Body Image: Good News and Bad News
The new Dove Beauty and Confidence Report issued in June 2016 interviewed 10,500 females from 13 countries and found that despite the awareness of negative body issues, women’s body confidence has been on the decline for the last two decades.
In addition, if you were overweight in childhood or in your teenage years, picked last for kickball, or you felt overly frustrated about a certain body part, the Dove studies also indicate that negative childhood experiences can inhibit physical activity later on in life.
The good news is you are definitely not alone. What’s more, starting anything new is bound to make you feel at least a little self-conscious. If you’ve never used a squat rack, or performed the perfect lunge, that’s OK. No one expects you to be a pro when you first start. It’s more about consistently putting in the time and effort. As P90X creator Tony Horton says in almost every workout, “Do your best, and forget the rest.”
How to Silence Your Own Inner Exercise Critic
“There are such high expectations from society and the media about what physical fitness and a perfect body looks like,” says Stephen Graef, Ph.D., a sports psychologist and clinical assistant professor of family medicine at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center. We compare ourselves to the slender model or the guy with the ripped abs on the billboard, even though we know we don’t look like them. “It’s human nature. It’s the same way you wonder if you’re earning what your peers are, or buying as nice a home,” explains Graef.
“People unconsciously use body image as a motivator to work out harder,” explains John Mayer, Ph.D,, president of the International Sports Professionals Association. While a little competition can be effective, he says it can also backfire when we can’t ever do as well as the ripped guy across the street who bench presses a VW Beetle for fun. “We see ourselves differently than others do, thus, we are proverbially ‘our own worst critics,'” says Mayer.
Here are savvy strategies to silence that insidious negative voice that insists you can’t possibly finish a 5K, lose 10 pounds, or make it all the way through a CIZE dance routine. Because that voice is wrong.
Lean into the discomfort. Within reason, says Graef. It’s OK to be worried about learning new skills; ask a friend to join you to allay your fears. Experiment together, take a deep breath, and then go for it.
Have realistic expectations. “It’s OK if I don’t look like Mario Lopez when I take off my shirt,” says Mayer. Everyone is working on their health and wellness. As long as you’re maintaining your health and pursuing fitness, you’re on the right track.
Set specific, measurable goals. For example, I want my waist to be a size X, or I want to run a 5K in 22 minutes. “This way when you reach that goal you have tangible evidence that you don’t stink,” says Mayer.
Just do it. Remember that thing about losing weight before you join the gym? Scratch that. “Most often this fails, and fails miserably, because you never reach the body confidence level you feel you need to be at in order to join the gym or start the yoga class,” says Mayer.
Process with a professional. If you’re still stymied by your evil exercise twin jabbering about all the things you can’t do, or if you’ve really struggled with negative self-talk for too long, Mayer suggests talking with a professional who can help you process and put them behind you.
Now get out there and kick butt.