I have wanted to write on this topic for a long time, as I know it is something many people -myself included- struggle with. A few conversations I have had lately with gorgeous women who doubt themselves brought more light upon the subject and I want to share with you a dozen ways to learn to not just LIKE yourself, but to love yourself and your body. These ideas are not just for women, but men can benefit from them as well. You need to learn to love yourself if you:
- Dislike what you see in the mirror, put a magnifying glass to your flaws, or don’t like how your clothing fits.
- Believe you don’t have enough time or money to workout or prepare healthy food.
- Constantly think things like, “I look fat,” “I need to lose weight,” “If only I could lose my belly fat (or insert flaw here), then I would have a great body,” or, on the flipside, “I look too skinny.”
- Often feel tired and burnt out, and like you give so much to others; you wish someone would take care of you, or you wish you could have a break.
I have been guilty of most of these things, though people close to me often say, “But Brittney, you look great!” This disconnect is exactly the problem. Body dysmorphia is a disorder where the self you see in the mirror is much different than the person others see when they look at you. You might have this disorder if you are constantly obsessing over flaws, but have others telling you “you look fine,” or even, “you look great.” You don’t believe them when they tell you these things, and assume he or she is just saying that to be nice. People with body dysmorphia create or inflate their own flaws. If you look at pictures of yourself and think, “woah, my stomach looks big in that picture,” and instantly delete it, you might have this disorder. It might be, “Look at how my fat sticks out under my arms.” Whatever your chosen flaws are, chances are others don’t notice them like you do, and they may not even exist. Even if you do not have a disorder, we are our own toughest critics and we need to learn to love ourselves. If we can’t truly appreciate ourselves, how can we expect others to care about us, and how can we give our energy to others? Here are 12 ways to transform your thinking and learn to love that person staring back at you. Implement these things, and you might even be excited about taking selfies, going make-up free as a norm, putting on a bikini, or getting naked with the lights on. Both you and those in your life will reap the benefits, and you will have more energy to give to others. If you do these things, those real, or perceived flaws are bound to diminish.
- Transform your environment. “Our environment shapes our mindset” – Robin Sharma. If you want to love yourself, convert your surroundings into a place that promotes positive self-concept. Post pictures of you that you love, regardless of how old they are. Hanging in my house, I have a grade 12 graduation picture of myself in a formal dress, lacing up my hockey skates. The photo reminds me of two sides of myself – that I am a jock who cleans up pretty well – and I think I look really beautiful in it. Hang quotes and positive words around your house; the bathroom mirror or the space you get ready in is a prime place to post something like the words, “you’re beautiful.” Sure, the first few times you see it you might laugh and say, “No I’m not. Look at me! Look at that dull hair…” but after you’ve read it many times, eventually you will learn to love that undone self staring back at you.
- Find a Body Image Role Model. This relates to changing your surroundings. Find someone you can look up to for their realness and likeness to you and who you want to become. Be wary of photoshopped, skinny models- these women often present unattainable beauty. Although it is important to learn to love ourselves as we are, we cannot truly state we care if we are not challenging ourselves to become better. I have always been healthy and relatively fit, but I want to become my fittest self. My body image role model for the last two years has been Camille Leblanc-Bazinet. She is my height and weight and is extraordinarily fit (understatement!), but she is real, and has struggled with body image issues herself. Her body fat percentage is athletic and attainable by healthy means. Camille is the background on my phone and I keep photos of her doing awesome things in the binder where my goals and weekly plans are. She inspires me, not just because of how she looks, but also because of her no-excuses mindset and almost unfaltering (come on, she is human!) focus. Your body image role model does not need to be a CrossFit athlete, or a celebrity. It could be someone you see every day who takes care of him or herself. The only requirements are that he or she knows how to make his or her health a priority, and his or her body is attainable. If it would require surgical procedures for you to attain this person’s body, you have probably not chosen an appropriate role model. Even if I never end up looking exactly like Camille, my body and self-concept will certainly improve from implementing practices Camille has used to become who she is.
- Surround yourself with People who Build You up, and Cut Out Those who Tear You Down. Many people are on the same journey as you and fight similar battles every day. Some will encourage you and tell you that you look great. They will ask about your workouts and tell you they are paying off. These are the people you want around you. Others will beat themselves up, and bring you down. Encourage these people, but if that is their norm, get as far away from them as you possibly can. This is true of the internet, too. Avoid following celebrity gossip. Avoid reading magazines. These things create artificial realities and standards that we cannot achieve naturally. Believe the voices of those who care for you. Get rid of those who tear you down. Ignore the fake world created by the media. Become happy in your own skin surrounded by those on the same path.
