Be Kind To Yourself

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When any New Year arrives, it carries a lot with it: a clean slate, hope for a brighter year, and endless possibilities. It also brings some baggage: TV and radio ads; emails and social media posts encouraging you to lose weight, get in shape, and discover a “new you.”

For too many years, I fell prey to those messages, and my New Year’s resolutions included losing weight and hitting a target number. And every year I failed. Finally, a few years ago I made one New Year’s resolution: to give up resolutions. Now, throughout every year, I try to focus on living a healthy lifestyle and appreciating my body rather than demonizing it — after all, it does nearly everything I ask of it!

The movements to encourage body positivity and body neutrality have been gaining momentum, and that’s just what we need. In a June 2021 Verywell Mind article[1] , Kristen Fuller, M.D. defines body neutrality this way: “… promotes accepting your body as is and recognizing its remarkable abilities and non-physical characteristics instead of the physical appearance.” As an example of body neutrality, Fuller says, “…your body can run, ski, carry bags of groceries, give hugs to loved ones, birth a child, and take you to many places around the world. Your body can do amazing things!” In regard to body positivity, Fuller writes that it is a term “…designed to help people accept who they are and love their body shape” and to “…shift unrealistic feminine beauty standards into a more whole-bodied, realistic approach.”

As far as shifting unrealistic feminine beauty standards, actress Jameela Jamil (The Good Place) launched an Instagram account, I Weigh, in March 2018 to help women realize that their self-worth goes far beyond their bodies and how much they weigh. The original bio for the account read, “Hi I’m @jameelajamil this is my ‘I Weigh’ movement. For us to feel valuable and see how amazing we are, and look beyond the flesh on our bones.” Today, the account has 1.3 million followers.

Sure, we want to be kinder to ourselves about our bodies and the flaws that we see within them, but how can we do that? I reached out to a handful of women and asked them to share their tips: Angelica Ventrice, a mindset and wellness coach; Morit Summers, coach at Boostamp app and author of Big & Bold: Strength Training For The Plus-Size Woman; Ella Magers, trainer, podcaster and creator of the Self-Empowerment Coaching System (SECS); fitness and nutrition expert Tiana Segalas; and Dr. Elizabeth Wassenaar, a regional medical director of the Eating Recovery Center.

“To get to a place of body autonomy, start with acknowledging and naming where things are now,” advises Dr. Wassenaar. “Many people are in a position of believing that body hatred is ‘normal’ and that their value is intrinsically tied to how their body looks and what it does for others. They may have never asked the questions, ‘how do I feel about my body?,’ or, ‘what do I want my body to do for me?.’

“By beginning to name where one is today AND that one would like things to be different, one can begin to practice replacing body hatred (i.e 'I hate my thighs’) with body neutral statements (i.e. ‘I have thighs),” she continues. “It can feel kind of silly at first, but then you can begin to build on those neutral statements with body autonomous statements like, ‘my thighs are strong and let me play soccer.’ 

“Practice noticing how your body benefits you and lets you do things you value,” adds Dr. Wassenaar. “By doing so, you will begin to separate your value from what others think your body should be and look like.”

“Ultimately, the first step to healing any process is bringing awareness to it,” says Segalas. “It is easy to get caught up in the ‘should’ feeling of where you ‘should’ be right now, how you ‘should’ look, etc. It is easy to think you ‘should’ be better than where you currently are. And it is OKAY to want more for yourself. 

“...by taking positive actions based on conscious, positive thinking, you will get positive results,” says Magers. “With consistency, over time, you will reprogram your mind with new, positive thought-patterns — your new reality!”

“The thought pattern to work on is to not negate or forget all the work you've done on yourself, all that you've gone through to bring you to the moment you are in right now,” she adds. “One day, you will get where your current ideal image is, and want more of something else. So cherish the journey and acknowledge the work you're putting into it.” 

“The truth is, we are here to have the full human experience,” says Magers. “We cannot know happiness if we don’t feel sad at times. We need the yin and the yang to create a holistic life. In fact, believing we’re supposed to feel positive all the time is the very thing that can cause MORE sadness, stress and anxiety, and can lead to self-sabotaging behavior.

"There is a direct correlation between thoughts and emotions. Our thoughts create our emotions,” she continues. “The great news is that we have the power to change our thoughts, and in turn, change our emotions.” She adds that it often takes some time for our new thoughts to create new emotions. 

“In the meantime, by taking positive actions based on conscious, positive thinking, you will get positive results,” says Magers. “With consistency, over time, you will reprogram your mind with new, positive thought-patterns — your new reality!”

“Some tools I personally use and have my clients implement to shift negative thoughts are meditation, particularly gratitude based ones, journaling (brain dumps are helpful), breathwork, joyful movement such as dancing or yoga, and reframes,” says Ventrice. She gives this example of reframing:

         Example: I am so out of shape right now.
         Reframe: I may not be in my optimal shape, but I am doing my best to make changes to achieve my desired goal of ______.

“Obviously, like anything else, this is a practice and takes patience and work,” she adds.

Taking a “fake it ’til you make it” approach works for Summers.

