This morning I spoke with a young woman (I’ll call her J) who is not happy with her body image. She said, “I’ve always wanted to be the type of person who could wear a bikini at a pool or beach and I know that will never happen.”
I run into this time and time again with young women who *believe* that they are supposed to look like runway models, movie stars, and glamour queens. And when they don’t, they resort to extreme dieting and exercise; worse yet, they develop eating disorders and other physical ailments. Such self-abuse takes its toll on the body, mind, and spirit.
I admit when I was a teen I often compared myself to other girls and to women in magazines. Their images seduced me into wanting to look like them. I can recall times I’ve stood in front of my mirror, chanting the mantra that most teenage girls of my time were chanting, I must…I must…I must increase my bust, while trying to get my elbows to touch behind my back each time.
And then one day a bolt of realization hit me. I didn’t have to have big breasts. I liked mine just the way they were. I didn’t want to be a copy of someone else; I wanted to be an original. And no one would do a better job of being me than me.
So, I embraced myself, B-cups and all.
We incarnate into this world naked, innocent, pure, and beautiful. Unfortunately, we buy into lies perpetuated by the media and advertising, and we begin to think that we are not good enough. We start living by standards set by others rather than by our own. And when we fail to live up to those standards, we are crushed, devastated, and defeated. We call ourselves failures in comparison to others. We *believe* the lies as truth that we are less than perfect. How incredibly sad.
After talking at length with J, it’s obvious that she is caught in this destructive trap. She’s afraid of being seen as a failure. At her core lies shame that she learned from someone or something. It has such a grip on her that it has paralyzed her from making the changes she needs to make in order to blossom into her authentic self. Her self-neglect and self-abuse have out-trumped the ability to love herself as the gift that she is.
It would be easy to tell J to just go love herself, but the issue is that she doesn’t know how. It’s going to take some training and a lot of inner as well as outer work on her part, and only if she truly wants to make the changes.
What can J (or anyone for that matter) do to love herself more? I’ve compiled a list of things that she (and you!) can start doing. Of course, these don’t have to be done all at once, but the sooner the better.
1. Start dating yourself. Take yourself out to dinner, to a movie, or to a museum. The point is to spend some quality time alone with yourself. Get to know who you are. Learn to get comfortable with yourself. It might feel a bit awkward in the beginning. You may feel self-conscious, or feel that people are looking at you and judging you because you are out alone. But this discomfort will dissipate and you’ll soon realize how important it is to do things for yourself.
2. Notice your self-talk. Your self-dialogue is key! Negative self-talk shames you into imprisoning your authentic self. It is destructive to your growth. Instead, practice positive self-talk through affirmations and I AM statements. Start paying yourself compliments. Say them in front of a mirror. Write them down. Post them where you will always see them. Read them and re-read them. Speak kindly to yourself always. Forgive yourself for past negative thinking.
3. Do what you love. When you find things that you love to do and you spend time doing them, you will experience love, joy, and happiness, and then will you connect with your authentic self.
4. Learn to say no to others’ requests. And don’t feel guilty about it. If you don’t feel like doing something, you have the right not to do it. If you feel you have to please someone else and make others happy, then you are doing so out of obligation and not out of love. You run the risk of over-extending yourself. Saying no takes some practice; you want to do it respectfully. You can’t please everyone and you are not responsible for everybody else’s needs.
5. Practice self-care on all levels. Take care of yourself physically by exercising and eating healthy foods. Take care of yourself spiritually through meditation, prayer, or contemplation. Take care of yourself emotionally by listening to uplifting music, putting your creative skills to use, and being kind to others. Kindness is the kernel of love.
6. Avoid the comparison trap! You are a unique individual. There will never be anyone quite like you. This is important to remember. When you start comparing yourself to others it chips away at self-esteem and confidence, making you depressed, envious, or jealous. Instead, focus on your own strengths and gifts that you can offer to the world.
7. Practice gratitude. Be happy with what you have. Be truly thankful for everything in your life…friends, family, a home, a job, etc. Gratitude keeps your heart open to love. The more you are grateful for what you have in your life, the more you attract.
8. Examine the kinds of activities in which you are involved. What kinds of TV shows, music, art and music do you indulge? Ask yourself if these things are adding to your growth or detracting from it. With what kinds of people do you associate? Do these people foster your growth or not? If these things and people only add stress to your life, then it’s time find activities and people that feed your soul and not your ego.
9. Celebrate your accomplishments. Don’t define yourself by what you’ve done or haven’t done. Instead, celebrate the steps you have taken to better yourself. Small accomplishments lead to bigger ones. Your progress is very important, but it may take some time. Be patient as you allow your authentic self to emerge. Every time you feel good about something you do, it’s one more reminder to love who you are.
10. Stand up for your beliefs. You are who you are. You like what you like. You believe what you believe. You have nothing to prove to anyone. Don’t give other people’s opinions and criticisms power over you. Your self-worth is not conditional on other people.
Self-love is at the very core of well-being. If we are to experience joy and self-empowerment, if we are to create and enjoy the kind of life that we want, self-love must live at our core. You can’t enjoy happiness if you are not at peace with yourself.