Listen to Colbie Caillat’s “Try”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXoZLPSw8U8
- Don’t Delete Pictures you Dislike of Yourself for at Least 2 Months, and Watch Yourself on Video Doing Things You Love. I will look at a picture of myself from today and think, “wow, I do not look very good in that picture.” Often, I will delete it immediately, but on occasion I will keep it for whatever reason. There have been many cases where I have wanted to erase a photo immediately, and then months later I am scrolling through the images on my phone and think, “woah, I actually look really great in that picture. I look lean and tanned and happy.” I cannot explain this, but I think this is body dysmorphia in action: maybe I should learn to believe those who tell me I look good. There are exceptions of course – if your eyes are closed, or you’re making a weird or drunk face – it might be reason enough to delete them, but if it is just because you think you look “flawed” don’t get rid of them right away; give yourself the chance to see yourself in a new light. The more times you look back and think, “Hey, I looked really great there,” the more you will be able to look at current images and see yourself as the stunning person you really are. Similarly, watch yourself doing things you love. I first developed this practice when videoing my weightlifting to watch for technique. I remember the first few times I did this I watched and didn’t notice the technique at first, but instead thought, “wow, I actually look lean and awesome.” For some reason I think video doesn’t allow our brains to lie to us as much as the mirror and photos do – maybe because we are moving – and we are able to see ourselves as we really are. Furthermore, if you watch yourself doing something you love, you are likely witnessing something you have invested a lot of time in. A sense of pride will emerge and you will think, “I am pretty good at that!” This leads to confidence gains all around! I have recently expanded this videoing exercise to my public speaking and have seen similar results. Keep the past pics you don’t love immediately and watch old videos of yourself; you will begin to like yourself in the here and now.
- Move – in Ways You Enjoy and Ways You Don’t. Go for leisurely walks. Play rec sports. Swim. Have sex. Our bodies were designed to move, not to sit at a desk for eight hours a day, five days a week. Also, put your body through some discomfort. Do burpees. Lift heavy things (with good form). Let’s be honest, nobody likes burpees (except for the crazy CrossFitter who has brainwashed herself into liking them), but we could all benefit from a few more of them in our lives. Push through a series of movements that make you feel like quitting, then crack a coconut water and you will feel like a million bucks in that moment. Do this again and again and those tasks will no longer seem so difficult (you will have to keep looking for new ones) and your exterior will show evidence of the interior work it took to push your limits. If you are comparing yourself to fitness models or athletes, remember their bodies took hours and hours and hours to craft; be patient and learn to accept yourself as you are. John Maxwell says it takes 10,000 hours, or 1 hour a day for 10 years to achieve mastery. Master bodies take years to craft. Ask Christmas Abbott. She has been moving her body through discomfort for ten years and now she is famous for having a “badass body,” and she has even written a book on the topic. Keep movement fun, but embrace the uncomfortable. If you have not tried CrossFit, check out a box – they are experts at this (and don’t worry, the coaches there won’t expect you to love burpees)!
- Squat. Whether you are a woman or a man, nothing trains the largest muscle groups in our body like the squat. If you want to be leaner, jacked, or curvier (everyone falls into at least one of these two categories), you need to train your posterior chain, and nothing trains the posterior chain like a squat. If you have mobility issues, seek out a good trainer who can teach you squat variations (split squats, box squats, etc). There will be a squat that works for you. Whether you want to look jacked or lean you need to put on muscle, since muscle burns fat. Also, I have said it before and I will say it again: ladies, even if we can’t bench press our way to a more bodacious chest (*sigh*…), we can squat our way to a backside that demands respect. This isn’t just an esthetic goal – a killer posterior chain can do amazing things – from squats to snatches to moving furniture to cushioning you when you slip on ice. Squat to get strong. Squat to get lean. Squat to be awesome. Squat. You, and those walking behind you, will love the results!
- Feed Yourself the Best Food. We have all heard the racehorse analogy. If you had a racehorse, what would you feed it? You would feed it the best vet-endorsed food you could get your hands on – you would not give it a bag of chips and some pop. Likewise, if you want to be the best version of yourself and perform at your highest level daily, why would you feed yourself anything other than the top fuel? I have also heard this described by Barbell Shrugged’s Kurt Mullican with a different metaphor. There are two types of food: fast and slow. There are also two types of consumers: scavengers, and predators. Predators eat slow food; it has to be slower than them for them to catch it. Slow food must be “hunted” – this means it requires planning and preparation. Fast food is cold, and dead, and prepared by someone else – this is what scavengers feed on. Would you rather be a vulture, or a cheetah? A cheetah stalks its prey, kills it, and eats it fresh. A vulture swoops down on the cold, dead leftovers that another animal has hunted. When you see someone eating a bag of Cheetos or a McDonald’s cheeseburger (don’t tell them this), he or she is being a scavenger eating someone else’s cold, dead food. Be a predator. Hunt for the best, freshest, most nutrient-dense food you can every time you enter the grocery store or farmer’s market. Take time to prepare that freshly cut steak. You are worth it. Furthermore, choose foods that have been positively cared for – organic food and humanely raised meat. Prepare your food with care and precision. Even the energy put into presentation matters. Treat yourself like you are hosting someone on the Olympic team in your home and choose and prepare your food as such. You matter, and if you treat yourself that way when it comes to food you will learn to like yourself on many levels. Even more, your body will perform and look like that of an elite predator.
