Here’s what you should do before you wrap a towel around your body. (Photo: Getty Images)
Does this sound familiar? The second you get out of the shower you immediately wrap a towel around your body before risking catching a glimpse of exposed flesh. If so, experts say you’re missing out on an important self-esteem booster.
Checking yourself out in the buff “desensitizes you to being so negative about your body,” clinical psychologist and body image expert Amy L. Flowers, PhD, tells Yahoo Health. “It normalizes the experience.”
It makes sense to do it — the mirror is usually right there — but most of us strain to avoid looking at our naked bodies.
Psychologist and body image expert Sari Shepphird, PhD, says there are two main reasons for that:
We tend to zero in on our flaws instead of our assets.
We naturally compare ourselves with others.
“We’re kind of trained in our society to think about the ways we can improve upon ourselves,” she says. “But the more we focus on our flaws, the more they’re magnified — and then we’re going to want to avoid looking at our bodies in general.”
The comparison instinct is also an issue, Shepphird says, because our minds naturally tend to go to the societal standards of perfection. And if you don’t look like a swimsuit model (because few people do), you feel as if you just don’t measure up physically.
Enter the mirror trick. To do it (and do it in a positive way), Shepphird recommends looking at yourself and naming five things you’re grateful for about your body or five things you like about your body on that day. It can be as small as liking the way your toenails are painted. Then, go about your usual post-shower routine. It seems minor, but it “can be very transformational,” Shepphird says.
If you struggle to come up with positive thoughts, Flowers recommends trying to remember any compliments or positive comments you’ve received about how you look. If you still don’t like what you see, you can also remind yourself that you’ve been exercising and eating healthy lately — both of which are good for your body.
Suffer from mirror anxiety? Start slow. Shepphird recommends trying the mirror trick once a week and building up to the point where you’re comfortable looking at yourself every day. Eventually, you won’t need to list out what you like about your body — you’ll just be more positive about it naturally.
Body-Peace Resolution is Yahoo Health’s January initiative to motivate you to pursue wellness goals that are not vanity-driven, but that strive for more meaningful outcomes. We’re talking strength, mental fitness, self-acceptance — true and total body peace. Our big hope: This month of resolutions will inspire a body-peace revolution. Want to join us? Start by sharing your own body-positive moments on social media using the hashtag #bodypeaceresolution
It takes two minutes to change your perception of body size
A new study from Macquarie University has found that people’s perception of their own and other people’s body weight can change in as little as two minutes.
The study looked at how the perceptual mechanisms in a person’s brain adapt in response to images of one’s own or other people’s bodies that have been manipulated to look thinner or fatter than they really are.
“After two minutes of being exposed to images of thinner versions of themselves or others, we saw that the neural mechanisms controlling participants’ perceptions actually adapted to see thin images as normal,” lead author Associate Professor Kevin Brooks explained.
“Original sized body images now looked fatter to them.”
The opposite was also true: exposure to fatter body types made participants see original body sizes as skinny.
The researchers also found that while there were different brain mechanisms controlling a person’s perception of their own body size and the body size of other people, the two mechanisms can also affect each other.
“This means that being exposed to images of skinny people doesn’t just make you feel bad about your own body size, which has been known for a while, it actually affects the perceptual mechanisms in your brain and makes you think you are bigger or smaller than you really are,” said Dr Ian Stephen, another author of the study.
“Duration and frequency of exposure definitely play a role, but the fact that the brain adapts after such a short exposure time suggests we are incredibly susceptible to being manipulated by images of different sized bodies.”
The researchers say that the results add another piece of the puzzle to our current understanding of mental health problems involving body image disturbance, such as anorexia nervosa and muscle dysmorphia, and could potentially be used in the development of treatments for such conditions.
“There is only one way for information to be received by our brains: through the perceptual and neural mechanisms fed by our senses. By unpacking the details of the neural mechanisms involved in body size perception we are hoping to discover more about how the brain deals with this information as a whole, so that we can understand how conditions involving body image disturbance arise,” Associate Professor Brooks concluded.
