How do you see yourself when you look in the mirror? What do you believe about your own appearance? Are you constantly comparing your body to people you see in the media, or even at work, school, etc.? How do you feel about your body, including your height, weight and shape? Can you name parts of your body that you like or are you constantly focusing on the parts you don’t like?

Body image concerns among women, men, teenagers and even children has risen dramatically over the last 30 years. There are two main culprits for this type of dissatisfaction with one’s appearance. The media and how we were raised as children.

Media Manipulation

The media pushes an unnatural body type, making it difficult for us to accept natural beauty.

The average American woman is 5’4” tall and weighs 140 pounds. The average American model is 5’11” tall and weighs 117 pounds. Most fashion models are thinner than 98% of American women.
Sadly, the media influences children as well. 42% of elementary school students between the 1st and 3rd grades want to be thinner. 80% of children who are ten years old are afraid of being fat. 51% of 9 and 10 year old girls feel better about themselves if they are on a diet.
Why does the media pose such an unrealistic view of how we “should” look? The roots, some analysts say, are economic. By presenting an ideal difficult to achieve and maintain, the cosmetic and diet product industries are assured of growth and profits. Also, our society reveres celebrities and most of them fit into this unrealistic body type.
Childhood Cornerstones
The second reason for body-image issues is related to the way that we were brought up. If one OF your parents, both of your parents or any type of caregiver were overly critical of you, then chances are you formed a negative opinion of yourself early. Self-esteem is the cornerstone of how we feel about ourselves IN ADDITION TO how we interact with others. In other words, all of our relationships are affected by the way we feel about ourselves, our self-worth, and our self-love.
I am sure you have either known someone or experienced being in a relationship that did not feel right. Let’s pretend it’s you. Maybe you have been drawn to someone emotionally or physically abusive. Why did you stay in that relationship? There was a part of you, maybe somewhere deep down, that did not think you could do any better. Or maybe you believed that the person would change. That type of thinking stems from negative messages we have about ourselves we received as children, teenagers, and even as adults.

Loving Yourself First
Have you heard the old adage in order to love someone you must first love yourself? Well, it is true. To believe you are a beautiful human being based on your strengths, your ability to love and to care, to be a good friend or wife or son, or simply a good person, is to believe in yourself and all of your possibilities.
When negative body image stems from a less than perfect childhood (we all had one!), then it might be beneficial to seek counseling. If you find yourself obsessing over your body or appearance because you are constantly comparing yourself to others or those in the media, counseling might also be helpful.
There are some things you can do right now to help increase feelings of self-esteem:
* Engage in physical activity -- Play tennis, go for a jog, dance around in your room to your favorite song.
* You are so lucky to have a healthy, strong functional body -- wear some of your favorite clothes; Wear clothes that you feel comfortable in and make you happy.
* Treat your body -- Paint your toenails, get a massage, or simply sit down and put your feet up; your body works hard for you each day and sometimes you forget to appreciate it.
* Mentally list at least three qualities and talents about which you are proud.
* Think of the reasons you like your friends -- They probably do not have anything to do with their appearance, and neither are the reasons that your friends like you.
* Make plans with a friend that you have been meaning to catch up with to go for a walk or a cup of coffee.
* Take the step to tackle a long-term project – You have been putting it off...whether it is cleaning your room or signing up for a pottery class, there is no better time than right now.
* Think of your favorite body part and focus on why you like it.
* Take a few moments for deep breathing and relaxation -- You can do this sitting waiting for class to start or on a bench outside; inhale deeply through your nose for a count of five, filling your lungs with cool air and positive energy, and then exhale slowly through your mouth.

And remember, you are extraordinary.

Author's Bio: 

Jennifer Yates, MFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a private practice in Manhattan Beach, and serving Los Angeles and surrounding areas. Jennifer comes with over 10 years experience working with individuals, couples, families and adults.