I think we can all acknowledge that many, if not most, women struggle with body image. What should we do about it? How can we feel more confident in our bodies?
There seems to be two different solutions in mainstream media. Method A) The “If you don’t like your body, change it” mentality that promises that you can finally be confident once you sculpt the body of your dreams. And Method B) The “you don’t have to do anything, just embrace your body the way it is” philosophy.
Both of these methods have crucial flaws. Method A can lead to disordered eating habits and over exercising, and/or choosing methods of weight loss that are not healthy. Not to mention the fact that if you do actually reach your goal weight, there’s a good chance you still won’t be satisfied. It’s just like acquiring wealth: no matter how much you have you always want more.
Method B seems like a good idea, until you start neglecting your health in the name of body positivity. People in this camp might view exercise and healthy eating habits solely as a means for changing their appearance, rendering them unnecessary. Or they might view exercise as punishment and think that engaging in it would be contradictory to the belief that all bodies are good bodies.
I would like to offer a third method. While I don’t believe that poor body image and years of low confidence can be healed with one quick tip, I do think this is a valuable piece of the puzzle: do hard things. Or simpler yet, just do things! Move your body in a way that you enjoy. In my experience, one of the best ways to feel good in your body is to use it.
As Lindsay and Lexie Kite say, “Positive body image isn’t believing your body looks good; it’s knowing your body is good, regardless of how it looks.” What better way to know your body is good than proving to yourself that it can do hard or at least valuable things?
There is plenty of research to show that participating in sports and exercise is a great way to improve body image (especially if you follow these tips). Go for a hike, bike ride or play your favourite sport and see how you feel. Physical activity helps you get out of your head and experience what your body is capable of, without thinking about how it looks.
You can start small on your quest to do hard things. I started with shorter, flatter hikes. But with each hike, I gain more confidence for the next one. I can call back on the fact that I finished that really steep hike, or that long one when it was super hot, so I know I am physically capable of the next one. Confidence comes with experience.
I also know that my training in the gym prepares me for physical challenges. This thought motivates me during my workouts and encourages me during a hike or other physical activity. It’s helpful to have motivators for working out that aren't based on appearance. Examples include improved physical and mental health, stress release, better sleep, more energy, training for specific physical challenges like a sport, race, or hike.
Personally, I do not have this whole body confidence thing mastered. Some days I still catch myself thinking if I just tweak this or that in my diet or exercise routine, maybe that will change this or that about my body. Other days I don’t push myself as much as I should in my workouts, or I eat too many sweets because I think I have balance, when really I’m just being lazy or gluttonous. But I do know I feel my best when I am active, and when I’m not comparing myself to others.
Anyway, I hope you join me on this journey towards confidence and doing hard things. I hope you can exercise joyfully, knowing you are benefitting your health and wellbeing even if you don’t see drastic changes in your appearance. I hope you eat good, nutritious food because you know your body thrives off of it. You are worth it!