Getting Real: Body Image And Self Esteem
The first step toward enjoying your body is to cut through any dissatisfaction or distortion and get real about it.
In so doing, you can challenge the caricature you’ve drawn of yourself and draw a more accurate image—one you can feel good about.
A friend told me recently about her shocking encounter with a full-length mirror. Rose is a yoga student. Having worked for several years now, she’s quite a good practitioner and often tells her teacher how happy she is about changes she’s feltin her body. Recently, she and her husband spent a weekend in Las Vegas. Checking into their hotel, she found that their room had a full-length mirror on one wall. While her husband was out, she decided to do her yoga routine in front of the mirror. This was something she’d never tried before and she was excited to see how she would look. She began a pose and, glancing up, was horrified at what she saw. It was not the pure, perfect ideal she saw in her mind’s eye. What she saw was the image of a somewhat overweight middle-age woman doing yoga. She was crushed. It didn’t look anything like the way she felt, or wanted to feel.
The Beauty Of What Is
Rose’s long practice of yoga had brought her feelings of self-worth that had nothing to do with physical appearance—and that’s great. On the other hand,she had not completely made peace with her body.
What Rose hadn’t seen yet was what I call “the beauty of what is”: in this case, that a perfectly normal middle-age body, doing yoga well, can be beautiful. Sure, it’s different from the way her younger teacher might look. Nevertheless, there’s beauty in the pose itself, and there’s beauty in the care, precision, and control with which Rose performs it. Anyone watching her would see and admire it. But she was too shocked by the sight of her body to see anything else.
Ideally, two things go hand in hand. First,appreciating your body for what it can do, rather than how it looks. Second, making peace with the physical reality so that you can fully enjoy your body without having to hide it. To be able to appreciate the beauty of what “is”—that’s the essence of a healthy body image.
Our first step will be to look in the mirror. . . .
Creating Your Physical Inventory
How accurately do you think you see your body? What do you like about it? What do you dislike? In this next section, I’ll lead you through an exploration designed to help you see yourself more accurately, while also helping you recognize and befriend any areas of dissatisfaction. (The self-inventory technique described here is adapted from one described by Matthew McKay, Ph.D., and Patrick Fanning in their book Self-Esteem.)
Step 1: Roll Call
Begin by writing down short descriptions of the following areas of your body:
- Body shape
- Individual face features
- Skin quality
- Waist or belly
- Types of clothing that look good on you
- Types of clothing that look bad on you
- Your overall style
- Be sure to go through the whole list. I’ve provided the list above because without it, you might only list body parts you have strong feelings about—the ones you’re self-conscious about, were teased about, and perhaps one or two that serve as your token self-compliments (say, “nice ankles”). In so doing, you might be overlooking much of what’s good about your body.
Be honest. Without analyzing too much, write down a simple capsule description of each area, in the first words that come to you.