Personal Note: According tothe latest statistics from WHO, the modern day average woman is 5’4″, around 140 lbs, and is between a size 12-14. On a good day, standing the tallest without flat out cheating on demi pointe, I measure 4’10”, 95 lbs, and a size 0. This stark difference shouldn’t insinuate that there’s something wrong with me or should it mean that I’m a closet anorexic or that I am immune to snide remarks that I am “too skinny,” “too thin,” “need to eat something.” Can you imagine the overwhelming backlash if I suggested someone should lose a few pounds or eat a little less? Undoubtedly, I’d be quickly be chastised as the soulless devil ‘fat shaming.’ However, when similar line of remarks are conveyed to those who has worked hard to be fit or just naturally tend to be slender, it goes on as accepted jest. Why is that? This double standard is rather perplexing and I think this article is a nice highlight that shows no matter what someone’s size is comments about their figure – in jest or no, can be hurtful to one’s body image.
Skinny Minnie, Bones and Toothpick are just a few of the nicknames I’ve been assigned over the years.
I’ve always been thin and boney. My clavicles jut out, my chest and abdomen are mostly rib cage and I have what my family calls “chicken arms.”
Growing up I was a lanky kid, moving through life like a windmill of long appendages attached to pointy elbows and knees. Now, in my late 20s I’ve filled out a bit but am still naturally slim.
When I was younger I laughed off comments about my weight, knowing that I was still growing, but now they really bother me. Instead of being greeted with a typical “How are you?” when hugging friends hello, I often hear, “You’re skin and bones. You need to eat.” This statement insinuates that I don’t take care of myself. In my mind I reply, “You know I eat. All we do is eat when we hang out. My body hasn’t changed in the five years we’ve known each other.” Outwardly I smile and move on with other conversation. After all they don’t mean to offend me. But would these same friends instruct me to consume a few less calories a day if I was curvy? Definitely not.
I’ve been skinny shamed.
I practice proper eating habits, giving equal opportunity to both clean, organic meals and junk food alike. Occasionally I work out, mainly in an attempt to build and tone muscle. After annual doctor’s appointments I’m given a clean bill of health, yet friends’ negative comments about my weight imply otherwise.
Claire Mysko, CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association, emails me, “There is a range of body sizes that exist naturally in the world. You cannot make a judgment on someone’s health simply by looking at them. We are in this cultural moment when there are so many confusing messages about what is ‘healthy,’ and so much of how we’ve come to define health is linked to external measures — a number on a scale or a chart or what someone looks like. Just because someone has a larger body doesn’t mean they don’t take good care of their physical and mental health. And just because someone is closer to the mainstream image of a healthy body doesn’t mean that person is healthy.”
With no two people exactly alike, it seems archaic that society classifies one particular silhouette as a woman’s “ideal” body shape. I’ll never be curvy, just as some ladies will never be flat chested, and that’s ok. We shouldn’t create unrealistic expectations for what the perfect female should look like. Differences are what make us beautiful and diversity should be celebrated.
British personality and fashion maven Alexa Chung is no stranger to this scrutiny. In 2012 the naturally tall and slender muse took a break from Twitter and set her Instagram account to private after social media followers accused her of starving herself. Back then Chung told reporters, “[…] just because I exist in this shape, doesn’t mean that I’m like advocating it and being like, ‘I look great.’ How do you know I’m not looking in the mirror and going ‘I wish I could gain 10 pounds?’ Which is actually quite often the case…People that are bigger can be on the front covers of magazines being like ‘I’m really happy with my shape.’ But if I was to do that, I’d be completely criticized and ridiculed. But why can’t I be happy with how I look?”
Body-shamers continue to berate Chung with hurtful words, referencing her thin frame and stating she’s unfit to be a role model.
In a recent video for Vogue, Chung explains that haters often comment on “how scrawny I look or how gross I am.” She says it’s difficult to know how to respond because “I want to be able to promote a healthy body image…I would love to look like Daisy Lowe (an English fashion model), but I don’t, but I’m happy with how I look. Equally, I don’t want to use this as an example of how young girls should look.”
