How to Improve Body Image

Aesthetic-pressure in athletics

There’s a lot of pressure to look a certain way as an athlete. Depending on your sport, there might be pressure to be lean, bulky, trim, muscular, or even “in shape.” Sports culture tends to place more emphasis on how athletes appear than on how they perform, and social media only increases this pressure by idealizing specific body types.

What is body image?

Body image is the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions you have of your physical appearance. Positive body image is linked to higher self-esteem, resilience, and overall better mood while poor body image can lead to low self-esteem, quitting sport, unhealthy eating patterns, and eating disorders. Body image impacts everyone and athletes of all ages, genders, and sports might experience poor body image because of the unique aesthetic-related pressures they face.

If you find yourself thinking a lot about how you look during practice or competition, you’re not alone. Here are some ways to start reframing how you think about your body.

1. Practice awareness

Be honest with yourself and others about your thoughts and feelings related to your body image. If possible, find safe spaces to vent. Voicing your thoughts and feelings can help you feel like they have less power over you.

2. Practice body neutrality and gratitude 

Try shifting the negative thoughts you have about your body to neutral thoughts and appreciating your body for what it does rather than criticizing it for what it might not do. For example, your legs allow you to run, your arms allow you to throw, and your stomach muscles allow you to flip. When you notice yourself picking apart the way you look, focus on all of the things your body does for you rather than ways it could be different.

3. Limit social media use 

The less you are bombarded with comparison and societal “ideals,” the better. If you notice that you compare yourself to other people you follow on social media, try setting a time limit on those apps. To make the best out of the time you do spend on social media, try adjusting your feed to avoid negative comparison. Unfollow or mute people who cause you to stress about appearance. These subtle changes can make a big difference in the amount of time and energy you spend comparing yourself to others.

4. Create goals that emphasize overall health and well-being

If you are looking to create healthy habits that have anything to do with eating or exercise, make sure they emphasize overall health and well-being. It might be tempting to follow quick fixes for goals like building muscle or dieting, but these trends will only lead to a worse perception of yourself and put your health at risk. It’s essential to both your health and athletic performance to find balance in your habits.

5. Find a support system

It’s super important to surround yourself with people who accept and encourage you. If possible, spend time with people who help you appreciate your body. Set a positive example with your teammates by steering clear of conversations about food choices and body talk and if someone brings up discontent about their body, try to talk about how they feel rather than how they look.

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