Your Body Image, Your Self-Esteem
I had just spent an hour with my trainer Rusty lifting weights, run 35 minutes on the treadmill, taken my Dalmatian Lucy for a vigorous 40-minute walk, and then driven to the YMCA for an hour-long stretch class. Exhausted, I had to ask why exercise was ruling my life.
I feel better when I exercise, I rationalized. Taking a deep breath, I delved deeper and as I did, I began to see that my obsession with exercise was rooted more in vanity than any health benefits I hoped to receive. I had to admit that the primary reason I work out is to look good. The way I view my body determines in good part my self-esteem.
Self-esteem is the sum total of how much we like and approve of our self-concept; Webster's Dictionary defines it simply as "self-respect." In America these days, how much we respect ourselves may hinge in large part on how we look. Some psychologists claim most people's body image is so bad that having a bad body image is "normal." According to the American Psychological Association, 30 to 40 percent of Americans are somewhat unhappy with their appearance, and another 45 percent may experience anxiety or depression because they dislike their appearance.
In an era of gender equality, Americans' obsession with body image is almost equally divided among the sexes. One body-image study found that 55 percent of all women were dissatisfied with their physiques, followed closely by men at 45 percent.
So how can we feel better about our bodies and bolster our sagging self-esteem? I went to the Internet for answers and my research yielded these five suggestions.
ONE: Quit dissecting your body. People generally look at some small part of the body they don't like and stake everything on it. Instead of fixating on a flaw, take several steps back, squint your eyes and peer through your lashes. Look at yourself the way the world does, through a soft focus. The world sees the whole you, not just one feature. Love the whole you.
Some makeup artists tell their clients not to look at themselves too closely in the mirror. They explain that no one else views us as critically as we view ourselves. No one stares at the blemish on our cheek or the line in our forehead like we do. Instead, they admire the big picture; they admire all of us - mind, body and spirit.
TWO: Focus on presence, not perfection. Do you remember those girls and guys in high school who were popular but not pretty? Chances are they had presence. Presence is far more attractive to both sexes than physical beauty. After all, physical beauty is relative.
THREE: Accentuate the positive. You can probably name those aspects of yourself that you dislike, but can you name those features about yourself you admire? Maybe you have shiny, healthy hair, or clear, supple skin. Whatever your favorite features are, play them up. Get a manicure or give your hair a deep conditioning treatment. Dress up your self-esteem by taking care of your appearance. Wear clothes that fit and make you feel good about your body.
Speak lovingly and positively to yourself and fight negative mind talk by complimenting yourself. Look for the good and praise it.
FOUR: Befriend your body. Instead of torturing your body by dieting and exercise, pamper it. Get a massage, take a hot bath, go dancing, and indulge in your favorite foods from time to time (it will help prevent binging). Get into your body and enjoy it for the wonderful machine it is.
FIVE: Focus on who you are, not how you look. Acknowledge the whole you and not just your body. What are your talents, gifts and dreams? Think of all the lives you have touched. Create a feel-good box. Find a box or basket (I have a file) and every time someone gives you a compliment write it down on a piece of paper and drop it in. My file includes notes of appreciation as well as gift cards. And when I am feeling blue, I revisit it.
As I thought more about my body image, I came to realize that for the most part I like my body. Looking around me, most people I know don't look like the models on the covers of Vogue and Men's Health. They are real people like me. I have been working out not for me, but for an ideal that I can never, and really don't want to, meet.
Like most things in life, I have come to realize that the motivation for working out is as important as the act itself. I want to work out for me, because of the way it makes me feel, not to gain other people's admiration. Learning to do things for ourselves may be the surest way to bolster our self-esteem.
When we respect ourselves we communicate with power, and our strong presence will prompt others to pay close attention to what we have to say.
# # #
PHOTO Available on Request
Copyright 2006, All rights reserved
The Career Engineer" Randy Siegel works with organizations to take high-potential employees and give them the leadership and communications skills they need to be successful as they rise through the organization. Purchase his book PowerHouse Presenting: Become the Communicator You Were Born to Be through Amazon.com, and subscribe to his complimentary monthly e-Newsletter at www.buildyourleaders.com.