Women and Body Image: The Culture Phenomenon continued...
Fast-forward a few thousand years, and May points out that from our days in the stroller, little boys are valued for their strength and intelligence, while girls are doted on for their looks.
"It's not uncommon for people to compliment a baby boy by saying 'He's so strong, so smart,' while they compliment a baby girl by saying 'She's so cute, so adorable.' That kind of thinking becomes ingrained in our heads," says May.
That said, many experts agree that nothing in our culture or history can hurt a woman's self-worth as much as something many of us do in front of the mirror every day -- negative self-talk.
"Self-denigration is the most damaging thing we can do to our self-esteem because it is so personal," says Aronowitz. "With rejection of the body, a sense of identity and worth is vehemently attacked."
And, she says, women don't just denigrate themselves privately. It's also a group sport.
"What I think women don't realize is that when they turn to their best friend and say 'My cellulite is really gross' they are also saying 'Your cellulite is really gross.' So putting themselves down is not only insulting personally, it's also insulting to other women," says Aronowitz.
6 Ways to Boost Body Image Without Losing a Pound
While losing weight may give a temporary boost to your self-esteem, linking self-worth to a dress size is never going to have a long-lasting effect, experts say. What can make a difference is changing the way you see what's already there in the mirror.
Ironically, doing so often translates into making the kind of self-care changes that can also lead to improvements in the way you look.
"When your self-esteem is high, you care more about yourself, so doing things that are good for you, like eating a healthier diet or exercising regularly, also comes much easier, and we are more successful at it. And that often means we end up looking and feeling better," says Martz.
To help you get started thinking about yourself in a more positive light, our experts say, put away the scale, ignore those size tags, and focus on the following.
- Stop negative self-talk immediately. While you still may not like what you see in the mirror, Martz says, learning to describe yourself with neutral, objective phrases can help stop the cycle of poor self-esteem. So, instead of saying to yourself "I have really ugly thighs," think "My thighs could use some work."
- Find and focus on the things you like about your looks. It's best not to link your looks to your self-esteem, but with body image so intimately entwined with self-image, that can be hard to do. The next best thing is to find something about your image you really like. "It can be great hair, great nails, terrific teeth. Find the things about yourself you can say something good about, and every time you look in the mirror, go there first and say something positive to yourself," says Martz.
- Treat yourself with the same kindness and respect you show your best friend. "Would you respect and care about a person who says about you what you are saying about yourself? If the answer is no, then begin treating yourself at least as well as you are treating others in your life," says May.
- Say what you mean. Sometimes, hating your thighs is all about wanting thinner thighs. But sometimes, Kaufman says, negative body thoughts are a way of expressing discontent over other issues in your life. Learn to decode these messages, she says.
- Dress the part. If you're putting off buying new clothes until you like your body better -- don't. Whether you're bursting at the seams in duds that are too tight or swimming in oversized clothing to hide your body, you are eroding your self-esteem. "Buy what fits you, and look the very best you can. It sends a powerful message to yourself that you are worth it," says Aronowitz.
- Recognize that people naturally come in different shapes and sizes, and cherish your body's uniqueness. And, Martz says, remember this: "Only 2% of the world's women fall into the supermodel category. That leaves a lot of room for the rest of us!"