How to Have a Positive Body Image and Be Happy with Your Body

How to have a positive body image is a hot topic of interest, given that an estimated 50% of American women are dissatisfied with their appearance and thus do not have a positive body image!

And that's a real shame because a positive body image improves your relationships, professional career, self-confidence, health, and even sex life. 

But what is the secret to people and women feeling good in their bodies? 

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Read on below and discover the secrets of people with a positive body image so you can also become happier with your body.

We start with some interesting observations from a famous mirror experiment...

Effect of mirrors on our body image: Introduction

Dr. Kjerstin Gruys (Teaching Fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles & Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Nevada, Reno) decided to organize a rather radical experiment. 

Around 6 months before her wedding, this sociologist decided to stop looking in the mirror as a test she would also document.

Living without a mirror image: Experiment 

The goal was straightforward:

365 days of not looking in the mirror.

So not a week, not a month, not six months, but a whole year would pass before she would see her reflection again.

For her experiment, this American sociologist took severe measures to maximize the chances of success:

Woman With Curly Brown Hair And White Top Mirrors Herself In Wide Mirror In Bathroom
  • When she went to the bathroom at work, she purposely chose the bathroom stall with no mirror hanging directly across from it. As such, she would not be face-to-face with herself when she stepped out again. 
  • She covered all the mirrors in her home and continuously avoided her reflection in the windows of stores or catering establishments. 
  • After eating, she would rely on others to tell her if she still had a piece of food between her teeth.
  • She also relied on others for feedback on her appearance, face, and skin.

Her impending marriage was the impetus to launch this drastic experiment without mirrors.

Ms. Gruys was tired of being constantly preoccupied with how she would look in her wedding dress. 

It began to dominate her thoughts, and she regularly thought that losing weight would be the solution (for example, losing weight by walking). She often thought, "If I lose a few pounds, my wedding dress will look much better on me." 

In short, the preparations for her wedding provided little pleasure... In essence, she wanted to focus on the fact that she was getting married to the love of her life, instead of dwelling on how she looked.

Positive effects of avoiding the mirror

Woman With Long Brown Hair And Tanned Skin In White Lingerie Mirroring Herself In A Large Rectangular Mirror

Ms. Gruys documented her findings during the experiment in a book containing her experiences.

She concludes in the book that her time without a mirror was indeed liberating.

She noted that her thoughts about her appearance were becoming less prominent.

However, this happened gradually and not immediately.

At the beginning of the experiment, these thoughts about her appearance only increased. 

Then, after a month or so, she began having more energy and space in her head for family, friends, and work.

In other words, the experiment of living without a mirror image for a year created more space for the things that really matter in life.


Our body image is subjective

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Our body image is the subjective image we have of our own body. It is a subjective image because it does not necessarily correspond to reality.

For example, many American women overestimate the width of their bodies. They, unfortunately, think their buttocks, stomach, and legs are bigger than they really are.

Furthermore, our body image consists of several components that form a complex whole:

  • Cognitive component (Thoughts)
  • Affective component (Feelings)
  • Perceptual component (Perceptions)
  • Behavioral component (Behaviors)
Put differently, your subjective body image is shaped by how you think and feel about your body and how you behave.

Do you diet often? Do you look in the mirror a lot? Do you wear tight clothing such as skinny jeans or faux leather leggings? Or do you wear rather concealing clothing to hide certain curves? All of these factors affect your body image...

While it is difficult to say precisely how many people in the United States have a negative body image, we can safely assume it is a large group.

Learn more about your reflection thanks to the following info:

Significant differences between women and men

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International research shows that about half of all women have a negative body image.

And of this group of dissatisfied women, about half are so unhappy with their bodies that they suffer mentally.

Men are generally more satisfied with their bodies. 

For example, an estimated 30% of men have a negative body image and would like to be more muscular.

By the way: Female dissatisfaction does not get better with age... Older women are often just as dissatisfied as younger women. However, the importance they place on their appearance does decrease. 

In other words, slightly older women are not happy with their wrinkles, cellulite, menopausal belly, and sagging skin but usually do have a little more respect for their bodies. 

