Experts say this is exactly the way you can learn to appreciate your body
It’s no secret that even the most confident people can struggle with body positivity, because when we’re constantly being bombarded with messaging about how we can “improve” our bodies, it can be downright impossible to appreciate the body we’ve got. But with so much focus in advertising and on social media about looking a certain way, losing weight, or changing our (apparently flawed) appearance, it can be seriously hard to love your body just as it is today.
Turns out, there are plenty of easy ways to help yourself actually live body positivity, and none of them include diets, detoxes, or Instagram fitspo. In fact, there’s one simple way you can help yourself appreciate your body on days when loving it is a struggle, and it has absolutely nothing to do with what you look like in a swimsuit or in your latest selfie. A recent article in Psychology Today points out that one powerful way to feel better about your body involves simply shifting your perspective. Instead of focusing on how your body looks, you can feel grateful for what your body can do.
It’s a challenging concept to grasp in a culture where beauty standards are impossibly narrow and so few body types are adequately represented, but instead of worrying about whether your body is “good enough,” you can try to focus on all the amazing things it does for you every single day. Allow us to explain.
Jessica Alleva, Ph.D. writes that instead of focusing on your body’s appearance, focus on its functionality. It can be tough to do that given that we live in an appearance-obsessed culture, but Alleva insists that simply shifting the focus can improve your body image, instead of worrying about measuring up to unrealistic (and often unhealthy) cultural standards of beauty that so few of us meet. She explains,
"Research shows that focusing too much on our appearance can make us feel badly about our bodies, especially when we focus more on how our bodies look than on what our bodies can do. By training people to focus on their body functionality, we can help them to regain a more balanced perspective toward their bodies."
But what exactly does this all mean? Alleva notes that functionality often involves the things we take for granted that our bodies do each day, whether that’s simply being strong enough to carry us through our days or giving us the ability to hug our loved ones. She added, “Focusing on why body functionality is personally meaningful — e.g., ‘My body can give my children a hug and be a shoulder to cry on, and this helps me to express my love for my family’ — can also help people to appreciate the things their bodies can do that are often taken for granted.”
According to her research, there are several key components that can help you appreciate your body just as it is — and none of them involve how many miles you can run, how “clean” you’ve been eating, or what size tag is in your jeans.
First, you can acknowledge your body’s internal and external capabilities, which we rarely give ourselves credit for. For example, the fact that your body works to keep you alive each day without you even having to do anything is actually pretty incredible if you think about it. This can certainly vary based on your individual body (for example, if you’re struggling with mental and/or physical illness or disability), but no matter what is happening in your body at any given moment, you can find a way to appreciate that your heart is simply beating, which is amazing on its own.
Alleva points out that “body functionality is not limited to able-bodied individuals,” adding, “For example, even if someone is not able to walk, that does not mean that he or she does not have a functional body. After all, body functions are diverse, and each body is functional in its own way.”
If focusing on physical capabilities still makes you feel bad about yourself, you can also focus on bodily sensations — all the things your body feels and experiences. Whether that’s the joy you get from eating your favorite food or hearing your favorite song, those little pleasures are all what makes you unique. Similarly, you can focus on your creative endeavors, which can include singing and dancing to that favorite song.
You can also appreciate your body’s ability to communicate, which can be verbal or non-verbal. For example, hugging your loved ones or expressing your feelings however you feel comfortable is such a powerful tool to help you feel better in your own skin.
Lastly, if you’re in a place where it’s just too hard to focus on loving your body, you can simply try to care for it in any way you can — and that has nothing to do with what your body can do, but rather what you choose to do for your body. If self-care involves resting as much as possible because leaving the house requires too much effort, there is nothing wrong with that. You are entitled to do whatever it is you need to do to care for yourself, no matter how big or small.
A few easy ways to actually achieve this appreciation for body involve writing down what your body does that you’re most grateful for and storing them in a place you’ll frequently see them (by your bed, in the bathroom, or at your desk, for example). Checking in throughout the day about how you feel and giving yourself what you need helps, too, especially if that means you need to up your level of self-care. These little steps can help you feel more appreciative of your own body without trying to change it or love it, because sometimes simply feeling neutral about your body is the best gift you can give it. And those good feelings will last longer than any juice cleanse or diet “detox” you’ll read about on social media.