It's summertime. The layers of bulky clothes have given way to sleeveless shirts and short shorts. What used to be under wraps- feet, legs, upper arms, neck, midriff, and back -- is now out in the open. Wearing fewer clothes not only uncovers more flesh, it uncovers feelings of self-judgment and inadequacy- even for the buff and beautiful. In my therapy practice, it's truly rare to find a person who loves their body... unconditionally.
Our desire to look good funnels thousands of dollars and lots of energy into specialized diets, cosmetic surgeries, exercise regimens, and products to make the body firm up, smooth out, puff up, or slim down. But, maybe we're missing the point. What if looking good is really about how you feel on the inside? My wise daughter was on the right track when she wrote: "It's a lot easier to feel good about yourself if you don't feel like an absolute shit in your body. Be kind and truly take care of yourself... exercise, eat healthy, stay hydrated, and all that jazz. Just do it because it makes you feel good- not because you're trying to force your body to look a certain way."
In the learning curve of life, you've already proven the connection between feeling good and looking good. There have been times when food-exercise-rest weren't a priority and your body showed up with puffy skin, dumpy posture, and sluggish energy. And, there have been times when you made healthy choices and cruised with a certain joie de vivre. When you're in that self-care groove, you feel good and other people say you look good. What makes you magnetic and noticeable has more to do with your radiant wellbeing than it does with the size of your waist.... breasts, lips, butt, penis, hips, nose, or biceps.
Changing the way you eat-exercise-rest makes you feel good; changing the way you think makes you feel good about yourself. In order to light up your inner beauty and let it shine, your body needs to be fed a diet of love and appreciation. It needs positive encouragement rather than criticism and demands. Like many people, your negative self-talk may so habitual that you don't even hear it anymore. But, your body does. Check it out. Over the next couple of days, pay attention to the way you address your body. Tune in whenever you take a shower, look in the mirror, work out, or dress for a date. Do you criticize, bully, dismiss, or belittle? Do you judge, doubt, or expect the worst? Are the words you hear inside your head even your own? Or, did they originate elsewhere?
A constant diet of negative self-talk is a toxic brew that can undermine your appearance just as surely as junk food and slothful habits. Curiously, this may be true of all living things. Years ago researchers did an experiment where they praised one plant and disparaged its twin. With all other variables the same, the plant that was dissed began to look terrible; the plant that was appreciated continued to thrive. In a similar way, your body is nurtured by words that are kind, encouraging, and compassionate. Perhaps, just like a plant, your body will look good if you send it good vibes.
What if you went on a positive self-talk diet for the rest of the summer?
This would entail tuning in to the inner dialogue and restructuring the negative so it becomes a positive. Self-correct the message every single time an old zinger pops up from your personal repertoire. If you "think" your body is underperforming or unattractive in any way, create a positive antidote immediately. No need to be specific. Try some broad reaching affirmations, such as: "I am comfortable in my own skin." "My body is perfectly me." "I am a fascinating work in progress." "I trust my body." If you have a repeat offender, make its positive antidote your body-love mantra.
The idea is to eliminate junky words and unhealthy thoughts while you feed your body lots of good will. Then, it can thrive. After a short time on your positivity diet, the people in your life will begin to notice that you look really good/healthy/happy. Have you lost weight? Yeah, you dropped a load of self-criticism! Fallen in love? Yeah, with yourself! Just returned from vacation? Yeah, a much-needed time-out from disparaging my body! Bottom line is: you're lookin' good because you're feeling good.
Studies showing the positive benefits of self-talk are as compelling as those showing the benefits of good diet-exercise-rest. Delivering an upbeat message to your body is a reliable strategy for feeling good. Just a simple shift in the conversation can increase your life span, strengthen your immune system, lower stress, improve brain function, and enhance performance. Being conscious of the words your body consumes affects your outlook on life, increases self-confidence, and improves self-esteem. If all of this wasn't enough, a diet of positive self-talk has been shown to strengthen social networks and help you show up for love. It's hard to feel unattractive with all of these things going for you.
So put on that gossamer summer outfit and classy Panama hat. Do what you do to dress it up and strut your stuff. But to make sure you're looking your best, get behind the scenes and take care of your body. Nothing looks better than a truly healthy body that exudes intelligence, confidence, esteem, vitality, and ease.