Body Image: Friend or Foe?

February 8, 2010

What do you see when you look in the mirror?  Do you admire your sparkly eyes, toned arms, or small waist?  Or, do you zoom in with great precision on your curvy hips (although you probably call them big or worse!), legs that you wish were longer, or hair that you wish was thicker?  If the latter sounds more familiar, you are in good company — it’s a common issue among women.  But, let‘s not get too comfortable there!

When I met Theresa, she sat down in a nearby chair and with a sigh said, “How can I hide my stomach and what do I do about my flat chest?” Change the day, the name and the body parts and you’ll get some idea of how often I hear women despair about parts of their bodies they don’t like.  Granted, most women come to me because they are frustrated but rarely do I hear things like, I’d like to know how to show off my long neck or hourglass figure.

Chances are good as you read the above paragraph that you are smiling sheepishly knowing that you do the same thing–lamenting about what you don’t like and overlooking what you do.  In fact, sometimes we spend so much time fretting about what we don’t like that we forget we have features we appreciate.  To be fair most women do this out of habit.  We’ve been conditioned to focus on a particular “offending” body part.  As one woman expressed, “When I was a kid, I overheard one of my aunts say to my mother that it was a good thing I was smart, as I wasn’t very pretty. It made me feel as if I had no right to try to look pretty –it would always be out of my reach.”  It’s these kind of hurtful comments that contribute to women feeling badly about themselves.  They often carry these beliefs around with them and allow them to negatively influence their day-to-day wardrobe choices.

Think back…have you experienced hurtful comments or unwanted advice that affects the way you perceive your body?

• Did you internalize it and own it or were you able to shrug it off as someone’s insensitive, rude opinion?

• How does it make you feel today?

• How does it affect the choices you make when buying clothes or making decisions about some aspect of your personal style.

Awareness is the first step to making positive change. Once you realize that you have been unknowingly allowing someone else to influence how you feel about your body, you can begin to take back your power.  Although you probably cannot change this habit overnight, you can begin to retrain your focus right away.

How?  Start by identifying one body part you like (yes, you have one (and probably many more than one)). The next time you get dressed, find a delightful way to bring focus to this body part – simple things like wear a gorgeous necklace or pretty neckline detail to flatter a long neck, choose a lovely belt or a top with waist detail that accents a small waist, or wear shoes you love to show off shapely legs.

It’s not so much what you do as it is refocusing on the positive as opposed to the negative.  Let me give you a personal example.  I am a redhead and as a result was born with very pale skin.  So my legs are white-white-white with hints of freckles, I’m knock-kneed, and my ankles are not as slim as I’d like them to be.  So, for years I focused on these limiting traits and as my college friends will tell you, I tried never to be seen wearing shorts if I could avoid it.

Finally, when I became an image consultant, I became acutely aware of the power of our thoughts and the damage it can do to our psyches, especially as it pertains to our body image.  I also began to understand the power of line, design and proportion.  Most importantly, I discovered that I was the one who was hyper-focused on my knock-knees.  No one else was noticing (at least not to the extent I was), and my embarrassment was only drawing more (instead of less) attention to that part of my body.

Would I love to have the legs of my dreams?  Sure!  Am I willing to sacrifice my personal style because my legs are not what I consider perfect?  Not any more.

Where are you holding yourself back and feeling less than?  Take one of these baby steps at a time to learn how to refocus your attention in a positive way.

1. Regularly acknowledge and honor the body parts you love (Resist the urge to skip this step!).

2. Create a positive affirmation or afformation (learn how to create an effective affirmation/afformation and be sure you are doing it in a way that resonates with you—otherwise it will be totally ineffective).

3. Learn a new fashion technique to refocus the attention to a body part you like. (Hint: well placed beautiful (that doesn’t have to mean expensive!) accessories are a great way to refocus attention.)

Choose just one of these steps at a time and really work it.  If you do, within a relatively short amount of time you will be amazed at how different you will feel.

Need a little help getting through the obstacles holding you back from feeling great about how you look?  Check out “Who Taught You How To Dress?”

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