Once in a while, partly in jest but mostly to make a point, when talking with college students about body image I ask each student to consider, as part of their homework, standing alone in front of a …
Once in a while, partly in jest but mostly to make a point, when talking with college students about body image I ask each student to consider, as part of their homework, standing alone in front of a full-length mirror completely nude and taking time to see all the wonderful things that they admire and appreciate about their bodies.
Some chuckle, but most moan, especially the girls. "Is there a problem with this assignment," I ask?
"It's impossible! That's the problem."
Several, if not all, of the others nod their heads in agreement.
"Why?" I ask as innocently as possible.
"Because, when we look in the mirror we only see what is wrong," one brave girl laments.
"That's right," the others chime in.
All kidding aside, I then ask them, "Who taught you to do that — to see what is wrong?"
The answers have a familiar ring.
"Interesting," I reply thoughtfully. "You really let other people tell you how you should feel about your own body? Maybe you should think about taking control of how you feel about yourself, rather than allowing others to have that control. If not, you are likely to live a lifetime feeling miserable about your body."
If you are in a war of misery concerning your body, I challenge you – as I challenge my students – to take control of how you view your own body. Although this process is far from easy, the following suggestions may prove helpful in improving your body image.
1. Enlarge your criteria for your self-esteem to include more than physical appearance. For example, your traits as a person — loyalty, commitment, friendliness, thoughtfulness and kindness, are also important parts of who you are. Also include your successes in school, sports, or work as valuable aspects of your personal presentation.
2. Celebrate the wonder of how your body works. The joy of being able to walk, breathe, smile and read are miracles that we often taken for granted. In other words, focus on what you have, instead of what you don't.
3. Stop reading about and/or idealizing our society's images of perfection. Why look at a magazine that only makes you feel worse about yourself? Do you really need that sort of punishment?
4. Exercise to keep yourself fit rather than exercising to achieve a certain look. Staying fit not only helps you feel better physically, but also enhances your overall mental health. Exercising to achieve a certain look can produce greater frustration and depression.
5. Stay away from superficial people who judge you by how you look rather than who you are. Such relationships are fertile grounds for emotional abuse.
6. Refocus so that you aren't tempted to hide behind your preoccupation over your physical body when other, much more important issues might need to be addressed.
7. Control what you can, and forget what you can't. Why suffer by aspiring to standards that are beyond your control — your height, the size of your hips, the shape of your legs?
Although far from easy in a society that bombards us with superficial images of what we should look like, following these suggestions might allow you to stand in front of that full-length mirror and smile, celebrating the gift of what you have been given.
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