If you’re having a hard time adopting a positive body image, you’re not alone. It can be hard for student-athletes to find the balance between striving for progress in their sport and accepting and appreciating their bodies just as they are. Taking a few seconds to appreciate what your body can do is a critically important daily habit, and the more confident you can feel about your body, the easier it will be to feel confident in your sport.
Here, we’re looking at a few simple ways to boost your body appreciation every day.
Find one thing you love—and say it out loud
Every day, try to notice one thing that you do appreciate about your body. It can be something specific and physical, like “I have fantastic ankles,” but it can also be more focused on what your body can do, like, “I had a great lap at practice yesterday.” If you struggle to make this a habit, stick a note to your bathroom mirror to remind yourself to do it every day while you brush your teeth.
Keep a written list of those things you love
To take it up a notch, actually write down the one thing you love about your body every day, even if it’s the same thing you wrote yesterday. This running list will be a powerful reminder for you—and it can be nice to reflect back on in a tough moment. If you’re prone to negative thoughts about your body, keep this list accessible where and when you need it most. This might be a note on your phone, or a written list tucked in your gym locker.
Focus on feeling
Try a mindfulness exercise: Close your eyes and take a minute to do a body scan, starting with the top of your head and going all the way down to your toes. How does every body part feel? Are your eyes relaxed or tense? Shoulders squeezed up? Quads sore or loose? There’s no judgment here, just notice the feelings. Getting more in touch with your body will help you hone the appreciation for it—and might even remind you to do some self-care.
Make a list of your many identities
You may primarily define yourself as an athlete, but humans contain multitudes. Spend some time thinking about who you are outside of sport: a sibling, a writer, a student, a scientist, an activist, an advocate, a budding chef, a singer, a good card player, a video game lover, a bookworm…the list can go on for as long as you want. While listing out ‘great piano player’ may not make you immediately appreciate your body, it’s important to remember that you do have an identity outside of sport and your body is useful in so many ways.
Step away from the scale
The numbers on the scale don’t accurately represent anything about you or your abilities. If you regularly weigh yourself, try to go for longer periods of time without weighing in. Of course, you may have to weigh in if you’re in a sport like wrestling, but the more you can shift to numbers simply defining your weight class in your sport rather than having any kind of value judgment, the better.
Make a pact with your friends
Whether your friends are athletes or not, make a promise with them to try to stay positive in conversations around your bodies. You can also create accountability by asking your friends to call you out if they catch you complaining about your body and offer to do the same for them. Equally important, make an agreement that you also won’t judge or gossip about other bodies.
Move your body
Sometimes, a tough day at practice can send you into a negative body image spiral as you focus on how your body didn’t perform the way you wanted or expected it to. But remember, your body does so much more than just play one certain sport. Outside of sport, make time each day to move your body in a way that feels joyful to you. Dance to a favorite song, swing on a swing set, practice handstands in the yard, or do a few yoga stretches.
Remember that it’s OK to not feel OK
Negative emotions about your body will surface from time to time. It’s almost unavoidable. Don’t try to pretend those emotions aren’t happening or feel as though they’re ‘wrong’ or ‘bad.’ In those tough moments, reflect back on some of the positives that you’ve thought or written down, but don’t beat yourself up for having negative thoughts. Sometimes, body positivity can feel difficult, and in those times, aiming for body neutrality—viewing your body as neither positive nor negative—is a great goal.
Everyone has ups and downs when it comes to body image, but you can take steps now to feel great about your body and what it is capable of every day.