Dating is difficult enough when we are focused on finding a partner, but when we are more zeroed in on our own shortcomings, it can be nearly impossible. Having a negative body image can derail our thoughts and even our relationships.
It’s a problem many in the dating world share, as approximately 91% of women and 80% of men are unhappy with their bodies. If you are out on a first date, chances are whoever you are with has issues with his or her body.
That unhealthy body image can lead to fewer dates, and, if you’re in a relationship, it can cause problems with intimacy. But acknowledging that self-doubt and negativity can be the first step to an improved view of your body and a better relationship. Here are 10 tips for maintaining (or creating) a healthy body image.
1. Throw Out Your Image of the Perfect Body
The “perfect body” myth has been floating around our society for a long time, and it can make people set unrealistic expectations for themselves — and others. The way to change this is surprisingly simple but can be a shock to our social system.
It’s time to throw out our image of the perfect body. For women, this is the standard of Victoria’s Secret Angel thinness, and for men, it’s the lean, muscular physique of a professional athlete. These standards can fundamentally alter our self-image and have even been linked to obesity and eating disorders.
Ignore the media and cultural stereotypes and focus on what makes you unique and how to be as healthy as possible, inside and out. Once these unattainable ideals are put to rest, you can learn to fully love the body you are in.
2. Ditch the Diet Mentality and Embrace Health
According to a study by Tallinn University, participants who were either on a diet or had recently ended one were more likely to be self-conscious about their bodies. In turn, women in the study who were not dieting had increased levels of body acceptance and self-esteem. They were also happier in their relationships, had less inhibition in the bedroom, and led more fulfilling sex lives.
So instead of going hardcore on the latest fad diet, embrace healthy choices. If you think you’re eating too many carbs, cut them out of one meal and see if you have more energy. Eat more colors for an array of vitamins and minerals, which can keep you energized, bright-eyed, and clear-skinned. Treat your body like a temple, not a tent you put up and tear down in a matter of minutes. Not only could you look better, but you could feel better, too.
3. Stay Active — Even if You Don’t Go to The Gym
Not only does exercise strengthen muscles and give you greater flexibility, according to ACOG, but it can also relieve stress and reduce anxiety. It has been shown a single 25- to 60-minute session of exercise (you can do something as simple as taking a walk) increases positive mood while decreasing negative feelings. Exercise can also have a positive influence on self-esteem, with aerobic exercise providing the greatest confidence boost
Even better than staying active solo is getting your heart rate up with someone else. An excellent way to maintain a healthy body image while dating is to participate in activities as a couple. Get out of the movie and dinner rut — or Netflix and chill — and replace it with hitting some golf balls at the driving range or going for a day hike. Not only will you feel great, but you will also be saved from a case of the dating doldrums.
4. If You Need It, Seek Professional Help
For some people, negative body image is so deep-seated it may require professional help from a trained counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist to get back on the path to self-acceptance. Talking about negative feelings and finding ways to transform your thinking may be the best way to learn to love your body and communicate with those you date.
Trained professionals can help you identify triggers that bring on negative feelings. They can also help you find strategies to stop negative thoughts and replace them with positive affirmations. Another reason to seek help is to evaluate whether your body image issues are due to self-doubt or if they may be linked to depression.
5. Eliminate the Negative Self-Talk
One of the worst things a person can do on a first date is lead with their insecurities. Advertising why someone should not date you is counter-productive. However, this unhealthy behavior has been ingrained into our brains, especially for women.
Being positive about oneself is often associated with being conceited or self-absorbed, so we often end up on the other side of the spectrum. As Ann Kearney-Cooke, Ph.D., a psychologist specializing in body image, says: “It’s become such an accepted norm to put yourself down that if someone says she likes her body, she’s the odd woman out.”
In fact, a recent study by Glamour Magazine that surveyed more than 300 women of varying shapes and sizes, found 97% of the women studied had one “I hate my body” moment per day. On average, this study found the women had 13 negative self-talk moments in a single day.
Now that you know your inner mean girl is alive and well, you can shut her down. Every time you have a negative thought about yourself, stop it in its tracks and affirm your value with positivity instead. Next, appreciate your body for all it does. Instead of saying “Ugh, my arms are huge!” replace that thought with “My arms are strong enough to bring in seven grocery bags at once!”
Finally, stop comparing yourself to others. One of my favorite things to do when I start the merry-go-round of comparisons is to whisper to myself: “I will not attend pageants I did not sign up for.” It reminds me that I’m not in competition with anyone else.
6. Don’t Compromise
A little compromise in a relationship is healthy. But if you’re being asked by a partner or prospective partner to compromise who you are, that is unhealthy and is one of the red flags to be aware of when you’re in a relationship. You should never feel pressured to alter your body, work out, eat a certain way, or dress a certain way (naming a few) to please a partner.
If you see yourself making significant changes in your life, or if friends or family bring it to your attention, take some time to assess the motivation behind the change. If it isn’t coming from you, chances are you’re doing it to please someone else, and that can hurt your self-esteem and body image even more. If a partner doesn’t accept you for who you are — every glorious bump and wobbly-bit — they most likely aren’t worth your time.
7. Take the Compliment
Don’t you hate it when you give someone a compliment and they refuse it? For example, I may tell my best friend “I would kill for your legs; they look amazing in those jeans,” and she counters with “But I have no butt, and my breasts are sagging.” Not accepting a compliment is a sign of negative body image.
Compliments improve body image, so long as we believe them. According to a study featured in Forbes, receiving a compliment elicits the same rewarding feeling in our brain as receiving money. Learn to take compliments as if someone were handing you $1,000 and the mental benefits could be the same.
8. Practice Self-Care
Practicing self-care has a broad meaning, but it comes down to one thing: loving and caring for what you have now. We often get so lost in the hopes for what our bodies will look like tomorrow, next month, or next year that we forget to take care of the present.
Self-care is simply ensuring your body gets optimum sleep, hydration, food, and exercise. It has also come to mean engaging in some form of self-pampering, like taking a sauna or a bath, moisturizing each day, or meditating. Finally, a critical skill in self-care is self-soothing, which brings us a greater feeling of well-being and, in turn, can lead to a healthier self-image.
9. Take a Pic
Celebrities are always snapping selfies to raise awareness, but it can be a good idea to take a few private pics of yourself in whatever you feel confident wearing. Revisit those photos later and appraise your unique and sexy self.
You don’t need to be naked to practice body positivity, and you don’t have to share the photos with anyone but yourself. If you feel best in a red flannel shirt and glasses, go for it. Confidence doesn’t have a prescribed wardrobe; it is as unique as you are. If you don’t mind spending a few bucks, hire a professional photographer for a photo session.
10. Be Confident, Not Self-Depreciating
One study confirmed both men and women find confidence to be a very attractive trait in a partner. We often subdue self-confidence because we have been taught it might come off as narcissistic. However, that is only a concern for a small fraction of the population.
Self-confidence allows you to ask for what you want like commitment over settling for something casual when that isn’t what you want. It sets the standard for how you will be treated as well as builds healthy boundaries. People are also naturally attracted to those with organic self-confidence, and it can reinforce positive body image.
Each Journey to Self-Acceptance is Different, But You Can Get There
Self-acceptance does not have one particular path, timeline, or strategy. It’s often a winding and bumpy road that, at times, may seem to be going in circles. Many paths exist to get there; some may work for you while others might not.
The best way to gain self-acceptance is to pick a path and care for yourself in the way you deserve.