With age, older ladies begin to appreciate more and more that they are healthy and/or that they have brought wonderful children into the world.

We will do anything for the perfect body

Just how far dissatisfaction with our appearance can go is proven by a remarkable 2011 survey conducted in the United Kingdom.

A surprising survey from the United Kingdom

Specifically, 320 women studying at 20 British universities participated in this survey with an average age of 24.5 years.

The survey examined what female college students on college campuses across the United Kingdom would give up to get the perfect appearance. 

In the context of this survey, the term "perfect appearance" means their ideal body weight and shape.

The survey results were surprising...

Shocking discoveries from this survey

Sacrificing years of life is not a taboo subject

Phillippa Diedrichs' survey revealed that 29% of all college students are willing to trade life years (and thus live shorter and die earlier) for the perfect body and appearance.

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Specifically, 29% of the college students interviewed were willing to trade at least one year of their lives to achieve their ideal body weight and shape.
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The specific figures were as follows:

  • 16% would trade 1 year of their lives for the perfect look.
  • Another 10% were willing to trade 2-5 years of their lives for the perfect body.
  • Another 2% were willing to trade 6 to 10 years of their lives for the perfect body.
  • Lastly, 1% were willing to give up a staggering 21 years or more of their lives to achieve the perfect look.

Other sacrifices were also considered

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As many as 26% of the college students interviewed were willing to make other sacrifices to achieve the perfect body weight and body shape.
Bills Of 5 10 And 20 British Pounds Money In Exchange For Perfect Body Is Negotiable For College Students

The results were as follows:

  • 13% would be willing to pay £5,000 of their annual salary to achieve the perfect look.
  • 9% would neglect their partner and be willing to spend less time with them in exchange for perfect looks and weight.
  • 9% would also be willing to neglect their friends and see them less in exchange for a dream body.
  • 8% would pass up a job promotion to achieve their ultimate beauty ideals.
  • As many as 7% would sacrifice their health to obtain the ultimate body...
  • And 6% would trade their academic success (graduating with distinction or cum laude) for meeting 100% of our society's beauty ideals.

Positive body image is not encouraged enough

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According to around half of the female students interviewed, not enough was being done on college campuses to promote a healthy and positive body image.

By the way, what these young ladies are willing to give up for a beautiful exterior is also evident in this survey.

A whopping 39% would undergo cosmetic surgery to change their appearance if money were no object. 
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Multiple procedures

And of that group of 39% who would like to undergo cosmetic surgery, as many as 76% would opt for multiple surgical procedures

Additional facts uncovered during that survey


79% said they wanted to lose weight (if that's you, check these 10 common mistake when trying to lose weight). And this desire to lose weight existed even though most of the women surveyed (just over 78%) were within the underweight or normal weight class. 


Only 3% indicated they wanted to gain weight.


46% had already been ridiculed or bullied because of their appearance.

Sad Young Woman Bullied By 4 Other People Because Of Her Looks

A whopping 93% reported having negative thoughts about their appearance in the past week


Even more staggering: As many as 31% had negative thoughts about their bodies several times a day...

Cosmetic procedures are more popular than ever

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The American Society of Plastic Surgeons publishes annual reviews that compile cosmetic procedure statistics for the United States.

In 2020, American women had a total of 13,545,807 cosmetic procedures performed.

Customers served! 0 cosmetic procedures on American women in 2020

These included both:

  • surgical cosmetic procedures, and
  • minimally invasive cosmetic procedures.

More specifically, they revealed the following statistics in terms of cosmetic procedures:

Surgical cosmetic procedures in American women

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A total of 2,295,722 surgical cosmetic procedures were performed on American women in 2020. 

Customers served! 0 surgical cosmetic procedures on American women in 2020

The most commonly performed surgical cosmetic procedures in American women in 2020 were the following (ranked by popularity):

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Customers served! 0 rhinoplasties (nose jobs)
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Customers served! 0 liposuctions (read also: are abdominal liposuctions worth it?)
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Minimally invasive cosmetic procedures in American women

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A total of 11,250,085 minimally invasive cosmetic procedures were also performed on American women in 2020.

