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According to a 2006 study, the average American encounters 5,000 advertisements in one day. Many of these messages revolve around looking “better,” and influence just about everyone.
Sadly, poor self-esteem is an equal opportunity offender.
“The average girl in America goes on her first diet when she’s eight,” Caitlin Boyle, the editor of the Web site Operation Beautiful, says. Meanwhile, many young men feel pressure to bulk up or have six-pack abs.
In a recent Student Health 101 survey of nearly 3,000 students, 70 percent said they recognize that media images are often unrealistic.
So why not focus on the things about your body that you love?
Many students already accept and appreciate their bodies. Overcome persistent negativity—in advertising, your inner voice, and culture in general—by seeking positive, uplifting influences. Who or what inspires you by exhibiting body confidence?
“It’s important to surround yourself with positive examples of real women and men,” Boyle says. This may mean thinking of people whose attributes you admire that have nothing to do with how they look—for example, people known for their compassion, innovative work, or creativity.
You can also focus on those in your life who embrace their bodies just the way they are. That doesn’t mean they don’t take care of themselves; it means they accept and celebrate what they can do because of their physical attributes, rather than only how they look.
Michael Anne Conley, clinical director of wellness resources at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, California, says that some older students judge themselves harshly as they apply for jobs, especially when comparing themselves with younger applicants. “If you’re worried about what someone else is going to think because you feel badly about yourself, you have to deal with that first,” says Conley. “Self-confidence and the ability to engage face-to-face is going to impress an interviewer.”
You can build self-confidence by taking pride in your past accomplishments in the workplace. Your performance and knowledge are more important to potential employers than your looks.
Take Care of Your Body & It’ll Take Care of You
The Student Health 101 survey found that 63 percent of students feel good about their bodies when they participate in sports or exercise, and they also report feeling their best when they eat well.
Pursuing healthful behavior, such as nutritious eating patterns or getting plenty of sleep, can help you focus on treating your body with respect.
Boyle encourages students to think about exercising as a way to feel empowered, rather than looking better. As she notes, “I never appreciated my body more than when I started to run and do 5Ks.” Brittany C., a student at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, agrees, saying, “It’s about appreciating your body and what you’re born with.”
When you feel confident, you act confident. This allows you to connect with other positive-minded people. “Behaving and thinking in a positive manner is a great way to expand your social circle and form deeper relationships,” says Boyle.
Margaret K., a student at the University of South Carolina, in Columbia, suggests, “Bond with people who you share positive outlooks or habits with. Sometimes we relate to others by having a shared problem. Unless you’re helping each other fix it in a healthy way, that can simply lead to more negative feelings.”
People who feel good about themselves, and like who they are, are often better able to affirm others. Not surprisingly, students report feeling good when they receive compliments. These confidence-boosting comments can help you feel comfortable in your own skin, and nearly 70 percent of students say they are friendlier when they feel good about themselves.
Margaret agrees: “We all need recognition and consideration from others. Compliments that aren’t related to physical [attributes] are the most permanently self-affirming.”
Let the mirror empower you, too. When you look at your own reflection, shower yourself with positivity rather than insults. Instead of zeroing in on a perceived flaw, pick out a few traits that you’re proud of.
If you want to take it one step further, compliment yourself out loud! It might feel cheesy, but saying (and thinking) really can translate, over time, into believing.
Rather than dwelling on thoughts that bring you down, try a few uplifting activities. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Focus on Your Inner beauty
Do you select friends based on how they look? Chances are you don’t, and that people aren’t judging you that way, either. Almost everyone is harder on themselves than anybody else could possibly be.
Build your confidence by thinking about how you make friends laugh or contribute to conversations. People love you, not your looks.
Get Comfortable With Your Own Body
How well do you know yourself? We have a lot of body shame in the U.S., despite how popular media portray our behavior.
Pay attention to how your body moves throughout the day. Appreciate your firm handshake, the way your muscles flex when you exercise, your back’s ability to carry books, or that your smile makes other people smile, too.
Write an Inspiring Note
As part of the Operation Beautiful concept, Boyle encourages both men and women to leave sticky notes with uplifting messages in public restrooms. That little bit of positivity goes a long way, both for the writer and the reader. People do this at Margaret’s university, and she says, “It’s amazing how much it makes a difference. Students talk about it all day [when] it happens.”
You can do this for yourself, too. Posting affirmations can be a helpful reminder of your strengths.
For example, on an index card, write down a few traits you like—or a message of complete acceptance—and display it on your mirror or door. As you walk by, repeat the observation like a mantra.
Other people can provide encouragement, but ultimately, each person has to decide to accept his or her own body.
Start small and it’s likely you’ll soon find yourself feeling happier and more confident. After all, every body is capable of pretty wonderful things.
- Consider how unrealistic (and falsified) media images are. Real people come in all shapes and sizes.
- Take care of your body and it will take care of you.
- You have unique attributes and talents. Avoid focusing solely on your appearance.
- Be conscientious about body-talk. Avoid negative comments about yourself and other people.
Suggestions of compliments to give yourself
When you look in the mirror, and throughout the day, focus on the things you like about yourself, such as:
- Which of your facial features do you like most?
- What part of your body is most unique?
- Can you do anything unusual with your face or body? (E.g., curl your tongue or wiggle your ears.)
- What makes you look like other people in your family?
- Which parts of you are strong?
- How would you describe yourself? Choose something positive, like “calm,” “funny,” “I make people comfortable,” or “insightful.”
Shared positivity is contagious. Try complimenting other people, too. It will make you, and them, feel good.
Get help or find out more
National Eating Disorders Association
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Body Dysmorphic Disorder