What we dwell on sometimes seems bigger than it really is. The more we focus on our physical flaws, the more they stand out. For me, the size of my legs has always been my main focus in the mirror and my “problem area.”
About 7 years ago I went to a therapist who made me aware of the fact that the more I looked at my legs or checked them out in the mirror, the bigger they would seem. This concept came as a surprise to me, someone who truly believed my leg size could fluctuate in the span of a few hours. I now know how ludicrous that sounds, but in the throes of an eating disorder, my main fear—however irrational—seemed possible.
According to Mayo Clinic, body dysmorphic disorder is a “mental health disorder in which you can’t stop thinking about one or more perceived defects or flaws in your appearance… you intensely focus on your appearance and body image, repeatedly checking the mirror, grooming or seeking reassurance, sometimes for many hours each day.”
Treatment for body dysmorphic disorder is done by cognitive behavioral therapy—in other words, training your brain to be a little more flexible in your thinking and to react a little more rationally to unhealthy thoughts about your body. Below are three tactics I adopted that have helped me enormously over the last 7 years.
1. Focus on a neutral body part
Whenever I begin to panic about if a certain troubling body part appears bigger, I put the focus on my pointer finger—a neutral part of my body that I know isn’t getting bigger by the hour. By doing this, it not only takes the attention off of the other body part, but it makes me see how irrational my thinking is.
2. For every negative, call out a positive
I always wished my lips were bigger, so much so that I did “duck lips” in every photo and even pushed them out every time I looked in the mirror. It got so bad I didn’t want to see my face without having my lips pouted. To have a “perfect” face isn’t a thing. And I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how Photoshopped every woman in an any advertisement is—including their eyes and lips being enlarged, cheekbones made higher or their nose smaller.
So I began focusing on something I did like—my eyes. This trick can be also applied anywhere on your body. While I had trouble with my thighs, I liked my back. Turning around and admiring my back made me feel better. I actually wanted to show it off in backless tops and when I was out in public I could check it out in the mirror and feel good about myself.
Sometimes it may feel hard to pick out anything we like about ourselves—I’ve been there too—which is why this next step may be the best place to start.
3. Change your language
There were days my language about myself sucked big time. Words like “hate,” “ugly,” or “disgusting” plagued my vocabulary when examining myself in the mirror. “I hate my legs” was a common one.
What I’ve learned along the way is how powerful our words about ourselves can be. The more we use negative ones, the more we believe the bad things we say about ourselves. For me, I engrained those words into my brain for years and it has taken a long time and a lot of self love to remove them.
Starting with “I love my legs” just didn’t seem right for me though: it was too big of a leap and I just didn’t believe what I was saying. So I started smaller with “my legs are useful.” That was true, right? “I’m happy to have legs” was another truth. I eventually graduated to, “my legs look good today” and even now, “I like the way my legs look,” and perhaps the most important one, “I am more than what I look like.”
I still have days of unhealthy thoughts toward myself, but I feel confident knowing I have learned some tools to help me get through the tough days instead of tearing myself down with toxic thoughts about my image.
Becoming more body positive is a journey. It requires daily, if not hourly, practice. Challenge yourself to do one of these things today.
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Photo: Pantiukhina, Smith, Goodman, Nugroho, Spratt; Unsplash.