Body Image and Self-Talk: Do Affirmations Help?

Overcoming a negative self-perception and poor body image can seem like a daunting and impossible task. Unfortunately, being overly critical of oneself over long periods of time can lead to deeply ingrained thoughts and behaviors that cannot easily be broken. As you begin a journey towards self-acceptance, it is crucial to realize that rising above destructive thoughts and behaviors requires a fundamental change in how you think about yourself.

Reversing the Pattern of Pessimistic Self-Talk

Perhaps you have struggled in a pattern of body negativity for so long that you do not know how to think differently? How can you reverse the pattern of unconstructive and pessimistic self-talk when you are used to scrutinizing everything you find wrong with yourself?

Your voice and your thoughts are powerful tools that form the foundation of your body image. Though it may appear to be an oversimplified solution, there is great power behind the practice of positive self-affirmations.

What exactly are self-affirmations and how can they help transform poor body image?

Girl smilingSelf-affirmation was first a psychological theory proposed by American social psychologist, Claude Steele, in the 1980s. The self-affirmation theory poses that individuals have a “fundamental motivation to maintain self-integrity, a perception of themselves as good, virtuous, and able to predict and control important outcomes.”

Essentially, self-affirmation can be crucial to building an identify for ourselves, as we learn to engage in corrective actions that encourage positive reactions to any circumstances we may be facing.  Self-affirmation can also be a powerful approach for changing negative thinking when used as part of a broader psychological intervention, such as with cognitive psychotherapy [1].

Thinking About the Relationship with Yourself

Think about a person in your life who you care about deeply. If you analyze the words and manner in which you communicate with this person, you can likely say that you treat this person lovingly and with respect. Your conversations are probably productive and fruitful, as you tend to focus on the positive aspects of your relationship.

Now think about yourself in terms of being in a relationship with your body. Are your words constructive or destructive? Are you critical about various aspects of your body? Are you giving yourself the love you deserve; just as you would extend to a person you care about? Re-framing the way we perceive our bodies can also help us take a step away from self-criticalness and negativity.

Implementing the practice of regular self-affirmations will help you build a better relationship with your body. Instead of gravitating toward the mantras you are used to repeating, such as “I am not good enough”, or “I look horrible”, or “I hate the way I feel about my body”, it is time to challenge these thoughts with positive affirmations.

Here are some examples of positive statements you can begin to regularly incorporate into your daily life as a way of breaking free from negative self-talk:

  • I am beginning to accept myself more and more
  • I am overcoming negativity and building a positive attitude toward myself
  • I am thankful for my body and what it can do for me!
  • My body is beautiful and I respect myself
  • I like ____ about myself (insert a compliment about yourself!)

At first, it may seem awkward and out of place to focus on positive mantras and affirmations about yourself, but remember that you are challenging years of poor body image and negative self-talk. Take baby steps and begin with one statement you can focus on.

Ways to Improve Positive Affirmations Towards Yourself

Write that statement on a card and put it somewhere that will help you reflect on its meaning. If you are still finding it difficult to come up with positive affirmations about yourself, recruit the help of a trusted family member or friend. Ask them what they like or appreciate about you, and use those positive words as a focal point of self-confidence.

Building a positive body image is something that can occur little by little, day by day, with a mindful effort to care for yourself respectfully. Practice awareness of how you are thinking about yourself and your body. When you catch a negative thought penetrating your mind, be prepared with a myriad of self-affirmations to challenge the pessimistic view that would keep you from flourishing and loving yourself.

Seeking Out Professional Interventions

In many situations, body negativity and self-criticism are manifestations of deep rooted experiences and underlying emotions that have not been processed.  Some individuals may essentially use their own body as a scapegoat for difficult situations in their own life that have not been dealt with effectively.  Under these circumstances, reversing negative thinking can be extremely difficult and not necessarily possible with self-affirmations alone.  

Woman at lake thinking about positive AffirmationsIf you have identified with this struggle and find it challenging to reverse negative thinking about yourself and your body, it is essential to seek out adequate and professional help for recovery.  It is likely that more advanced interventions are necessary, and having the guidance of an experienced professional can increase the effectiveness of treatment.  

Remember that asking for help does not mean you are a failure, but rather, that you have the courage and strength to connect to the support you need to change the trajectory of your life.  

Jacquelyn EkernAbout the authors: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC founded Eating Disorder Hope in 2005, driven by a profound desire to help those struggling with anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder. This passion resulted from her battle with, and recovery from, an eating disorder. As president, Jacquelyn manages Ekern Enterprises, Inc. and the Eating Disorder Hope website. In addition, she is a fully licensed therapist with a closed private counseling practice specializing in the treatment of eating disorders.

Jacquelyn has a Bachelor of Science in Human Services degree from The University of Phoenix and a Masters degree in Counseling/Psychology, from Capella University. She has extensive experience in the eating disorder field including advanced education in psychology, participation and contributions to additional eating disorder groups, symposiums, and professional associations. She is a member of the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), Academy of Eating Disorders (AED), the Eating Disorders Coalition (EDC) and the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (iaedp).

Jacquelyn enjoys art, working out, walking her golden retriever “Cowgirl”, reading, painting and time with family.
Although Eating Disorder Hope was founded by Jacquelyn Ekern, this organization would not be possible without support from our generous sponsors.

Crystal Headshot 2Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC is a Contributing Writer for Eating Disorder Hope.

Crystal is a Masters-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a specialty focus in eating disorders, maternal/child health and wellness, and intuitive eating. Combining clinical experience with a love of social media and writing,

As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Crystal has dedicated her career to helping others establish a healthy relationship with food and body through her work with EDH and nutrition private practice.


[1]:  Cohen, Geoffrey L. et al.  The psychology of change: self-affirmation and social psychological intervention.  Annu. Rev. Psychol. 2014. 65:333-71

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.

Published on July 20, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on July 20, 2017.
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Although Eating Disorder Hope was founded by Jacquelyn Ekern, this organization would not be possible without the support from our generous sponsors.