How I tricked myself into developing positive body image

From loathing to loving: How I tricked myself into liking my body

I love my body. I love everything about it: its shape, its curves, its dimples. I look at it as a beautiful work of art.

Now, that isn’t true. Not even close. But, as the mother of three girls that is the only story I am telling them. And it’s a story I am telling them religiously.

The story where I openly celebrate what my body can do. Where I appreciate and admire what it does and how it looks.

Like every other parent on the planet I have foibles. Plenty of them. More than I can possibly count.

But I am proud of the fact I can hold my hand to my heart and say my daughters have never heard me utter a negative word about my body.

(The only caveat is they have heard me bemoan the fact I have Crohn’s disease and the issues that can present.)

But they have never heard me bemoan my soft belly or dimply thighs. They have never heard me say anything about feeling fat or disliking my appearance.

They have heard me talk about how exercising makes me feel strong. How it can make my day better.

They have heard me explain, time and time again, that my body is amazing in part because it grew and fed each of them.

They have heard me say how capable their own bodies are.

I am quite confident that neither my almost 5 year old nor my seven year old would know what a “fat day” is.

I am under no illusion that this means they will circumvent negative body image but it’s my attempt to quarantine home from that discussion.

Some recent research findings drilled in why this matters.

Research by Dr Jacqueline Mills, a psychology lecturer at the Cairnmillar Institute, shows that four out of five young women experience ‘fat talk’ about their own appearance or someone else’s during an average week.

It also showed that 27% of all social interactions among female participants involved some form of fat talk.

Dr Mills undertook this research and identified a link between engaging in fat talk and decreased body satisfaction.

Some young women may make comments among friends like ‘My stomach is too big’ or ‘I hate my thighs’ to alleviate distress but Dr Mills says this draws attention to the parts of the body women dislike, which in turn leads to decreased body satisfaction.

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This kind of chat is far from harmless.

In this research Dr Mills examined the fat talk experiences of 135 women aged 18-40 across a seven-day period using a smart phone app that delivered unobtrusive mini-surveys each day. The results revealed 82% of participants experienced some form of fat talk across the seven-day period.

“Seventy-one per cent of participants reported making negative comments about their own body or appearance, 70%  of participants made negative comments about the body or appearance of another person and 49% of participants reported overhearing someone else engage in fat talk. It’s really, really common,” Dr Mills says. “The findings indicate that fat talk has a negative impact on body satisfaction levels. This seems to be partially explained by appearance-based comparisons – looking at someone else, such as a friend or an image of a celebrity on social media, and comparing an aspect of your appearance with the other person’s appearance – which reinforced women’s negative feelings about aspects of their bodies.”

Dr Mills’s research highlights the importance of women’s social networks in helping or hindering the cultivation of positive body image.

“Other research shows that women believe engaging in fat talk is expected of them and that it’s a social norm to talk in a negative way about your body. Thankfully, friends also have the ability to reverse the effects of fat talk by challenging it or refusing to engage in it.”

The upside to committing to positive body language around my children is that my mind has followed suit. I have faked positive body image to the point that I have now (sort of) got it.

The next time you catch up with friends or even comment on their photos, make a point of not commenting about their appearance or your own.

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