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The most commonly performed minimally invasive cosmetic procedures in U.S. women in 2020 were the following (ranked by popularity):

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Customers served! 0 treatments of  Botulinum toxin type A (Botox, Dysport, Xeomin)
Customers served! 0 treatments of  Soft tissue fillers (hyaluronic acid, calcium hydroxylapatite, polylactic acid, fat-face)
Customers served! 0 treatments of  Laser skin resurfacing
Customers served! 0 treatments of  Chemical peeling
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Cellulite treatment is also among these minimally invasive procedures (Velosmooth, Endermology) and accounted for 86,350 treatments in American women in 2020.

Conclusion: The so-called injectables, in particular, are pretty popular, with about 4.4 million botox (or similar) treatments and about 3.1 million filler treatments.

Thus, millions of plastic surgery procedures are performed annually in the United States alone!


  • According to a Norwegian study, cosmetic surgery does not really help because women who undergo plastic surgery often do not have a more positive body image afterward. 
  • Indeed, according to the same Norwegian and another Chinese study, some women felt more depressed after the procedure.


Far-reaching consequences of a negative body image

Being unhappy with your body is already highly annoying in any case. However, a negative body image also brings unpleasant and sometimes far-reaching consequences.

Doctor of Philosophy Jessica Marie Allevea, in her scientific dissertation, lists the consequences of negative body image, such as the following:

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Effects of negative body image on feelings, thoughts, and perceptions

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A negative body image can have the following negative effects on feelings, thoughts, and perceptions:

  • Negative feelings include: experiencing dissatisfaction with body weight or specific body shapes, being demotivated due to that dissatisfaction, poor self-confidence due to that pessimistic view, depressed feelings, etc.
  • Negative thoughts and low self-esteem ("I'm too fat," "No one thinks I'm beautiful," "I'm hideous," "I'm really not attractive," etc.)
  • Negative perceptions (magnifying perceived flaws and shortcomings)

Learn more about poor self-esteem due to negative body image through the following articles:

Effects of negative body image on behavior

Blonde Woman With Blue Eyes Looking Excessively In Mirror As A Result Of Negative Body Image

A negative body image can have the following adverse effects on behavior:

  • Excessive looking in the mirror
  • Pinching the skin (hurting oneself)
  • Avoiding social contact by avoiding public situations
  • Crash diets
  • Self-induced vomiting
  • Abusing laxatives
  • Excessive physical activity
  • Using steroids or muscle-strengthening products, and excessive weight lifting in men
  • Binge eating, emotional eating, and sugar addiction, all potentially leading to obesity
  • Developing and maintaining an eating disorder and body dysmorphic disorder
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Many believe that those unhappy with their bodies will be more motivated to, for example: 

  • go for walks, 
  • exercise (such as swimming, biking, running, etc.), or 
  • eat healthier. 

But in practice, it turns out to be just the opposite...

Those who think badly of their bodies take less care of themselves and are more likely to stay on the couch in front of the television with depressed feelings and less motivation and energy.


Learn more about the negative effects of negative body image on our behavior through the following articles:

Weak social relationships and feeling insecure

Group Of Friends Of Three Women Central With Man On Left And Man On Right Smiling People With Positive Body Image

Negative body image also affects your social network and social contacts.

In other words, negative body image makes for less good friendships and a more limited circle of friends that is less fulfilling.

Those who think badly and negatively about their appearance mistakenly believe that others do too.

In her dissertation, J.M. Alleva proved this with an ingenious experiment.

The participants were shown pictures of themselves or an unknown woman during this experiment. 

After each picture, a collage of different faces came into view. Some of those looked approving, some disapproving, and some looked neutral. 

Emoticons Faces Looking Disapproving Approving Neutral In Line With Experiment

Afterward, the participants had to estimate how many faces in that collage looked disapproving.

It turned out that the more negatively the women thought about their own bodies, the more they overestimated the amount of disapproving faces in the collage after their own photo was displayed. 

When the photo of an unknown woman was shown before the collage with the three types of faces, they did not overestimate the negative feedback.

J.M. Alleva did not examine the consequences of that tendency to overestimate disapproval of one's appearance by others.

