Women get so bummed out about a lack of total physical perfection, and it can be particularly acute in the summer when everyone’s walking around with a lot less clothes on. Even when everything is going well — in our career, health and relationships — we still get hung up on body image, whether it’s a a bad haircut or some love handles that just won’t budge. Despite some women’s successes, they can still be pushed into a depression if they don’t meet their own expectations of physical attractiveness.
When I was in the Bahamas recently, eating a chocolate sundae and staring at the ocean, I couldn’t stop thinking about the compensatory healthy-eating regiment I was going to have to adopt when I got home. I took myself out of a blissful moment to berate myself for something truly innocuous. There is seemingly no escape. The scary thing is that shaming oneself has become the de facto narrative for women of all ages. A recent article in The Atlantic cited that 11 percent of women over 50 have an eating disorder.
So what is the answer? It seems trite to offer suggestions for how someone can build their self-esteem in 15 minutes or less. But I recently read a story that offers some constructive thoughts. Over at The Daily Mail, Shona Sibary, a woman chronically ambivalent about her looks, offers some tips on boosting confidence:
1. Minimize nitpicking. When looking in the mirror, women tend to zoom in on their perceived flaws. But everyone has physical attributes they like. Focus on those. And when you feel the urge to examine and wallow in the things you don’t like, walk away.
2. Surround yourself with positive people. A negative attitude can be contagious, so try to spend time with people who are more positive. If you spend time with women whose primary topic of conversation is their issues with their appearance, you’re likely to fall into the same trap.
3. Believe in self-fulfilling prophecies. If you believe that you’re just fine, then you are. If you convince yourself that you’re irrevocably broken, then you are. It’s that simple.
4. Wear clothes that fit. This one seems so obvious, but I also feel like it needs to be said. Many women are guilty of buying the clothes we wish we looked good in instead of the ones that actually fit right. Then, because it’s in your closet, you feel compelled to wear it even if you feel self-conscious wearing it. Just go up a size and let yourself be comfortable!
Accepting yourself as you are isn’t easy, as we all know — it requires dismissal of almost all social messaging. But take a moment, close your eyes and just try to imagine that you’re fine. You don’t need to feel bad about the piece of birthday cake you just ate. You don’t need to feel bad that you’ll never look like Kate Winslet. You might even have the clarity to realize that thin thighs are not a meaningful social or cultural contribution. And then think about all of the things you could refocus your energy into: Ways to travel more? Learning another language? Spending time with people who genuinely value you?
To quote happiness guru Gretchen Rubin, “The days are long, but the years are short.” Healthy choices are good, yes. And eating your fruits and veggies and getting enough exercise without stressing about it will contribute to your happiness. But punishing yourself for being imperfect is bad. We only have so much time and energy to spend with ourselves and the world. Ask yourself if you want your primary personal crusade to be an ongoing fear of carbohydrates.