-esteem or body acceptance!
By learning greater body acceptance (yes- even of the hips you inherited from mom), we are learning to appreciate ourselves as people. Who better to thank for the gift of life and our bodies than mom herself?
About the author: Irene Rovira, Ph.D., clinical psychologist at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt
Irene Rovira, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt where she has been a member of the staff since 2006. She is currently the Psychology Coordinator for The Center’s inpatient and partial hospitalization psychological services and the Director of the Postdoctoral Program. Dr. Rovira specializes in the use of CBT and DBT to help treat eating disorders and trauma for all ages.
1. (2016). The Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 11, 2017.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com