Self image insecurities affect a wide range of people.We’re taught from an early age that being a winner has merit. There is pressure to get in the top preschool. There is the focus on winning at little league. And television shows like Toddlers and Tiaras to Dance Moms feature parents fighting for their kid’s chance at first place.
Many of us grow up with the subliminal messages that anything short of perfection is a failure. When we come in second, we’ve lost first place. And a number of us spend our lives compensating for these losses, constantly begging that the world to forgive us for falling short.
So it makes sense that so many of us would have self image issues.
When the intangible soul feels broken, the tangible body tends to be the first to take the blame. Growing up with the constant desire to come in first often means that we’re dealing with a deficit in feelings of self-worth. Since our bodies stand as our logo, our trademark, the thing that first presents us to the world, self image is a frequent source of insecurity.
Of course, fashion magazines don’t make things easier for us. All this airbrushing and retouching has likened our physiques to any other computer generated graphics. Ad executives sit around a boardroom to choose the best angle for their latest campaign. And the human body now goes through this same evaluation process before any publication hits the newsstand. How is self image meant to thrive, when the model we most often see of a human body is computer generated and fictionalized based on projected ideals?
Many of us need as much help healing our self-perception as we do with changing the way our bodies look. When we let go of body image shame, our bodies feel a lot lighter.
So here is my exercise for helping move self image from the negative to the positive:
1. Take a clean piece of paper and number it on the left-hand column.
Write down everything you believe that falls short about yourself. Focus at first on the non-superficial. So this might have to do with achievements, relationships, employment, etc. Remember I said that our appearance tends to take the blame for a multitude of insecurities? We need to be mindful to address those other insecurities as well.
2. Next, take a second piece of paper and number it on the left-hand side in the same way.
This time you are going to write down the qualities you like in yourself. This list might take a bit longer. We tend not to obsess about our strengths. Be patient with yourself and don’t stop until you have an equal number of items in both lists. If you really can’t think of the good, poll your friends or trusted loved ones. You may be surprised in what others see in you.
3. Now, we’re going to have a little fun with the two lists.
When I was a little kid, I used to play a word game called Mad Libs. If you’re not familiar with how this game works, Mad Libs starts with a story that is missing essential words. You then get your friend to fill in the blanks of the story by asking them for words that match certain criteria. In the exercise, instead of asking a friend for words, you are going to fill in the blanks with your 2 lists. I’ll give you some sample sentences to fill in from your list, but feel free to create your own following this model.
Example Sentence 1:
I told myself that I (item from list 1), but it turns out I really (item from list 2).
Example Sentence 2:
I told myself I was unlovable because of (item from list 1), but I realize how much I love (item from list 2) in myself.
Example Sentence 3:
I will no longer believe (item from list 1) about myself because the truth is (item from list 2).
I’ll use an example from my own life.
I’ve mentioned before how I struggled physically as a child after not getting the physical therapy I needed to recuperate from an illness. To this day, I can be prone to feel incapable which can translate into a negative self image. But by doing this, I’m only focusing on one part of the story. So my sentence goes as follows –
I tell myself that at my core I’m still that incapable child always picked last for sports teams, but…
The real truth about me is that I’m so capable, good-hearted and brave that I took on a difficult challenge of riding 275 miles from Boston to New York, and I did it while raising $2000 for charity.
It is a true story that I rode all that distance while raising money for charity, but that experience always leaves the equation when I evaluate myself. Funny how the mind can do that. Make sure to do this exercise for every item on your list.
4. Now cross out the first part of the sentence.
Since you’ve proved that theory wrong, you don’t need it anymore. Take what remains of your Mad Libs like creations and hang them somewhere that you look every day. Heck, you can even hang it on the bathroom mirror. What better place to remember your good points than where you tend to be most critical. Make sure that you put it somewhere you will constantly see it because you want the message to make its way into your psyche.
5. Take your list of the negatives.
Spend a moment and tell yourself that you forgive yourself for being so hard on yourself. Then set the list free. This might mean sending it into the air in a balloon. Perhaps you (safely) burn it and watch the ashes freely fly away. Whatever you end up doing, make sure to let it go in a gentle, loving way.
Self image issues aren’t something that can usually be cured overnight. Bad memories can’t be erased with a magic wand. And you might want to take the time to speak with a therapist or counselor. But being diligent in loving ourselves can breed change over time. Whatever we are today is worthy. While the drive for perfection often finds the negatives, we can change that pattern by changing our focus.