Body Beautiful

The winter break is well and truly over and has probably seen us overindulge on food and/or alcohol. Spring and summer are just around the corner, and the lure of the beach is getting closer to the forefront of our minds. At this time of year many of my clients start talking about their bodies, their weight and their self-esteem.

The relationship we have with our body has an incredible impact on our health and happiness. Yet very few people are on friendly terms with their own flesh.

Most people have at least one part of their body they dislike. More and more women, and an increasing number of men, are not happy with any part of their bodies.

By now, we girls know that Supermodels are freaks of nature that we could not hope to imitate without years of plastic surgery - ultimately resulting in looking more like Michael Jackson than Elle McPherson. And Brad Pitt's body is simply not achievable for most guys - no, not even with the help of steroids and penile implants!!

By comparing ourselves to the endless images of so-called perfection that the media spews out, we become our own worst enemy. So how do we armour ourselves against this barrage of perfect pecs and butts!?

Firstly, it's important to understand why these images are so enticing? The answer is simply that the media links them with happiness, popularity, success and wealth; making them psychologically irresistible to us mere mortals. Like Superman near Kryptonite, we are just about powerless to resist the hidden promise in these images.

It is happiness we are really after - and we are told that having a perfect body will deliver this golden nugget. But in actuality, it turns us against ourselves and creates misery. My first tip, chuck out magazines that insist on such a biased view of human anatomy, or if you still want to read WHO Weekly, then realise that the people with these great bodies do not have any greater access to happiness and success than their less physically "perfect" counterparts!!

The problem is in our minds not our bodies!

We can effortlessly resist these attacks if our self-esteem is in order. Liking yourself, valuing your strengths, knowing you are worthwhile regardless of the physical body you came in - these offer protection against the insidious nature of these advertising campaigns.

Unfortunately, many women I talk with are caught up in an ongoing internal battle - trapped in an avalanche of negative self-talk - I'm fat, I don't like my body, my bum is too big, my breasts too small, I don't look as good as…! They simply do not believe they can feel good about themselves unless they are given a new body or face! Essentially, they have bought into the campaign which says, "You would be happier if only you were not YOU!!" As a result, their self esteem plummets, depression sets in, and poor eating and lack of activity confirm they are right to hate themselves.

Males are not unaffected by this kind of advertising either. They are increasingly becoming targets and their self-perception is suffering. They are being told that happiness will arrive after their next session at the gym, or when they buy that $200 t-shirt, or invest in that groovy hair-gel. For men too, happiness is becoming linked to external images rather than internal feelings.

For both men and women, the carrot keeps moving, always dangling just out of reach. And it will remain this way, because perfection is unachievable. I'm not talking about being your best; there is nothing wrong with striving to be the best you that you can be - but even then you will not be perfect. We all have flaws and limitations, we all make mistakes, and every Body is unique. Perfectionism is a controlling and restrictive belief system that leads to self hate not happiness.

So where does happiness come from?

  • Accepting yourself and your body as you are
  • Eating well and nourishing your body inside and out
  • Doing things and being around people that you love
  • Finding what it is that brings meaning into your life
  • Living your life according to what's right for you, rather than what's expected by others

If you have been struggling with body image, eating or related issues for a while, it might be worth talking to a professional counsellor.

Words by Michelle McClintock

Posted on 10 November 2004