Nevertheless, she does have an idea about it: 

We may be less likely to approach other people if we think they disapprove of our appearance.

Beware: There can also be a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy...

Once you are in that negative spiral with imaginary rejection by others, you will look less happy.

This will then also have an effect on your social relationships. 

Others may then be less likely to walk up to you to make contact (because who wants to talk to a depressed person?). 

As a result, you become even more insecure.

You can learn more about the importance of a positive body image and good, pleasant social connections to feel good about yourself via the following articles:

Poor sex life and unpleasant lovemaking

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Our sex life is another area where doubts about our appearance can throw a spanner in the works. 

American researcher Thomas Cash and his colleague Linda Smolak compared: 

  • 50 women who were very concerned with their body image 
  • with 50 women who were not at all or much less concerned with their body image and appearance.

That comparison showed that the latter group of women had much more fun in bed because they experienced orgasms almost twice as often. 

Spectatoring as a cause

The cause of this, according to researcher Thomas Cash, is something he calls "spectatoring" (being a spectator). 

Focusing enormously on how your body looks makes it less easy to pay attention to physical sensations, lose yourself, and enjoy and let go.


Read the following article for even more in-depth info on the negative consequences of negative body image:

How to have a positive body image?

Those who read Cash and Smolak's scientific research would be forgiven for forgetting some people are happy with their bodies and thus have a positive body image.

According to psychologist Tracy Tylka, affiliated with Ohio State University, the main focus so far has been on what you can do to reduce negative body image.

However, more research needs to be done on how to achieve a positive body image. 

In other words, the question is how to help people appreciate, respect, honor, and celebrate their bodies...

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3 types of body images

This is a significant difference because the diminishing or absence of a negative body image does not necessarily mean that you have a positive body image. 

In practice, there seem to be 3 groups of people, namely people with a:

  • negative body image,
  • neutral body image, or
  • positive body image.
What is the secret of this last group of people with a positive body image? 

And what can others learn from them so they can also have a more positive body image? 

Characteristics of women with positive body image

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Tracy Tylka reviewed the relevant literature and found that women with positive body image have several things in common.

Some similarities are obvious:

  • Women with positive body image focus on what they like and not on what they don't like when looking in the mirror.
  • Women who are satisfied with how they look are also convinced that certain traits (such as enthusiasm or friendliness) make someone beautiful. In other words, they do not believe that only physical characteristics can make someone beautiful.
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  • They take good care of their bodies by exercising and moving around a lot (a sedentary lifestyle is not for them).
  • Women with a positive body image also dare to pamper themselves occasionally with an evening or day trip to the sauna, a pampering cure (think massage or scrub), a visit to a spa or wellness center, etc.
  • Women who are happy with their appearance also have a healthy diet with a good balance of foods. They also avoid too much sugar, alcohol, and stopped eating junk food.
  • Women with a positive body image eat intuitively. This means they eat when hungry, stop when they have had enough, and feel satisfied. And so they don't eat as a reaction to certain emotions or stress.
  • They also focus on the functionalities of their bodies rather than their looks (see below).

Do you recognize certain points above? For example, are you often enormously stressed by your demanding job? Then learn to get rid of stress with the help of the following articles:

The above articles help to understand how stress is bad for you. You can also learn how to relax and de-stress, which can help with a more positive body image.


Our body's functionality should be the focus

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Also surprising is the observation that women with good body image look at their bodies from a very different perspective. 

Women with a positive body image do not focus on their appearance but on their bodies' functionality. They value their bodies for what they do and not what they look like.

This approach and mindset was also the subject of research by J.M. Alleva. 

She gave women with a negative body image several times the assignment to write about what their bodies could do and why they were grateful and happy about it.

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For inspiration, the women were given a long list of examples, such as: walking, running, talking, eating, kissing, hugging, drawing, playing music, going on vacation, swimming, sleeping, writing, cycling, digesting food, trampolining, sniffing smells, singing, dancing, tasting flavors, etc.

They were given this exercise because it turned out that it is difficult for many women to think about their bodies in these kinds of grateful and favorable terms. 

However, this is purely because they are not used to it. In contrast, they can so quickly list what they don't like about themselves precisely because that's what they are used to.

