How to Stop Beating Yourself Up About Your Body Image

Feeling bad about your body image is complex. Body image encompasses how you see, feel, and think about your body, as well as how you behave in response. Many factors shape these perceptions, often unrelated to your actual body. Consider the multitude of messages you’ve received throughout your life about what constitutes a “good,” “healthy,” or “beautiful” body. It’s no wonder you might be highly aware of how your body deviates from these ideals.

“Weight stigma is the belief that our bodies should resemble the models you see on magazine covers, in advertisements, and in most movies—thin and/or muscular,” says Apostol. “When your body size doesn’t match these cultural standards of beauty, fitness, and health, you experience weight stigmatization and discrimination, known as anti-fat bias. Rooted in racism, anti-fat bias affects many aspects of life, including employment prospects and access to evidence-based healthcare.”

The Roots of Negative Body Image

Negative body image often stems from internalized weight stigma—a cultural devaluation of fat people learned from media, medicine, and those around us. This stigma can cause you to judge your own body harshly, believing you’re not worthy of equal opportunities because of your size. “The world tells you that you don’t fit in, and you believe it. You’re being gaslit by diet culture,” Apostol explains.

“When you think something is ‘wrong’ with the way you look, have you ever wondered who decided what makes a body right or wrong?” asks Gillespie. “Believing you are less worthy based on your body size leads to picking apart every aspect of your appearance, preventing you from seeing the positives and beauty of your body as it is.”

This negative self-view can make you feel unworthy of compassion, love, friendship, personal style, professional opportunities, or comfort in public spaces. Weight stigma and negative body image can leave you torn between trying to “correct” your body, accepting it, or languishing in a state of dissatisfaction.

Steps to Improve Body Image and Self-Acceptance

1. Give Yourself Permission to Be Where You Are

“We are all inundated with messages that thin equals better/healthier/more moral. It takes time and courage to break free from diet culture, so be proud of the work you’re doing to heal your relationship with your body,” Apostol says.

2. Diversify Your Social Media Feeds

Apostol suggests following a variety of creators, including:

  • Fat liberation activists
  • Anti-racism educators
  • Disability justice activists
  • BIPOC artists and writers
  • Neurodivergent individuals
  • Trans people
  • Queer people

“If your feed is filled with people who look just like you or like your aspirational self, you’re perpetuating your own negative body image,” she says. Embrace the option to see body diversity in media, which is a relatively new and powerful tool.

3. Find Your Support System

Seek out people who believe all bodies are equally worthy. Avoid those who sell the idea that you need to change your body to conform to an ideal. Apostol recommends looking for fat liberation Facebook groups, anti-diet podcasts, and liberation-focused group coaching or therapy.

4. Distance Yourself from Negative Influences

“If friends or family can’t respect your body acceptance journey, spend more time with people who do,” Apostol advises.

5. Don’t Trust Mirrors and Photos to Reflect Reality

“What we see in the mirror is layered with our negative thoughts, and photos only capture a single moment. They don’t reflect your life and energy,” Gillespie explains. She uses the example of how photos of a beautiful sunset in Costa Rica couldn’t capture its actual beauty.

6. Separate Your Worth from Your Weight

Jones emphasizes that self-worth should not be tied to weight. “It took years of intentional practice to build the belief that I am 100% worthy of love, acceptance, and appreciation at any weight.”

7. Work on Your Self-Talk

Jones suggests noticing each negative body thought and responding kindly: “Oh, here I am, having a negative body thought. That’s OK. I know my worth is not based on my weight.” Repeating this can help shift from internalized weight stigma to body respect.

8. Show Yourself Compassion

When feeling self-judgment, Apostol recommends asking yourself:

  • What am I actually upset about right now?
  • How can I take care of myself right now?
  • What’s possible in this moment?
  • What would I like to do about the situation?

Changing how you feel about your body takes time. “We need to recognize that thin bodies have been idealized for over 100 years, passed down through generations. It’s unrealistic to reverse this conditioning overnight. Give yourself grace. Of course, you aren’t there yet!” Gillespie says.

Improving body image is a journey that requires patience, self-compassion, and a commitment to challenging long-held beliefs and societal standards.

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