“Honestly, my favorite one [tip] is fake it till you make it. We have to change our words, our thoughts, our conversations, what we are listening to and seeing in order to change something that has likely been with us for most of our lives,” she says. “So, we have to fake it a bit before we start to not just believe it, but before it becomes something that is ingrained and much more natural to us.

“I talk to clients about using mantras or affirmations, listening to podcasts and reading books that put them in a good head space,” Summers continues. “To use words that are positive not negative, and if they do say something negative to say it again but after they have thought about it and reworded it. It’s not normal for anyone to be positive 100% of the time, but we definitely can help our mental state and mindset by being kind to ourselves with a more positive attitude and outlook.”

When asked what we can do to develop a healthy mindset when it comes to our bodies, Ventrice says, “The most important thing we can do is to show it GRATITUDE & RESPECT. This includes how you speak to yourself daily, and how you take care of yourself nutritionally, mentally, and physically.” 

With her clients, Ventrice reminds them the importance of remembering all the amazing things their bodies have led them through and helped them to accomplish within their lifetime. She also says, “Two vital questions that have helped my healthy mindset around my body are asking myself, what do I love about my body, and what aspects of it am I grateful for?” 

“We only have one body to experience life in,” Segalas reminds us. “Our bodies are resilient, and regardless of what they go through, they always hold us up, whether it is standing, sitting, or lying down. If you want your body to ‘look’ a different way, identify if that is because of something you want, or something society has made you think you need.

“Start appreciating what is happening inside your body, the breath your lungs are able to take, the digestion your insides are able to process, the blood flow circulating to keep you warm and your heart pumping,” she continues. "That is all work your body is doing, it is going to keep doing what it needs to keep you alive. Don't be mad at it for not ‘looking’ a certain way. The more we appreciate all the work our bodies are doing to keep us alive, the more love we can give them to help our minds catch up with it.”

Summers agrees. “We have to learn to accept our bodies for what they are. We don't have to love it everyday or every minute, but we do have to appreciate the body that we live in everyday.” 

When Summers looks at herself in the mirror every morning, she says she tries to find something she appreciates about herself — maybe her hair looks good or her eyes are sparkling.

“[It] probably seems like nothing, but it means I'm being kind to myself,” she says. “One day it might be a bigger thing, like my arms look good today. It doesn’t actually matter, but if you want to work on changing your mindset about your body you have to actually do the work. It doesn't happen overnight, it takes time.”

Thinking positively about ourselves has a bigger impact than we may think.

“Thinking positively about our bodies — and ourselves, for that matter — naturally trickles into every arena in our lives,” says Ventrice. “Our careers, our relationships, our daily energy and, most importantly, our happiness.”

“Thinking positively about our bodies — and ourselves, for that matter — naturally trickles into every arena in our lives,” says Ventrice. “Our careers, our relationships, our daily energy and, most importantly, our happiness.”

“Loving your body is a prerequisite for changing it,” says Magers. “Meaning, it’s only when you love, value, and respect your whole self, including your body, that you will begin to consistently make choices that will result in a healthy body.

“Instead of working out and dieting to punish yourself because you hate your body, train your brain to work out and nourish yourself with healthy whole plant foods because you LOVE your body and know you deserve to feel your best,” she adds. “Willpower is no longer of consequence when you value yourself and are living, eating, and moving from a place of self-worth.

“Start by examining your own beliefs about your body and the value you place on appearance,” suggests Dr. Wassenaar. “Notice when you talk to yourself about what you deserve or earn, based on your size or shape or exercise. Notice if you devalue yourself, either explicitly, like looking in the mirror and saying you dislike something, or implicitly, by holding yourself back from doing something fun because you dislike your body.

“If you hold yourself back from engaging in certain activities for this reason, it tells your friends and family that you are not worthy of having fun because your body is not acceptable and ties together your experience of your body with your experience of the world,” she continues. “Practice the sticky note-mirror exercise as an adult and saying neutral or positive things to yourself about your body so that you can pass that on… that you are worth more than your experience of your body and that every body is acceptable.”

“The more positively you think about your body, when you really start believing in what it is capable of, the healthier you become,” says Segalas. “Our bodies are about health, not looks. It's time we start changing that viewpoint in society and look inward vs. outward.”

From her perspective, Summers says that thinking positively about ourselves means we can stop wasting energy on self-hate. 

“From my personal experience, I wasted a lot of my life being angry. I hated my body and it would come out as anger,” she recalls. “The only things I ever thought about were how to change my body, diet, exercise, considering surgery.  It was the only thing on my mind.

“Since I have taken the time to work on myself, I'm honestly no longer an angry person,” Summers continues. “I have my days just like anyone, but I love my body, I love what it looks like, what it's capable of, and I'm grateful that I no longer waste all of my energy thinking about it.”

Magers wraps up with this thought: “You are not a body. You have a body. You are a soul. Take care of the body you have, so you have a healthy vessel for your soul to reside while you navigate this game we call life.”

Tags: Body Image, Body Positivity, Self Care, Self Confidence

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Written By

Susan Barnes

Susan B. Barnes is a Tampa-based freelance travel and lifestyle journalist with bylines in myriad national and regional publications. See Full Bio

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