In November one Twitter user referred to Ariana Grande’s body as an unsexy stick. The singer responded with a reminder for people to love and celebrate their bodies regardless of shape or size and included few choice words for the troll who insulted her.
A tweet from Ariana Grande addressing body shaming. (Photo: Twitter)
It seems that society still has a long way to go before we are able to completely look beyond a woman’s physical appearance and simply appreciate her for her talents, intellect and spirit.
Earlier this year I participated in my alma mater’s career day, providing students with insight and tips for succeeding in the media industry. After the event I asked a family member who works at the school if the students had any feedback on my presentation. She told me some of the girls said, “Wow, Noelle is so skinny.” That was it. Wait, what? The only thing some of these students took away from my conversation was the shape of my body? The response was hurtful and made me feel disappointed in the future generation and the ideologies that are being ingrained in young women’s minds.
At the time I was an editor at Lucky Magazine. A few weeks after this experience, my picture was posted on Lucky’s Instagram account to promote their online shopping platform. Most of the comments were positive, but I couldn’t help but focus one: “Does she eat anything?”
The author’s photo posted on Instagram. (Photo: Instagram)
The criticism upset me. I thought to myself, “Doesn’t this woman know that I can see her comment?” In a response that admittedly wasn’t mature, I clicked over to her account and passive aggressively liked her photos. Every single one. Honestly, I hoped to get her attention. I wanted her to realize that there was a real person on the receiving end of her negative statement.
When discussing remarks like this, Mysko told me, “It can be hard to recognize just how damaging these comments can be because they are validated everywhere in our culture. There’s a whole body shaming lexicon that is used in the name of ‘entertainment.’ But shaming hurts. No matter how anonymous or jokey you think you’re being, there are real people who are victimized by these comments.”
If an individual is truly dealing with an eating disorder, statements like this can be detrimental. “This brand of concern trolling is dismissive and hurtful to people who are struggling with anorexia, a life-threatening illness that has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric diagnosis.” Mysko says, “If you are truly concerned that someone has an eating disorder, the most damaging thing you can do is make that person feel ashamed about her/his appearance. And of course, eating disorders affect people of all shapes and sizes, so the fact that very thin people get singled out doesn’t match up with the reality of who actually struggles.”
We saw this scenario in November when model Magdalena Frackowiak shut down a TMZ reporter backstage at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. He asked Frackowiak what she was most looking forward to eating after the show. Ticked off, she replied, “What? No guys, not with this kind of questions [sic]. This is stupid. Ask more smart questions. No, you make me feel like, you make me look like, an idiot…But it seems like I’m starving myself and I can’t wait for the show to end to eat.”
This is another example of an individual drawing ignorant assumptions based on a person’s body type.
Incidentally, it’s a problem the plus-size community is all too familiar with. For over four years, blogger and creative consultant Nicolette Mason has penned her column “Big Girl in a Skinny World” for Marie Claire. While most remarks from readers are positive, she still receives cutting feedback.
“When I’m featured on Marie Claire’s Instagram, I receive a lot of negative comments,” Mason tells me. “People say I’m promoting obesity and an unhealthy lifestyle when in fact I’m the healthiest that I’ve ever been. It’s incredibly invasive and presumptuous to look at someone and think you know whether they are healthy or not.”
As an advocate for body positivity, Mason believes the fashion industry and society as a whole should explore new beauty norms. “I think it’s awful that thin women are also attacked for their weight,” Mason says. “Body shaming is body shaming whether you’re a size 2 or a size 20.”
Nicolette Mason, who pens a column for Marie Claire. (Photo: Instagram)
My hope is that society and women specifically will stop fanning the flames of the body negativity movement that has become dangerously pervasive. By simply thinking of the consequences our words can have on an individual before we post or speak them, we can take great strides in extinguishing the inferno.
Mysko says, “At the end of the day, it’s important to acknowledge that every person, regardless of weight or size, deserves body confidence.” Hear, hear.