Loving the skin we’re in is something that many of us struggle with at one time or another. So, if you’re feeling low about your body, you’re certainly not alone.
However, accepting, cherishing, and celebrating our bodies for their uniqueness and all that they do for us is one of the most important things we can do to improve our quality of life. The image that we have of ourselves can impact our food choices, relationships with others, and overall health and happiness.
Sadly, the way that we look at ourselves and our bodies isn’t always directly related to what we see in the mirror – but to a range of beliefs, experiences, and generalisations. Society, the media, and popular culture have long shaped beauty standards, which can influence how we feel about our bodies.
This can be especially true as we age and our bodies start to change. Messages and products that encourage us to ‘cover up greys’, ‘smooth out wrinkles’, ‘get rid of cellulite’, and ‘lose weight’ are everywhere. And the result is that too many people are left feeling devalued and distressed as they try to conform to unrealistic expectations.
Much work is needed to change society’s view on what’s considered attractive – which means shifting value away from how we look towards who we are and what we can do, and being more inclusive of different body types.
But, in the meantime, there are steps we can take to start observing our bodies with compassion and acceptance, focusing on the positive aspects, and recognising that our value doesn’t come from our appearance.
Below, we’ll offer 15 things you can do to start developing a more positive body image.
1. Acknowledge that you have a negative relationship with your body
Recognising that you have a negative relationship with your body is the first step in committing to transform that relationship.
Not only can this make you more aware of when you’re thinking self-deprecating thoughts so you can work on challenging them – but it can help you draw a clear line between your thoughts and reality.
Thoughts are just thoughts and with time and perseverance, it’s possible to change them. Remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and how you choose to see your body is ultimately up to you.
2. Let go of the idea that looking a certain way will make you happier
Many of us fall into the trap of believing that if we looked a certain way we would finally be happy. But our appearance is rarely the key to true contentment. Chances are, if you did achieve the look you wanted, you’d start to notice new ‘problem’ areas and the cycle would continue.
Try to decouple success and happiness from the way you look and focus on finding fulfilment through the things you do.
3. Practise being grateful for your body – remember that it's the instrument of your life
Our bodies are vehicles that carry us through life; allowing us to go places, have experiences, and move towards our goals. So they deserve kindness and respect.
If you’re struggling to appreciate your body, try to write down at least five things that it allows you to do on a daily basis and place it somewhere you can look at it often.
4. Practise mirror work
When we’re not comfortable with our bodies, it can feel natural to avoid looking in the mirror. However, mirror work can be incredibly useful in accepting your body for what it is and cultivating self-compassion.
Mirror work is a concept that motivational author, Louise Hay writes about in her book, Mirror Work: 12 Days to Heal Your Life. It involves looking at yourself in the mirror while repeating positive affirmations, such as, “I love my body and all that it does for me”, “I am brave”, and “I am enough”.
This might feel unnatural to start with but research shows that affirmations can be a powerful way to create long-term, positive changes in how we perceive ourselves.
For tips on how to practise mirror work, you might want to read this six-step guide from Bon Vita.
5. Make a list of people you admire and consider whether appearance was important to their success
Nearly all of us have people that we admire and look up to in life – whether that’s friends, family, colleagues, or public figures.
Make a list of some of these people. Then ask yourself; was their appearance the reason for their success? This can be a helpful reminder that it’s what we do that’s important, not how we look.
6. Choose positive, compassionate words to describe your body
Take some time to consider the sort of words that you would typically use to describe your body. Are they the sort of words that you would use to speak about a loved one?
The words we choose to talk about ourselves can have a significant impact on how we feel in our own skin. Rather than using words like ‘fat’ or ‘ugly’, try choosing kind, compassionate language, such as ‘strong’, ‘capable’, and ‘unique’.
7. Exercise to feel good and explore what your body can do – not to burn calories and punish yourself
If you’re unhappy with your body and want to lose weight, it can be tempting to force yourself into a gruelling fitness schedule that you hate. Though, doing so can make exercise feel like a punishment – which may lead you to develop an unhealthy relationship with it.
It’s worth keeping in mind that, if we’re kind to ourselves, exercise can empower us by providing a chance to explore what our bodies can really do. There’s also no ‘right’ way to exercise so try to find a way to move your body that works for you; whether that’s walking, dancing, doing practical jobs, running, or lifting weights.
