I’m a runner. Running is of my favorite things to do. I love it so much, in fact, that I often find myself logging too many miles, too many days of the week, which, invariably, results in injury.
I’ve had shin splints, stress fractures, recurring tendonitis, and bursitis like you wouldn’t believe and all of those injuries have sidelined me. They’ve forced me to rehabilitate or “rehab” each injury until it healed, and I could run again.
Rehabbing a sports injury can be tough. The process can be uncomfortable and, at times, lengthy. And it involves reactive therapeutic efforts. With each injury, I’ve wished I’d taken proactive measures to avoid that injury in the first place. I internally chide myself for not embracing “prehab,” or taking preventative steps like sports-specific exercises, stretching, foam rolling, or taking more rest days. It seems I never learn.
Mired in self-pity over my latest injury, I started thinking about the concept of repairing or “rehabbing” body image. It struck me that body image rehab is analogous to rehabilitating a sports or fitness injury, in that it takes time and effort, and requires reactive measures. But as with sports injuries, prehabbing body image is preferable to rehabbing it, as it can be considerably more difficult to repair damage already sustained. The best outcome, in either case, is to prevent the injury altogether.
Many of us – men and women – are in need of some measure of body image rehab.
- In a recent survey, more than 40% of women and about 20% of men agreed they would consider cosmetic surgery in the future. The statistics remain relatively constant across gender, age, marital status, and race.
- 80% of children who are 10 years old are afraid of being fat.
- By age 6, girls, especially, start to express concerns about their own weight or shape. 40-60% of elementary school girls (ages 6-12) are concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat. This concern endures through life.
- 25% of normal weight males perceive themselves to be underweight.
- More than 90 percent of girls (15 to 17 years) want to change at least one aspect of their physical appearance, with body weight ranking the highest. Nearly a quarter would consider undergoing plastic surgery.
- Approximately 91% of women are dissatisfied with their bodies and utilize dieting to reach their ideal physique. Regrettably, only 5% of women are naturally inclined toward the body type often portrayed by Americans in the media.
So how did it come to this? Simple – a lack of injury pre-habilitation to prevent the need for rehabilitation.
But we can provide body image prehab for our children, and help prevent body image injuries, reducing the need for body image rehab later on. Parents, teachers, and other adults in leadership roles can assist with guiding children in developing strength and stability around their most vulnerable areas.
The negative effects of society’s impossible-to-maintain standards for beauty are deplorable. It’s crucial to the well-being of our children that we overcome these damaging beauty stereotypes. Leading by example, practicing positive ways to feel confident, healthy, and strong, and teaching our kids to do the same.
10 Ways To Take An Active Role in Body Image Rehab, and Prehab:
1. Foster positive self-talk
2. Be careful of disparaging your own body’s flaws in the presence of your children.
3. Be careful of disparaging other’s bodies in the presence of your children
It’s tempting to snark about yourself or others, but resist the urge, especially when your children are present.
After I wrote this article, a friend of mine told me:
“I gained weight 12 years ago, and have fluctuated in weight since then, especially after having my son. I went through a lot of times that I hated the way I looked and made it known. Even now, I’m still overweight and I let life get in the way and slack big time, but I have made a point to never say anything bad about myself in front of my son. Not only has it built my confidence, but I don’t say anything bad about myself ever anymore, and now encourage other people to stop as well. I always tell people that if they want to better their health, it’s about the inside, and it should never be about the outside, because when it is for vain reasons, it seems like it fails a lot more often!”
This positive self-talk is imperative! Children are listening. When you disparage your own body in front of your kids, or the bodies of others, the message you’re sending is that it’s okay to say mean things to yourself, or to say mean things about others.
Fostering a positive body image in children by modeling your own is critical to your kids’ understanding of how they should view themselves.
4. Consider the impact of your digital entertainment
Sexually explicit material is everywhere in media. What this means is lots of screen space devoted to bodies. Specifically, unrealistic and airbrushed bodies, which are presented to the viewer as the standard, rather than the exception.
- In one recent study, published in The International Journal of Eating Disorders, 34% of girls reported at least a moderate level of concern over diet. The results stated, “Media exposure, and appearance conversations, were the strongest predictors of dietary restraint.”
Repeated exposure to perfectly retouched images online reinforces our belief that we should we hold ourselves to the same unrealistic standards.
5. Filtering your devices to reduce negative body image
Parental controls can be used on electronic devices to help filter the kinds of materials your child can access on the internet.
It’s important to be aware of Instagram hashtags. Tags like #pro-ana and #thinspiration are associated with photos that encourage eating disorders as means for severe and unhealthy weight control. Even a flood of #transformationtuesday messages on your Facebook homepage can trigger feelings of inadequacy.
6. Use a light-touch with photo filters and effects
The heavy application of filters on photos posted to Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and other social media sites is common. We all do it. And while photoshopping and filtering can be addictively fun, it can also be hard on body image.
In a study examining filter-use in social media, results showed that:
“The selfie girls who regularly shared self-images on social media, relative to those who did not, reported significantly higher overvaluation of shape and weight, body dissatisfaction, dietary restraint, and internalization of the thin ideal. In addition, among girls who shared photos of themselves on social media, higher engagement in manipulation of, and investment in, these photos, but not higher media exposure, were associated with greater body-related and eating concerns, including after accounting for media use and internalization of the thin ideal.”
The more we are fix the flaws with filters, the more dissatisfied we are become. Allowing the world to see the real you – the true you – helps to rehab your confidence, both inside and out.
7. Resist the urge to comment on, or criticize, your child’s appearance.
Shame is insidious, and we’re hurting kids when we give them the message that they’ll never be happy or successful unless they’re thin, or that your weight is a measure of your value.
8. Stop glamorizing and normalizing harmful body standards
Stop talking about dieting. Disconnect conversations about eating from a focus on weight. If you’re discussing food in relation to the body, focus about nourishment.
Also, avoid pushing exercise as a means for weight loss. Focus on the fun and health benefits, instead.
9. Rethink self worth
How do you define your self-worth? Does appearance play a large role in self confidence and identity? Reconsider your own value. What really makes you, you?
10. Look beyond the mirror to recognize your value
Break up with the mirror, constant body checking, and navel-gazing habits. They’re not helping you recognize your best qualities.
My therapist strongly recommended I take an extended break from the mirrors in my house to help cope with weight recovery after a relapse of anorexia nervosa. In order to heal, I needed to focus on what’s in my heart and mind, and not on the size or shape of an image reflected back to me.
For our children, it’s imperative that we lead by example and prioritize character qualities as having greater value than personal appearance. Allow attributes such as kindness, generosity, honesty, love, acceptance, and forgiveness to take the spotlight.
We need to work actively to include and accept the diversity of body types in our conversations, our actions, and our media. We need to guide the next generation of parents in developing strength and stability around their most vulnerable areas,
Practicing compassion for ourselves and others as we rehabilitate our body images helps our children to pre-habilitate their own.