Some fun things and activities we can all do with our bodies and be thankful for, irrespective of our body size, include the following:

Assignment: Write down nice functionalities of your body

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During J.M. Alleva's experiment, participating women wrote gratefully about their health.

Other times they mused about what their bodies meant to others or what creative things their bodies could do.

For example, one participant in the experiment wrote that she could dance with her body and that this was important to her, for it was her way to have fun and express herself.

This is different for everyone. For example, you might be grateful to participate in painting sessions and pose as a model!

Conclusion: After doing this writing exercise about 3 times, participating women felt better about their bodies. So writing about the fun functionalities of your body is a powerful tool that still proves effective even a week later.

Although the participating women in J.M. Alleva's study had a very negative body image, she expects this method to also work and be beneficial for women with less negative, neutral, or positive body image.


Check out the following fun functionalities of your body to get inspiration for activities and pursuits. We hope they might allow you to have a more positive body image and enjoy life to the fullest:

Photoshop and unrealistic images have a negative impact 

It is difficult not to focus on what our bodies look like, given the flood of perfect images we are faced with every day.

Our American society's prevailing ideal of beauty is rammed down our throats 24/7 through various channels such as radio, television, social media, etc.

We see slim women with no wrinkles, completely waxed, no downy hairs on the face or arms, no cellulite on the buttocks, etc.

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Looking closely at all the scientific research, it quickly becomes apparent that all these unrealistic messages make us less satisfied with our appearance.

Especially when we already feel uncertain about how we look.

The dramatic influence of media and social media

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We used to see the ideal images only in magazines and on TV.

But with the advent of the Internet and social media, we now see the most beautiful photos on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. 

Influencers show off their six-packs and tightly toned bodies, and our friends and family post only the photos in which they look their best (most likely after using some flattering filters that make the photo look even better). 

Those who are honest admit that they would only share the most flattering photos.

The result, however, is an artificial, fake online world with images that are not real but edited. This has significant implications for our mental well-being...

Several studies show that the more time young women spend on social media, the more unhappy they are with their outward appearance.

Read even more in-depth information about how beauty standards affect us via the following article:

We need to be critical of images in the media

This is another area where we can learn something from the participants of T. Tylka's study. Namely, the women with positive body image were found to be media savvy. 

In other words, they realize that the photos we see in the media and on social media are edited or do not show the whole truth. 

They are very down-to-earth about this and are very critical of images in the media...

Tip: Always take images of beautiful men and women with a grain of salt. Chances are they have been edited with software.

Learn how to protect yourself from the harmful influence of media and social media through the following article:

The ideal image is imposed at a very young age

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Incidentally, the influence of unrealistic images on our thought patterns begins at a very young age.

In fact, many young girls in the United States are proud owners of one or more Barbie dolls. 

We all know them, and most of us have held one at one time or another... 

Barbie dolls are usually slim, with blonde hair, impossibly long legs, and an exceptional hourglass waist.

Although there has been much speculation about Barbie's negative impact on young girls' body image, there really hadn't been much direct research on it. 

Therefore, British psychologist Helga Dittmar decided to investigate this with her colleagues...

The researchers showed booklets to girls aged 5 to 8 years old. These booklets starred either Barbie or Emme, a doll of more common proportions. 

It turned out that the girls who had seen the booklets with Barbie pictures were less satisfied with how they looked and were likelier to want to be slimmer.


Be critical of images & grateful for body functionalities 

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It is difficult to completely escape the influence of perfect images in the media.

Even though we know that the images are often unrealistic, we unconsciously internalize these ideals of beauty. We think this is what people like.

Therefore, looking at such photos with a critical eye is a good start, but it's insufficient.

To really get a positive body image, it is also essential to focus on the functionalities of your body.

Moreover, it is also a good idea to adopt a broad meaning for the term "beautiful."

For example, feel free to think that women in advertisements are often (artificially) beautiful but that a fuller woman is also beautiful.

Avoiding the mirror is not a solution

Blonde Woman In White Dress Sitting With Back To Mirror And Avoiding It

Does it help to avoid the mirror to have a positive body image? 

