Jewish World Review Jan. 22, 2003 / 19 Shevat, 5763

Redeveloping your body image

By Judi Sheppard Missett | We're in a Catch-22. As a society, we're getting fatter even as our media-fueled physical "ideal'' is getting thinner. The cold, hard truth is that 62 percent of us weigh more today than we did five years ago, according to a survey published in Self magazine.

As a result, many women struggle with poor body image, and at its most dysfunctional it can evolve into body dysmorphic disorder, or BDD, which is characterized by an obsession with perceived physical flaws that can interfere with daily functioning. Women with the disorder often find an outlet in excessive cosmetic surgery or eating and exercise disorders.

While most women will not reach these extremes, they are still plagued with a nagging dissatisfaction with their bodies. But if we shift our focus, we can learn to love the bodies we have, even as we may try to improve them.

Women and girls who are happiest with their bodies take their cues from friends and family rather than the media. Likewise, women who exercise regularly report that they are more satisfied with their bodies, perhaps because they come to appreciate what their bodies can do, rather than simply how they look.

The following strategies can also help you develop your body image: -- Work from the inside out. Poor body image is often an expression of low self-esteem. Think about the individuals whom you admire and why -- does appearance even come on the radar screen? The characteristics that you value most in others are probably what they value in you, and I bet that looks aren't at the top of the list. What are your best character traits -- humor, kindness, intelligence, optimism? Turn your attention to those, and your physical appearance will carry less weight (no pun intended).

-- Get involved with something that ignites your passion. In addition to giving greater meaning to your days, it diverts your focus from surface issues.

-- Carry yourself as if you are the woman you want to be. You will find that people react to confidence, body language and verbal expression more than shape or size. Think back to the most popular girl in high school. In many cases, she was not the most beautiful but rather the most confident and comfortable with herself.

-- Toss your scale, or at the very minimum, your daily weigh-ins. Do not let pounds define you or set the tone for your day.

-- Invest in your health. Of course the best way to do that is through a healthful diet and regular exercise, but once again, your focus is the key. If you concentrate on improving your health rather than your appearance, you'll start to appreciate the many things your body can do. Exercise allows you to experience your body in a new way, as powerful, graceful and resilient. Exercise also provides a sense of control over something that may currently feel out of your control. And remember this: Regular exercise is a better predictor of good health than body weight or size.

After warming up for several minutes, add the following lunge-kick move to your aerobic workout. Begin by standing with your feet together and your arms at your sides. Take a big step to your left and lunge to your side as you reach your arms to the left. Shift your weight to your left foot and straighten it as you swing your right leg through and kick it forward. As you do this, swing your arms in opposition, relax your shoulders, and point your foot. Repeat the step four times before switching to the other side.

Judi Sheppard Missett is CEO of Jazzercise Inc., an international aerobic-dance instruction company. Comment by clicking here.


© 2003, TMS