9 signs you have a very healthy body image, according to psychologists

Our body image is the way we think and feel about how we look. Sometimes that has very little to do with reality.

Our perceptions can be tainted by our experiences and moods, as well as by society and the people around us.

Growing up I hated the way I looked.

So much so that there are very few pictures remaining of me from my teenage years because I cut them all up into tiny pieces.

I just couldn’t bear to look at them.

It’s something that over the years I’ve worked really hard to turn around.

I’ve come to realize that having a healthy body image certainly doesn’t have to mean you think you look great 24-7.

Psychology tells us that it’s more about approaching yourself with compassion, self-esteem, and respect.

That’s why according to experts if you’re managing to do the following, you likely have a very healthy body image.

1) You’re more focused on health than weight

These days I exercise because it feels good and is good for me.

When I don’t move my body enough I feel sluggish and I also notice the effect on my mental health too.

But it wasn’t always this way.

Once upon a time, my main motivation was trying to stay thin.

When I finally made the shift in my attitude towards staying healthy, I not only started to enjoy exercise more, but I also found my body image improved.

This is something backed up by science.

Research says that people who choose to stay fit for health reasons have more positive body images.

On the other hand, people who exercise just to improve their appearance tend to feel less positive about their bodies.

It seems that when we’re more focused on feeling good we also end up feeling better about the way we look.

2) You’re comfortable looking in the mirror

I said in the intro that a healthy body image doesn’t have to mean that you think you’re drop-dead gorgeous all the time.

The reality is that plenty of us are prone to hangups.

We have bad hair days, or times when whatever we wear just doesn’t feel right. That’s all part of being human.

The point is, that you may not have a positive reaction every single time you see yourself in a mirror.

But generally speaking, most of the time you feel comfortable looking at yourself and seeing the image that is reflected back at you.

Psychologists sometimes use mirrors as therapy to help their patients confront certain emotions and thoughts.

As highlighted in Psychology Today, Mirror exposure (ME) “has been shown to reduce distress, negative thoughts, and body dissatisfaction. In a few trials, ME even improved eating behavior.”

The reflection we see looking at us is ultimately a reflection of how we feel about ourselves.

3) You take pride in your appearance but not obsessively so

It doesn’t make you vein to want to feel good in your own skin.

What we present to the outside world is a reflection of parts of our personality.

You may enjoy taking care of yourself.

Perhaps you like to treat yourself to treatments that help you to feel good or to spend money on clothes that help you feel more confident.

Showing your body respect involves doing things for your self and appearance that feel both healthy and fulfilling.

Yet you have limits.

You take pride in the way you look, but you don’t obsess over it.

Part of the reason that’s possible is likely down to the next thing on our list.

4) You don’t think your physical appearance is a reflection of your value

Our looks can boost our confidence but also destroy it.

It’s all too easy to get confused and end up basing our self-esteem on our outward shell rather than on what is inside.

Psychotherapist Massiel Bradberry says when this happens, it can have some devastating consequences:

“It can be a true battle to avoid using our appearance as “proof” of a personal failure. This unattainable, and completely inaccurate scale is ultimately damaging to our self-worth and our mental health.”

When you have a healthy body image you can mentally separate how you look from who you are. You don’t define yourself by your appearance.

Personal trainer and coach Julie Ledbetter reminds us that we need to base our deeper identity on what makes us tick and not the way we look.

“You are not your appearance. You are who you are at your core. You are the content of your character. You are the ambitions that drive you. You are the things that you laugh at and the words that you say, you are the love that you spread, and the energy that you radiate.”

5) You know you’re not perfect and that’s ok

When we wait to be perfect before showing ourselves the love we deserve, we’ll be waiting a long time — because it doesn’t exist.

One day it suddenly dawned on me, acceptance is far easier to achieve than perfection.

Now, to the old me, that would have sounded like a defeatist statement —one that may lead to low standards.

But through plenty of personal growth, I’ve come to understand that perfectionism is all about unattainable standards.