The fitness and exercise section of our website has plenty more ideas.
8. Practise mindfulness
Mindfulness is a technique that involves focusing on the present moment and becoming more aware of our bodies and our surroundings. For example, concentrating on the breath entering and leaving your body, and what you can see, smell, and hear.
Connecting with our bodies in this way allows us to remember and appreciate just what they do for us. It can also alleviate stress and anxiety by helping us to stop ruminating on negative thoughts about ourselves.
To find out more about how to get started with mindfulness, you might want to read our introductory guide.
9. Make a list of what you like about you
Too often, we focus on what we don’t like about ourselves and beat ourselves up for not conforming to idealism. But what about if you focused on the good instead?
We all have qualities about us that make us important, attractive, useful, unique, and special – and we should spend more time celebrating those things.
Make a list of everything that you like about yourself that you can look at whenever you’re having a dip in body confidence. Perhaps you’re a good listener and are always there for the people around you or maybe you’re creative, imaginative, and always brimming with new ideas. It’s these things that define who you are – not your body.
10. Get rid of the scales
The problem with scales is that by weighing ourselves regularly, we may start to connect our value as human beings with the numbers we see when we look down at our feet – which can be incredibly damaging to our mental health.
In most cases, what we weigh doesn’t matter; it’s how we feel that counts. For example, whether you have the energy to play with your grandchildren, go on new adventures, and live life to the fullest.
So, if the scales have been making you miserable – get rid of them! Instead, focus on eating well and exercising regularly. If you do have weight loss goals and want to keep yourself accountable, try taking measurements instead. Many health experts consider this to be a more accurate way of monitoring your weight loss (especially if you’re doing resistance training) because muscle weighs more than fat.
11. Nourish your body
When we nourish our bodies by eating foods that provide us with plenty of vitamins and minerals and that give us the energy we need to get closer to our goals, we tend to feel better mentally, which can impact how we feel in our skin.
Why not check out these 18 healthy 30-minute meals for some nutritious recipe ideas?
12. Avoid making judgements about other people’s bodies
When we’re unhappy with ourselves, it can make us quick to judge other people, and this is usually because we’re attempting to make ourselves feel better about our own situation.
However, few people actually feel happier after making unkind thoughts about another person – most feel worse.
Try taking a pause if you find yourself going to think or comment about someone else and instead concentrate on all the positives that this person is likely to have to offer.
13. Harness the power of touch
According to research, touch soothes and signals safety and trust. It can also trigger the release of oxytocin (known as ‘the love hormone’). So, one of the best ways to practise self-love and acceptance is to get comfortable touching your body.
This could involve something as simple as making an effort to moisturise from head to toe after your shower or bath – feeling the ways your thighs dimple or your skin curves.
Be curious about your body and get to know it, while thinking about everything that it enables you to do.
14. Cleanse your social media accounts
The rise of social media has been bitter-sweet. Although it allows us to stay better connected, it’s also a tool that many of us use to compare ourselves to others.
If you’re connected to social media accounts that leave you feeling negative about your body or doubting yourself, then it could be time to perform a social media cleanse.
Take control of what you see on your social media feeds by unfollowing or unfriending any accounts that don’t serve you well. Then, focus on surrounding yourself with things and people that support you in having a healthy relationship with your body.
15. Wear clothes that fit and make you feel good
Try to wear clothes that fit well and make you feel good. No matter what size we are, dressing in colours, patterns, and styles that reflect our personality and allow us to express ourselves can be a great confidence booster.
Hiding in clothes that are too big or as non-descript as possible is something that many of us find easier to do when struggling with body image. But you deserve to be seen.
For some style inspiration, you might want to read our article; 10 tips for dressing with colour and confidence.
Our bodies are incredible, complex, and unique. They allow us to navigate life, do things we enjoy, and create memories – so it’s important that we’re kind to them.
It’s never too late to transform a negative relationship with your body into a positive one by practising self-love and compassion.
As poet and author, Nayyirah Waheed once wrote, “And I said to my body, softly, “I want to be your friend. It took a long breath and replied, “I’ve been waiting my whole life for this.”