- Sleep. This could be a whole article. The importance of sleep is paramount to caring for yourself. I encourage you to research this topic. Sleep is essential for regulating our bodies’ hormones – the chemical signals responsible for running our bodies. Your hormones regulate everything from your ability to protect your children to your capacity to lose weight – you do not want to mess with these things. To have these chemical messengers functioning properly you should aim for at a bare minimum 7 hours of sleep – more if you train hard. To improve sleep, blackout your room (and I mean bat-cave dark) with dark blinds and operate in low light (no TVs or cell phones) for the last hour before you sleep. Being in darkness allows the brain to produce melatonin – the hormone that makes you feel sleepy. The production of this hormone is inhibited by the presence of light. Sleep processes cortisol – the stress hormone that can also cause us to retain water and gain weight. A good night’s rest also regulates testosterone (needed by men and women alike to gain and repair muscle) and leptin (responsible for burning fat) levels. Basically, sleep does the body good. Sleep as much as you can and don’t feel bad about it. That racehorse deserves its sleep and so do you. Your body will see results and your mood will be regulated; you are sure to stop and admire the well-rested face that catches your eye in your reflection.
- Spend Time and Money on Yourself – At least 10 minutes of your time every day, and at least one 90-minute session per week should be spent on you, doing something for yourself. This should be outside of time spent on working out. You could spend 90 minutes preparing an incredible meal, getting a pedicure, or reading (or writing!) a book. Spend ten-minutes each day doing similar activities. Take a hot bath and breathe. Additionally, spend money on yourself. Let’s return to the racehorse analogy – if you had an elite racehorse, you would make sure it had the best gear, the most comfortable place to sleep, etc. Do the same for yourself. Splurge on quality goods and self-care. See the massage therapist and chiropractor even if you don’t have benefits. Spend money on a mani/pedi. Get yourself the best lifting shoes. Buy that nice outfit. You’re valuable. Expend income on becoming better on everything from health and fitness memberships or equipment to reading the best books to attending the best conferences. Investing time in yourself refuels you for the difficulties of daily life. Spending money on yourself tells your subconscious that you are valuable. Love yourself in these two ways and soon you will always smile back with gratitude at the person who cares for you in the mirror.
- Set Your OWN Goals – Many people my age have family or relationship goals, but forget to dream for themselves. Don’t get me wrong: collective goals are fantastic, but we need to remember we will always be a unique spirit and our own individual dreams are what inspire others. If your children or significant other sees you pursuing a fitness goal, they are bound to be encouraged to make their own health a priority. Dream. Create a dream/vision-board. Write your goals down. Set big goals. If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough. Setting small goals only tells your subconscious you are not capable of greatness. Setting scary goals tells yourself you are amazing. Before you know it the scary will be within sight and who you became in the process will inspire you to keep moving forward, and will encourage those around you to chase dreams of their own.
- Travel Often. Travelling is the best learning experience. Seeing new sites and encountering new cultures will teach you more about your beliefs and values than anything you can read in a book or watch on a television or discuss in a conversation. Go. See. Do. Experience is the supreme teacher. If you think you don’t have enough money, find a way; there is always one and your best self is counting on it. Having stories from around the world will make you a confident, attractive, well-rounded human and when you look intently on your reflection you will see layers of yourself that emerged abroad. Travel.
- Look Good Even if You Don’t Feel Good. We all know how differently we feel on days we take the time to dress with intention. On a good hair and makeup day, nothing can stop me. If spending an extra twenty minutes on yourself in the morning can set you up for a day of elite performance and outstanding confidence, why would you not take that time? Look good and show up like you mean it. By implementing all of these things, you will have learned to love your naked face and unkempt hair, and when you put in the extra effort, your confidence will soar and you will become unstoppable. You will stop when you pass a mirror and admire the attractive figure looking your way, and you might even bust out the front cam now and then just to see your own smile.
Do these 11 things. You and those around you will benefit. You must first be selfish in order to be selfless. Imagine the dynamism you will have to give to others if you care for yourself with these strategies. Envision the confident you that will be staring back in the mirror after you have taken the time to empower yourself. Small changes can lead to outstanding results, but this will take time. Be patient. Trust the process. Know that the first few times you try to say, “You are beautiful” to yourself in the mirror, you might hear a voice scream back, “No, you’re not!” After you have said this to yourself dozens of time you will start to believe it. After you have invested hours into your fitness and health with exercise, nutrition, sleep, and self-care, your body will have responded in unbelievable ways and there will be no way you can walk past your reflection and not stop to admire it. Accept yourself as you are, but never stop working towards becoming a better version of you. Practice patience. It took 2 ½ years of implementing these strategies for me to be able to consistently look in the mirror and love myself, and still I have moments of self-doubt. We are all human, but how much better would the world be if we could all look in the mirror and like that human gazing back at us? We can, and we can also empower others to adore themselves. You’re beautiful. In your admiration, Idealistic Isabel