Around Valentine’s Day, Canadians fuss over how they show loved ones how much they care. What are the most heartfelt gifts to give? Words to say? Flowers to give? (Maybe think twice on the rose bouquet …) With all this rumination on romancing others, loving ourselves gets left by the wayside.
Self-love is challenging to feel for many, as we’re our own biggest critics. The brunt of the bashing tends to start with what we see in the mirror — after all, there’s a reason why droves head to the gym for their New Year’s resolutions and why so many equate wellness with slimness.
Why is it important to love our bodies? Not doing so can impact our entire outlook. Body image, mental health and self-esteem directly influence each other, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) notes, as regularly focusing on perceived physical shortcomings can translate to negative thinking about other aspects.
Breaking up with one’s vicious cycle of body-hating is hard, but not impossible. If you’re looking to start a whirlwind romance with your body, here’s how to do it:
Start with a body scan
Good news: You’re hotter than you think you are, according to science. Research shows that we tend to magnify our physical flaws, when in reality others don’t notice these traits as much as we think they do. The bad news: Because your gaze is so used to lingering on what you hate, you’ve unconsciously trained yourself to feel dissatisfaction on reflex. Feeling this uncomfortable can lead to feeling disconnected from your body or, in some cases, turn into body dysmorphic disorder.
How can you unlearn this muscle memory? One way is through mindfulness, which asks practitioners to take stock of themselves through body scans. As a UC Berkeley health project indicates, body scans help us notice both what emotions a certain body part evokes and how that may manifest; clenching, tightening and unease are common responses. Without trying to change that body part, practitioners may find relief in acknowledging a difference between how they feel about their body and how their body actually experiences physical sensations.
Work out with the right intentions
Exercise can cultivate unhealthy relationships with our bodies, but a healthy motivation has been proven to improve your self-esteem; if you’re able to appreciate how your body improves at running or lifting weights, you’ll feel much better about its worth in a way that doesn’t relate to how it looks.
10 Ways to get motivated for a morning workout. Story continues after the slideshow.
As Everyday Feminism’s Sarah Ogden Trotta says about exercise, moving with purpose made her realize her body was more than an object to be fat-shamed. “It helps me to feel powerful and strong and has helped to repair my traumatized and eating disordered relationship with my body. My body is capable of so much — and so am I,” she wrote.
Combat your distorted mirror with affirmative talk
Anyone can have a toxic relationship with their body, from conventionally attractive celebrities like Billie Eilish to the lonely men who self-identify as incels and obsess over their facial structures. However, women and youth are especially likely to develop this problem. A global poll found that one in five Canadian women were unhappy with their bodies and around 42 to 45 per cent of Canadian students weren’t satisfied with their size, according to a national quadrennial study.
Watch: Billie Eilish opens about her “toxic” relationship with her body. Story continues below.
Peer pressure in one’s community can also impact body image: Many gay men report feeling unhappy with their bodies and children of immigrants may struggle with family conversations about their appearances.
To deprogram yourself, start small. When you catch yourself looking at something you dislike in the mirror, force yourself to thank that body part. It can help to say how the body part helps you in your everyday life or to remind yourself how it helps the rest of your body function.
“Thighs, thank you for carrying me where I want to go. Belly, thank you for helping me digest. Skin, thank you for protecting me,” dietician Christy Brisette wrote as affirmation examples on her site.
Treat your body like royalty
Pampering our bodies isn’t just a frivolous indulgence. These rituals can form positive associations with body parts that, if done often enough, can be stronger than your anxieties.
If you start associating your hair with a relaxing hair mask routine, your brain will be reminded of how relaxed you feel, which encourages self-love over intrusive negativity thoughts.
Smash shame with allies
Canadians whose bodies don’t fit societal norms, such as bigger individuals, may have a harder time loving their bodies, as society may demean people who look like them.
Edith Bernier is a body-positive writer from Quebec. She founded Grossophobie, a blog that provides resources on fatphobia. She notes that for herself and others of bigger sizes, isolation is a major defence mechanism.
“The world can be a rather unsafe place when you’re a bigger person. Sometimes it feels safer to stay at home,” she told HuffPost Canada, adding that the stigma of weighing more can lead to depression or anxiety. “All these microaggressions throughout the day reminds you that the world is not meant for a body like yours. The struggle is real.”
The solution to isolation and shame is finding allies, especially those who will listen to how you feel about your body and can comfort you, Bernier advised.
“It can be really hard to express it, but there are people who are willing to help you carry that weight,” she said. For those who can’t find this support in-person, online communities have been proven to improve well-being: A study of the “Fatosphere,” as online fat acceptance communities are known as, showed that users felt more self-acceptance about their bodies when they started communicating with people who could relate to their struggles.
Start unfollowing people on social media
Women who spent over 20 hours a week online were three times more likely to dislike their body than those online for less than an hour, a Simon Fraser University study found. As researcher Allison Carter told CBC, this statistic doesn’t suggest screentime is the problem; pervasive, impossible ideals on social media are.
“In today’s age, with the rapid rise of Facebook and Instagram, the opportunities for appearance comparisons are unprecedented,” Carter said.
That’s why Bernier recommends changing what you consume online: Unfollow accounts that provoke negative thoughts about one’s body and follow people who look like you.
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