While it can feel liberating, experts say it remains to be seen whether it works to avoid your own reflection so drastically.

But for someone who obsessively looks in the mirror all day, it probably helps to put some restrictions on themselves.

Your reflection can help you feel better about yourself

For most people with body image problems, it can actually be good to stand in front of the mirror.

This way, you can learn to focus on the body parts you like.

The best strategy for having a positive body image

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It seems that the following strategy is the best one for feeling more comfortable in your body: 

Stop thinking about your body as beautiful or ugly, and stop criticizing your body for being imperfect. 

Focusing on everything your body does for you is much better and more helpful.

After all, your body carries you through life, and it deserves some credit for that!

Be grateful to your body for all the wonderful experiences and moments you can enjoy!

Read more tips for enjoying life in peace with yourself at:


Fat talk and self-criticism do not help our body image

Many women express themselves negatively about their own bodies.

You may recognize one or more of the following types of self-criticism:

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  • "I seem to have a double chin with that blouse."
  • "Skinny jeans are not for me because my buttocks are way too fat."
  • "In these pants, I have a fat and unattractive butt."
  • "My breasts are too big and draw too much attention in that shirt."
  • "That sweater is too tight on my body, it looks like I'm pregnant."
  • With those hips of mine, I'd better stop snacking."
  • "I dare not put on that skirt because everyone will see my ugly cellulite on my buttocks."
  • "Those shorts are not good for me at all because they highlight my fat calves too much."
Woman Wearing Overly Tight Jeans And Dark Floral Patterned Blouse Mirroring Herself

But of course, all these forms of toxic self-criticism are not conducive to our body image.

It is nevertheless commonplace among many women, according to American body image researcher Thomas Cash, because women think fat talk is expected of them.

In an experiment, this researcher had his subjects read a variety of scenarios.

The character, named Jenny, expressed herself: 

  • either positively about her appearance: "I am satisfied with my weight and body," "I don't think I need to go on a diet"
  • or negatively: "I am dissatisfied with my weight and desperately need to start exercising to lose weight," "I really need to go on a diet to get rid of my tummy and rolls of fat."
Thumb Down Symbol Of Self Criticism And Negative Body Image Of Many Plus Size Women

Most participants in the experiment (both women and men) thought that others would like Jenny more if she spoke negatively about her weight and body.

According to researcher Thomas Cash, overweight women feel immense pressure to make negative comments about their appearance... 

Of course, this is extremely unfortunate and counterproductive to forming a more positive body image!

Are you motivated to stop tearing yourself down? Want to break the continuous stream of self-criticism and become more positive? Then be sure to read:

How to have a positive body image: Concluding tips to be happy with your body

Finally, we wrap things up with our takeaway tips on how to have a positive body image.

Women who are happy with their bodies possess the following traits:

  • They realize that the important people in their lives value them for who they are and not for how they look. When they receive compliments on their appearance, they realize that it is connected to changeable things such as clothing, hairstyle, or makeup.
  • They take good care of their bodies by exercising, moving, relaxing, and eating healthily.
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  • Women with a positive body image have a circle of friends who also think positively about their bodies. Research shows that those who are part of the same group of friends tend to worry about their appearance to the same extent and are equally likely to diet.
  • They are media savvy and look critically at all those perfect images in magazines, newspapers, on the Internet, and on television.
  • Women who are happy with their bodies have a broad conception of what is beautiful. In other words, they think someone is beautiful because of specific (inner) characteristics and not because of external features.
  • They accept their bodies, including their imperfections like accepting their cellulite (because absolutely no one is perfect). They are grateful for the things they find beautiful. They pay little to no attention to their lesser strengths in terms of appearance.
  • They value their bodies for what they can do with them, such as loving others, walking, playing sports, hiking, swimming, making love, sleeping, singing, dancing, sweating, and so on. They attach very little importance to how their bodies look.

Discover even more helpful tips and useful info about accepting yourself and your body through the following articles:

And don't forget that a healthy lifestyle with exercise, relaxation, a good night's sleep, and a healthy diet can also do wonders to achieve a positive body image. You can learn more about that in these articles: