How to Accept Your Body

Five Parts:Appreciating Your Unique BodyLearning to Avoid Negative Thoughts about Your BodyLearning to Focus on the PositiveSetting Goals and Making ChangesKeeping Things in Perspective

People are constantly bombarded with unrealistic and potentially harmful images of “ideal” body types. This can make it difficult to accept, love, and feel confident in your own body, which is critical. It's also important to learn what your body can physically do and become comfortable with these capacities. According to philosopher Baruch Spinoza, humans “know not what a body can do,” in the sense that nobody can know exactly what their body is actually capable of doing, at least before experimenting with it.[1] Psychologists note that there is a distinction between how people perceive their bodies and how their bodies engage in actions.[2] In order to accept your body, it’s important to get in touch with both of these aspects of your body on their own terms.

Part 1
Appreciating Your Unique Body

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    Recognize what actually gives you pleasure. Make a list of your most pleasurable moments. Include as many details as possible, such as who you were with, what you were doing, where you were, etc. Reflect on what these have in common. Was it the type of people you were with? The amount of excitement produced? Or simply the setting, like being in nature or in a big city? As you realize the conditions under which your body has received the most pleasure in the past, try maximizing the amount of time you spend in similar situations in the future.
    • Every person has a unique body, which means you'll need to experiment and find out what gives you pleasure.[3] Research suggests that less than half of Americans describe themselves as particularly happy with their present conditions, partly because they're not entirely certain about what actually makes them happy.[4] Start off simply by thinking back on all of the times you would describe as happy.
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    Recognize what you are naturally good at. Part of having a unique bodily structure and chemistry is coming to terms with the fact that some bodies will naturally be better at some activities than others. If you max out your height growth at 5 foot 2 inches, for example, odds are you won’t become a world class center in the NBA. But, you might become a particularly good horse jockey. Learning to accept your body means learning to accept that your body is better at performing certain actions as opposed to others. It might take you some time to figure out what activities those are.
    • If you aren’t sure what activities your body is naturally suited for, spend some time experimenting with ones you’d never imagine yourself to be interested in. Take a class in yoga or pottery. Attend an improvisational performance meeting. Just like Spinoza said, there’s no way to know what your body can do until you do it.
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    Identify what you like about your body and appearance. Even people with terrible body image can find something about their bodies to appreciate. It's important that you learn to love and appreciate all of your good qualities, including physical ones. Don't allow yourself to get hung up on qualities that bother you, only focus on the positive.
    • For example, you may currently be unhappy with your thighs—perhaps you think they are chubby or scrawny—but try to put a positive spin on this. You may wish you had slightly thinner thighs, but they do an excellent job propelling you up hills. Or, you may think your legs are spindly, but you are among the few that can really pull off wearing skinny-jeans.
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    Accept your body as it is. This means not trying to change who you are or focus on qualities you don't like. Learn to enjoy your body - how you move, feel, and get around. Let go of how you used to look, especially if your body has undergone changes from pregnancy, childbirth, injuries, or medical conditions. Be kind to your body as it is right now.[5]
    • Don't put yourself on a diet, unless your doctor has advised it. Learn to listen to your body and eat a comfortable amount. Don't deny yourself food or beat yourself up about how much you eat.[6]

Part 2
Learning to Avoid Negative Thoughts about Your Body

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    Realize how much time you devote to negative thoughts. Negative thoughts do nothing to improve your self image.[7] Spend a day or two actively reflecting upon how often you think about your body. How often do you think or say something negative about your body? How often do you have positive thoughts? Chances are, you are far more critical than positive.
    • Consider keeping a tally in a journal, note-pad, or on your phone for this task. Carry a notebook with you when possible and quickly jot down each negative thought that comes up. Include whether or not the negative thought was related to the way you might have looked. At the end of the day, you will likely be amazed at how much more negative you are throughout at single day than you realized.
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    Replace negative thoughts with positive ones. While this may be difficult in the beginning, it's an important part of accepting your body. As soon as you notice yourself starting to have a negative thought, replace it with something positive about yourself.[8] Give yourself time to get into the habit of thinking positively.
    • Try starting each day by thinking a few positive thoughts. Remind yourself of these thoughts throughout the day when you start feeling critical of yourself. For example, you might say, "I really like the way this new haircut makes me feel."
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    Limit your exposure to negative media images. Try to cut back or stop engaging with television shows, movies, magazines, or blogs that present an unrealistic or negative depiction of the body. Remind yourself that a majority of photos circulating the internet and magazine subscriptions have been altered to make the models pictured appear more in line with standard notions of beauty and sexuality.[9]
    • Psychologists are worried that with this trend's increase over the last 20 years, such images are creating unrealistic ideals regarding what a body should look like.[10] Don’t allow yourself to be sucked in by these empty caricatures with no reference in the real world.
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    Find a therapist who uses Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Many CBT techniques used by psychologists focus on the present and short-term using goals as therapy.[11] While it's best to see a therapist for CBT, you can begin to practice it on your own. When you notice a negative thought about yourself surface, stop yourself, take a deep breath, and try to locate the evidence for your belief. Has anyone actually told you this aspect of your body was flawed? If so, was the person just trying to hurt you, or maybe making a joke?
    • Psychologists believe that, in many cases, if you have an unrealistic expectation of how you should look, you'll have a distorted body image. It's important to notice when these unrealistic expectations show up in your thought processes, so that you can hopefully challenge these ideals with concrete information.[12]
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    Handle the negative people in your life. You are already working on being kinder to yourself and focusing on the positive aspects of yourself, but you also need to assess the other people in your life. Do you get criticism from your friends and family? Do they tell you that you need to lose weight, dress differently, or change your hair? If so, it's important that you find ways to address these negative influences.
    • Keep in mind that you probably won't be able to cut out your close friends and family in the same way that you can stop buying Vogue or watching America's Next Top Model. Even so, if they body-shame you or are overly harsh and critical, you need to be willing to have a respectful, yet firm discussion with them about how their words or behaviors hurt you.
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    Mix in different social groups. As you try out new activities, talk to people you might typically ignore or shy away from. Talking to strangers might feel uncomfortable at first, but the more you do it the easier and better it will get. No matter how uncomfortable you might feel at first, keep in mind that isolating yourself from other people can be even worse, with some research suggesting it can be just as deadly in the long run as obesity.[13] It is important to become more comfortable engaging with new people, especially if the people you are currently around aren’t supportive of your body-image or aren't positive influences.
    • Brain research suggests that who people love is highly influenced by their brain chemistry, which means you might not always fall in love with the kind of person you imagined for yourself.[14] This can also be true for building close friendships. It’s important to surround yourself with people who support you and encourage your self-discovery. Simply put, it will be much easier to accept your body and challenge any unrealistic ideals you might have if you're surrounded by people that accept you and your discoveries.[15]

Part 3
Learning to Focus on the Positive

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    Pay attention to the compliments you receive. Rather than look out for criticisms, enjoy the compliments you get. Pay attention to the content of other peoples' compliments and remember them. Write them down so that you can remind yourself of them later, especially during darker moments.
    • Instead of dismissing other peoples' compliments or convincing yourself that they're just being polite, take them at their word and trust that they are not just humoring you. Consider that others are giving you their honest assessments. Accept their positive words graciously.
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    Consistently identify what you like about yourself. Every time you notice yourself thinking negatively about your body or an aspect of it, remind yourself of something about your body that you like. Make a list of at least ten positive things about yourself, omitting anything appearance-related. Add to the list frequently.
    • This will help you begin to understand and appreciate all the wonderful aspects of yourself. You'll realize that your body is just one part of your total package. [16]
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    Reinvent your relationship with your mirror. If you spend too much time in front of the mirror, make a rule that you can't say or think anything negative about yourself when you look in it. Instead, use your mirror to identify the positive things you see. If you're still struggling with the mirror, take it away for a while. Studies have shown that you may be more likely to focus on your career or relationship, rather than your looks.[17]
    • Verbalize positive affirmations in front of the mirror: Say to yourself “You're beautiful!”, “You're amazing,” etc. when standing in front of the mirror.[18] This may feel forced, and you may not initially believe what you're telling yourself, but experts tell us that this process—what they call cognitive behavior therapy—really does work over time.

Part 4
Setting Goals and Making Changes

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    Improve your health and well-being. Part of learning to fully accept and be happy with your body may mean that eventually you change some aspect of it. For example, this might mean that if you are overweight, you hope to lose weight. But, remember that the numbers on the scale are just one aspect of and indicator of your over-all health. Make sure that you are scheduling and keeping regular physical exams where you can get all of your “numbers” (weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, etc.). This will give you an overall picture of your health, and will allow you to discuss your health goals with your doctor.
    • It's possible that you may need to gain or lose weight to be healthy, but you should also aim to achieve strength, flexibility, and endurance.
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    Set positive goals. Rather than focus on the negative of the goal, highlight the positive. For example, if you decide to begin a work-out regime, avoid framing your goal in terms of how many pounds you want to lose. Instead, have your goal be something positive, like “I'll work out so that I can run two miles without stopping,” or “I'm going to commit to a walking program so that I'll be fit enough to hike part of the Appalachian Trail with my dad”.
    • You'll have better luck at success (both in terms of achieving your goals and learning to feel better about yourself) if you think of what you hope to accomplish or be able to do better.
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    Do physical activities that you enjoy. Choose activities and exercise programs that you find fun and entertaining, and don't select them solely on the basis of how they can help you change your body. Instead, spend some time trying out new activities and go with the ones you truly enjoy and can get excited about. If you love yoga, for example, then do it, even if you think that you are currently too overweight to look graceful at it. Nearly any fitness program can be adapted for individuals of different sizes and fitness levels.
    • If you are self-conscious working out in front of other people, consider taking private lessons, working out with a close friend, or working out at home. Be careful not to let your fear of being judged by other people dictate how you will lead your life.
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    Adopt your own style. Don't choose your clothes, make-up, or hair-style simply based on what you think is “appropriate” for someone of your body type or what the fashion magazines say is most flattering. Wear what you want, what you like, and what you feel comfortable in. Choose clothes that reflect your personality, that are comfortable, and that fit your life-style and activities.
    • Try out a wide variety of clothing styles and fits. If you feel confident and beautiful in a style that is considered to be “flattering for body-type X,” then by all means wear it, but do so because you like it, not because you think you're supposed to wear it.[19]

Part 5
Keeping Things in Perspective

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    Compare yourself only to yourself. The world would be a pretty boring place if we all looked the same. There's no point in comparing yourself to others, regardless of whether the person is a celebrity or classmate sitting next to you. Instead, compare yourself in terms of how you've progressed over time, now that you've created your own realistic goals. For example, you might think to yourself that you've improved your appearance compared to a few years ago.
    • Don't forget to be patient and kind with yourself. Don't treat or judge yourself any more harshly than you would your friend or anyone else.[20]
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    Remember that body-image is only one part of a healthy self-image. It is important that you learn to accept and hopefully love your body, but it's also vital to realize that your self-worth is not defined in any sense by what you look like.[21]
    • When you think about the people you admire, love and/or respect the most, what qualities spring to mind? Do you value others or yourself only for the physical qualities or because of character and personality traits?[22]
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    Know when to seek help. Understand that nearly everyone struggles to maintain positive body image all the time and it's normal to have ups and downs. But, you should also honestly consider if you need to speak with a counselor, doctor, or mental-health professional.[23] There are various signs that your body issues are severe and require professional help. Ask yourself the following:[24][25]
    • Are you unable to control negative thoughts about yourself? Do you spend hours thinking about your perceived flaws?
    • Does your unhappiness with your appearance interfere with your life? For example, do you avoid going out or speaking in public? Do you dread going to work because you're afraid of being seen and judged?
    • Do you spend an excessive amount of time in front of the mirror each day and/or groom excessively?
    • Are you unable to stop comparing yourself to others? Do you avoid being photographed?
      • Understand that if you struggle with any of these, you'll most likely need help to accept your body. You may possibly have what is known as Body Dismorphic Disorder (BDD), which typically requires professional help. If left untreated, BDD can lead to suicidal thoughts and behavior.[26] Even if you are not diagnosed with BDD, know that there is no shame in seeking help and advice rather than struggling on your own.
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    Find professional help that works for you. You have several options when it comes to getting professional help. You can see a mental health therapist and/or counselor and get one-to-one therapy. Or, you could find local support groups for a slightly less formally structured experience. There are even online support groups where you can build relationship with others who suffer from pervasive negative thoughts about their body.
    • The important thing here is simply finding support from others who are not going to judge your perceptions about yourself. They might even have some helpful tips to offer you.


  • Put post-it notes on your mirror which identify your good traits. Feel free to include some notes which identify physical traits you appreciate (e.g., “You have gorgeous cheekbones”), but be sure to have some notes which are not just looks-related.
  • A strong support system is important, since it can be helpful to have advice about your body-image from someone you trust. You can refer back to this when negative thoughts come up.
  • Be sure to discuss with your doctor any decisions to begin a new diet or exercise program, and be on the lookout for extreme or sudden changes in your body.
  • Everyone is different no matter what shape and size you are. Some people find different shapes and sizes different. Some people are ashamed about there public hair but don't worry because nearly everyone use to have it and some people find pubic hair attractive.

Sources and Citations

  1. Spinoza, B. (1677). Ethics. Everyman Classics, translation by G H R Parkinson, 1989. (Note, Prop. II, Part III)
  2. Gallagher, S. (2005). How the body shapes the mind. Oxford; New York: Clarendon Press.
  3. Kate, H. (2013). Positive Psychology And The Body: The Somatopsychic Side To Flourishing: The somatopsychic side to flourishing. McGraw-Hill Education (UK).
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