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.
Jacqueline Gum says
What a fantastic exercise! I’m not sure that advertising will ever really change, or that what we see in magazines defines a beauty will ever change, so I do think this needs to start at a young age and at home. Feeling loved as a child is everything. Punishment for failures should never be felt as a withdrawal of love.
No, advertising will always be about the bottom line. I agree that we have to take a part in helping the next generation look past media hype to see their own worth from a young age.
Beth Niebuhr says
What a terrific exercise! It should be taught in high school, maybe before and at least once a year forever! What is so sad is that children receive messages that cause them to look askance at their bodies at such young ages and even indulge in very unhealthy habits.
It is interesting Beth that we don’t really address self-image in schools. I would think that is as worthwhile to learn as any other subject.
If only the average 13 year old girl knew that celebrities were photoshopped to within an inch of their life. They try to emulate these women and are taken in by the false image presented to them by the media.
Great practical exercises to actively apply to our lives.
Yes Phoenicia, I remember falling for that when I was 13. It wasn’t until I had one of my first jobs at 20. There were a lot of models who came into where I worked and I was shocked that, without makeup, they just looked like normal people.
Good suggestions, Erica, that mothers should teach their daughters at a young age, before they develop anorexia or bullima. All because homosexual fashion designers started using models so thin they looked like skeletons. And even those girls are actually photoshopped.
I agree Catarina that teaching self-worth should start at home. When kids don’t feel worthy, they also tend to go down the wrong path as well.
Marquita Herald says
This is a wonderful exercise Erica! I had a horrible image of my entire self when I was a kid as a result of several years of bullying. I can clearly remember avoiding looking in the mirror because I couldn’t bare to look at myself. It took a lot to work through that but it can be done and I’m all for teaching children – especially girls – at a young age to value themselves. Thanks for the inspiration!
That is so horrible that bullying made you not want to look in a mirror. I’m glad you were able to work through it and start to heal.
Love it, Love it, love it. This is so needed. I always wonder why is it that the people (women) who go through so much change in their body (child birth, hormones etc.) have to deal with so much negative body image pressure. I know men might get pressure as well but I believe women have it worse.
I think that is such a good point you make, Sacha. Women are actually able to create life with their bodies. It is amazing that society has depicted this stick thin ideal for women despite the fact that women’s bodies have to adapt to the needs of creation.
We have what we think our bodies should like because of Madison Avenue Hipe. We forget that what is in the heart should be our body image and not the physical image. Interesting when I was on vacation the room next to me was an actress of whom I will not mention. I always thought wow she is beautiful. At the hotel I saw her without makeup and thought again, whatever makeup she is using I want to buy it. We should embrace the skin we are in and look at everyday as an opportunity
Arleen, I love the celebrities that have been brave enough to stand next to their photoshopped selves. I think they are doing a great service to all people by showing that even they don’t look the way magazines make them look.
Ken Dowell says
It certainly doesn’t help that there are so many people who have a vested interest in convincing us that there is something wrong or imperfect about our bodies. You mentioned fashion magazines, but think of all the marketers whose job it is to make us self-conscious about the whiteness of our teeth, the perfectness of our complexion or the amount (or lack of) hair on our heads or bodies.
I agree Ken. If there is money to be made, there is a company willing to sell a product. This is kind of a different topic, but I swear some drug companies are inventing diseases at this point so they can advertise their cure
Erica, this is an amazing exercise that I think should, in appropriate age terms, be added to every year in the school’s curriculum. What a difference this could make to a child’s life.
Yes, many of us needed this as little kids. And I believe many adults need it as well, especially when they’ve never fully addressed their feelings of insecurity.
Meredith @ The Palette Muse says
Wow, this is really powerful Erica! I think you could also apply this to any area that you have insecurities about. And I agree with Lenie’s comment above!
I know. There are so many ways to be insecure, aren’t there? It would be great if more of us were able to find comfort in who we are on all different levels.
Pamela Chollet says
This is a great exercise Erica. As I was reading it I thought another benefit of the exercise, Looking down at the sheet of paper and seeing a bunch of descriptive words. I think if I read list I’d say to myself, “Yeah but…I’m really more than that”.
Great idea, Pamela. I would hope that others would react that way as well.
I would agree that this exercise and state of mind is important. I think most of us get into a way of bad thinking about our bodies from a really young age, so I think the earlier you learn this, the better.
Thanks for sharing. xoxo, Christina (Copy Her Style)
William Rusho says
What a great exercise. I think anytime we can self-evaluate is important. It is vital we can look at ourselves with eyes that are not colored because of our ego, and your exercise helps with that. Thank you for sharing this with us.
Sabrina Quairoli says
Great exercise Erica. I think I will share this with my kids and have them do it with me.
I love this!! I am working on writing my ebook about how I changed the image of myself. I love empowered women!! We all deserve to be happy with ourselves!
Chrissa - Physical Kitchness says
I love this suggestion you have to self reflect. Too many times we focus on the negatives about ourselves and let that consume us. Great post!
V. Dotter says
What a great share and I love your points to ponder. Your task is great visual that is sometimes easy to say, but difficult to grasp, because it is seems like such an enormous personal undertaking. I believe in lists. Writing things down makes it seem so much more relative and releases the burden.
When you read an article like this it seems that it should be common sense however we are so bombarded with advertising and images that suggest over and over that the way we look just isn’t quite right; it becomes a life long battle. I do agree that starting this paradigm shift in personal respect should start as early as possible in life.
Thank you Erica. I struggle so much with body image, because it’s so easy to focus on the negatives. I can’t wait to do your exercise! Thanks for being transparent.