How much of your day do you spend thinking about the way that you look? And how much – truly – of that is negative? Likely, plenty of you. According to 2019 research commissioned by Women's Health as part of our body confidence boosting initiative, Project Body Love a mere 4% of UK women feel beautiful, with 55% saying that looking at yourself in the mirror or in photos can trigger a bout of insecurity.
To get some insight from a serious leader in the field, WH had a chat with activist and author Natasha Devon, MBE. Here's her plan to boost your body confidence – and who to follow to switch up the images you see when you scroll Insta.
1. Understand that you're a product of everything you see
'Our brains take in an estimated 2 million pieces of information per second, but we’re only consciously aware of between 5-9,' says Devon. 'It’s important to acknowledge that the 1,999,993 bits of information we don’t register consciously are still absorbed by the unconscious brain and therefore contribute to our unconscious biases, belief systems and identity.'
'Our environment is therefore constantly teaching us through what we are exposed to repetitiously – whether that’s imagery or language. That’s why, to a certain extent, we are all a product of our culture and why ideas about beauty change throughout history and the world.'
2. So who you are surrounded by matters
'I co-presented a TV show called Naked Beach on Channel 4. We sent people with low body image satisfaction to live with eight naked body positivity campaigners for four days and it had a profound and lasting impact on the way they felt about their own body. The moral of the show was who and what you surround yourself with matters,' Devon explains.
'Shockingly, research by Boots showed that only 1% of us felt social media makes us feel more confident. However, I think this is something we can combat by using the power of social media to control our online environment.
'When it comes to body image, evidence shows we feel best about our own appearance when the images we are exposed to are diverse. Therefore it should be everyone’s mission to diversify their feed, incorporating a range of shapes, sizes, colours, abilities and gender expressions.'
Some of Devon's favourite accounts to follow are:
3. Choose your compliments wisely
'With Boots research revealing that confidence levels are boosted by up to 60% when paid a compliment, it’s obvious that compliments go a long way, but we just need to deliver them correctly. We learn through repetition,' says Devon.
'So, if we are consistently being complimented on how thin we are, how young we look or our shoes, the message our brains receive is that these are the reasons we are valued and therefore the things we should put most effort into in order to ensure we continue to be valued.
'However, ask people to name their friend’s best qualities they’ll usually say something like they’re kind, strong, inspiring or brave. Yet they haven’t ever told their friend that, directly. An important component in self-esteem is knowing that whilst your appearance and achievements aren’t completely unimportant, if they went away you’d still be loved for your less tangible qualities.'
4. Know that your body image is linked to your mental health
'Low body image is linked to self-esteem and life satisfaction, all of which have a big impact on mental health. If you are experiencing anxiety or mental distress, your body is the easiest thing to channel those feelings toward.
'Firstly because it’s literally the closest thing to you but also because we live in a world which has persuaded us pretty relentlessly that our bodies are something to be moulded and shaped to our will and that when we do our lives will be better.
'When life is too overwhelming to contemplate, it’s much easier to distract yourself by worrying about the circumference of your thighs.'
5. Practice staying present
'Try something which puts you in a mindful state, so you focus on experiencing the moment rather than tuning into anxiety and insecurity.
'For me, that is running. Running not only connects me to the moment, it makes me properly inhabit my body. If I didn’t exercise, I’d just be a head worrying about the body it was attached to, constantly.'
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