Rewriting The Story: Strategies For Empowering Positive Body Image

From a young age, we are filled with ideas about what we ‘should’ look like, what we ‘should’ wear and what we ‘should’ do to achieve these standards. Living in this world of shoulds can quickly make us think and feel pretty negatively about our bodies. For people of all ages, and young people especially, this kind of negative body image can profoundly impact confidence and self-worth. 

The good news? We have the power to rewrite this story, not only for ourselves, but for the young ones in our lives, too! Shifting the narrative starts with building awareness of how societal messages deeply shape body image. With this awareness, we can learn strategies for how to foster positive body image in ourselves, and in turn, empower younger generations to do the same. Let’s dive in! 

Comparison Culture & Its Impact 

We hear all the time that society is filled with unrealistic messages – but have you ever taken the time to consciously be aware of just how often you encounter them?  

Spend a moment taking inventory of all the places you see messages about body image: your TV, your phone, billboards as you drive, newspapers and magazines, as you grocery shop...the list goes on and on. When scrolling social media, we are bombarded by advertisements with idealistic definitions of beauty that often exclude diversity and perpetuate unrealistic standards. These messages create a culture of comparison, where we constantly measure ourselves against unattainable standards. The resulting negative feelings of inadequacy, shame and low self-worth are unsurprising when we realize just how often we encounter these messages.  

To take it a step further – even with the knowledge that these messages are harmful, we as adults can still be deeply impacted. So much so that we change our behaviors and let it define the way we feel about our worth. When we think about young people who haven’t yet gained the understanding or perspective to filter these messages, we can see just how important it is to actively challenge these standards.     


Building Positive Body Image 

Okay, we know this may all be sounding a bit bleak and overwhelming – so let’s get to the good stuff! What can you do to empower yourself (and the young people in your life) with a positive body image  

Strategies For You 

Thought Replacement 

How you feel about your body (and yourself as a whole) starts with your thoughts. If you were to scan your thoughts, what messages would you hear? Due in large part to what we hear from society, our default thoughts are often focused on all the things we dislike about ourselves.  

Shifting your inner dialogue is a key component in cultivating a more positive body image – and in turn empowering a strong self-worth. Start this process by writing down some common thoughts you have when it comes to your body. Next, rewrite the thought in a more positive (or even neutral) way – sticking to the facts. Practice these shifts both on paper and in your mind! Here are some examples: 

  • “I wish I looked like ___.” ---> “All bodies are different. My value is not defined by the way I look.” 
  • “I hate the way my body looks.” --> “My body does so much for me. I want to take care of it.” 
  • “I can’t wear that outfit, I’m not in good enough shape.” ---> “I’m going to wear whatever makes me feel comfortable and confident.”

Media Cleanse 

If you were to pick up your phone now and scroll through social media, how many of the posts make you feel bad about how you look? Make you want to change your clothes? Make you want to exercise more or change your diet? Now, how many of those posts made you feel good about yourself? Gave you positive, uplifting messages? Showed you real, unfiltered people? Our guess is not many! 

This week, as you find yourself picking up your phone and scrolling your social feeds, ask yourself how that person or account makes you feel about yourself. If you can’t find anything positive, unfollow them. If you are hesitant, remember, you can always refollow! Being intentional with the messages we interact with on social media goes a long way in helping us focus on the positive qualities and abilities we have that go far beyond appearance. 

Strategies for Empowering The Young People In Your Life  

Shifting The Conversation 

Just like our thoughts have significant power over our own feelings and attitudes, the way we talk to and around kids & teens has a big impact on their perceptions of their bodies.  

As we practice reframing and replacing negative thoughts in our minds, practice it out loud around your kids, too! Creating an open and safe space where young people feel comfortable talking about how they feel about their bodies plays an important role in empowering mindful body image in others. Offer praise and encouragement for qualities beyond appearance, such as kindness, creativity, intelligence, and resilience. Here are a few examples of common conversations and how to shift them. 

  • “Did you notice how much weight she lost? She looks great.” ---> “She seems brighter and more confident recently!” 
  • “You look great!” ---> “I really admire your strength and kindness.” 
  • “Did you see their outfit today?” ---> “I wonder if they’re feeling okay today. They seem tired; I should check in with them.” 

Be A Role Model 

Kids are always watching and listening – even (and sometimes especially) in moments we wish they weren’t! Fostering positive body image in them starts with leading by example. Here are some additional ideas for being a role model to kids in this area:  

  • Be critical and open about societal messages that promote unrealistic or unhealthy ideals. Open up conversation about accounts or ads that might be harmful 
  • Talk about and incorporate a wide variety of health-conscious food and allow kids to experience some freedom with food 
  • Emphasize the importance of self-acceptance and self-love. Practice your own self-care and be open about it with kids  
  • Focus conversations on how you or they feel instead of how you or they look. Ask questions using a curious approach when you hear kids talk negatively about their bodies

Changing The Narrative 

The impact of societal messages on body image is undeniable - but so too is our ability to challenge and change these narratives. While loving our bodies all the time is unrealistic, we can actively work to show ourselves more compassion and acceptance, because our value is far greater than skin-deep. In this process, we can create a positive ripple effect for the young ones in our lives and empower the next generation to embrace confidence and self-worth, too.

Check out this Positive Body Image Guide to put these strategies into practice! And for a more in-depth look at body image, nutrition and eating disorders check out our Mindful Body Image E-Book and our Fulfilling My Mind, Body & Me E-Book.   

In February we recognize Eating Disorders Awareness Week. If you or someone you know is struggling with disordered eating or an eating disorder, we encourage you to reach out for support. Visit our website to learn more & schedule an intake call.  


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