As licensed psychotherapist Sharon Martin reminds us:

“It isn’t fair to hold ourselves to these ridiculously high standards—standards we can never meet. It’s no wonder we feel terrible about ourselves. It was a no-win proposition from the beginning. We can never be perfect—and when we expect ourselves to be, we will always fall short. We will always feel inadequate.”

The problem with thinking you will be happy with yourself “If only I could change this one little thing” is that there’s always another thing, and another thing after that.

Accepting and embracing our flaws is a really important aspect of self-worth. That goes for any physical imperfections we’re not so keen on too.

6) You strive for positive self-talk

Everybody wants to have a healthy body image, and this is one of the practical tools that help you achieve that.

To change our body image, we don’t need to change the way we look, we need to change the way we think.

Slowly but surely, we can do this with the help of positive self-talk. That’s because our feelings are dictated by our beliefs and thoughts about ourselves.

It’s about consciously flipping the script and replacing critical self-commentary with more loving thoughts.

Let me give you a real-life example.

Looking in the mirror the other day, I caught my inner critic complaining about my increasing number of wrinkles.

As soon as I caught myself doing it, I reminded myself that getting older feels like a real privilege and that no matter how my face and body change, I am beautiful in many ways.

Psychology shows us that our self-talk is powerful for our self-perception.

So the more awareness we create around the language we use to describe ourselves, the better.

Dietitian Jessica Cortez asks are you complimentary or cruel to yourself?

“Are we neutral, kind, or mean to ourselves? Do we find ourselves being critical or neutral about the observations we make about our body and appearance? Do we find ourselves making strong judgments about our body that leave us feeling unworthy, less than, or undeserving?”

The answers to these questions may go on to dictate our body image.

7) You appreciate what your body does for you

Gratitude can create a powerful shift in body image as well.

Rather than getting hung up on small details, you prefer to focus on the bigger picture by remembering all your body does for you.

Far from just aesthetics, you think about how your body helps you enjoy life to the full.

Author and emotional intelligence expert Mike Robbins says this way of thinking can bring greater perspective.

“Just think about all the great things it does for you daily: breathing, walking, digesting food, doing everything it can to keep you from getting sick, and so much more.When you appreciate your body, you acknowledge all the vital things your body does for you every day that keeps you alive and healthy.”

8) You’d rather enjoy a balanced diet than strict calorie-counting

Counting calories is a reductionist way of looking at diet.

For starters, it doesn’t give you an idea of the nutrients you’re getting from food.

You don’t waste time on fad diets. That’s good news as studies have shown that people with a positive body image are less likely to fall foul of unhealthy dieting.

Your focus is on feeding yourself the things that nourish you. You care more about self-care than calories.

Neither do you don’t see the point in depriving yourself of all of life’s little pleasures and occasional treats.

You strive for balance in what you eat rather than rigid control.

9) You try not to compare yourself to unrealistic beauty standards 

Of course, that’s not easy when we’re bombarded by it.

I’ve often pondered to myself how little I would care about my appearance if I was suddenly stranded on a deserted island.

But alas, we live in the real world.

Comparison can be the birthplace of so many unhealthy body images.

As highlighted in Medical News Today:

“The media, peers, and family members can all influence a person’s body image. They can encourage people, even from a young age, to believe that there is an ideal body. The image is often an unnatural one. The fashion and beauty industries also set an unhealthy example when their products and ads promote a very limited range of body types as acceptable or desirable.”

When you remind yourself that your body is unique and should never be compared, you are more likely to have a healthy self-image.

Making friends with your body

For a lucky few, confidence about the way they look may come naturally. But for most of us, it’s a work in progress.

One day you may be really down on yourself, the next you feel great — despite waking up in the exact same body.

All that’s changed is our perception.

The good news is, that psychology shows us the more we can surround ourselves with positivity and minimize negativity, the better our body image becomes over time.

Mia Zhang

Mia Zhang blends Eastern and Western perspectives in her approach to self-improvement. Her writing explores the intersection of cultural identity and personal growth. Mia encourages readers to embrace their unique backgrounds as a source of strength and inspiration in their life journeys.

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