Projecting a positive image – why looking good is only half the picture

21 Nov

It’s likely that at some time or other we’ve all experienced the good feelings associated with wearing something we really love.  When we look in the mirror and like our appearance (our external image), this gives us a sense of confidence that helps us project a positive image to others.

However, the image we present is not only about our external image.  Our internal image also has a vital role to play.

Internal image

Our internal image is based upon the beliefs that we have about ourselves.  These beliefs are formed through our life experiences and can be helpful or limiting.  For example, we might believe that we are attractive and likeable, or ugly and repulsive to others.

Helpful beliefs enable us to behave in a confident manner and project well, while unhelpful beliefs can result in us feeling unworthy and unlikeable, leading to a poorer image.

In order to consistently project a positive image we must therefore look and feel good about ourselves.  Changing how you look alone will not create a positive impression if it is constantly undermined by a poor internal image.

Overhaul your beliefs

When we feel anxious or nervous about doing something, it is likely that there is a limiting (unhelpful) belief we hold about ourselves that is fuelling our anxiety.  This belief makes itself heard through our ‘inner voice’ or the critic inside our head that tells us we can’t do something, or that if we do, we’ll look stupid (you know the voice!!).

To ensure your beliefs don’t undermine your internal image, it is helpful to do an overhaul of those beliefs you hold about your appearance.  Becoming aware of these enables you to keep the helpful ones and to challenge, remove and reframe the ones that are less than helpful.

Here’s an example.  Say that you hold the belief “My thighs are huge – if I go out, everyone is going to think they are hideous and not want to talk to me.” What impact do you think this will have when you are asked to go out with friends, or on a first date perhaps?  It’s likely that you will feel anxious and nervous.  You may avoid going out altogether, or if you do go, you will constantly be obsessing about your thighs.  Your awkwardness will show, perhaps creating the impression that you aren’t interested in other people, who may avoid you as a result. In this scenario, your beliefs have created the very situation you are trying to avoid, and you are likely to assume that others are avoiding you because of your huge thighs!

Awareness of such a belief is the first step in improving your self image, so be aware of the kind of beliefs that your inner voice is expressing.

Once you are aware of the belief, challenge it.  What evidence do you have for this belief?  Has anyone ever said anything mean about your thighs?  Look for evidence to contradict this belief – when did someone compliment you on how you looked in a skirt or a pair of trousers that showed off that part of your body?  If you don’t think you can challenge the belief yourself, get someone you trust to do this with you.

Hopefully you’ll find some contrary evidence that helps to discredit your belief.  Now, replace it with a more helpful belief.  What belief would you like to have instead?  What would help you feel more confident?  For example, perhaps you like the way your overall figure looks in certain outfits.  A more helpful belief might be:  “I like the way my figure looks when I wear a dress, and my thighs are part of that overall look.”

To embed this new belief you’ll need to repeat it.  This can mean saying it out loud; writing it down over and over, or putting it up somewhere you can see it every day.

Look for evidence that this new belief is true – what compliments have you received when you wore dresses, or any other outfits?  How differently do you feel as a result of this new belief?  How are people reacting to you as a result?

Be patient, it takes time to change old beliefs, but keep putting in the work, as it will be worth it.  To consistently project a positive image, you have to do the hard work on the inside as well as the outside.


Barbie: harmless toy or dangerous role model?

15 Nov

A recent episode of Gok Wan’s ‘How to Look Good Naked’ revealed some worrying statistics about how women in the UK feel about their bodies. Apparently 80% of women don’t like their waists, while the same percentage wished their tummies were smaller, 70% are unhappy with their bums, and 65% expressed dissatisfaction with their boobs.  An unrelated study suggests that 95% of women will, at some point in their life, be on a diet.  These findings beg the question: how did women become such body loathers?

As a baby, we are eager to explore our bodies and are blissfully unconscious of them.  At some point, however, we begin to become self-conscious, with some suggesting that this can happen as early as 2 years old.  Early role models, like our parents will play a crucial role in shaping how we feel about ourselves.  Growing up, girls need role models with a positive body image if they are to develop a healthy attitude towards their own body. This got me thinking about one of the most iconic and much-loved toys for girls – Barbie.

It is estimated that 90% of girls aged 3 to 11 have a Barbie, an early role model that is physically unattainable.  At 5 ft 9″, Barbie has a 39″ bust, an 18″ waist and 33″ hips.  ‘Beauty Redefined’ rather brilliantly brought Barbie to life in a scale model (pictured above) that shows how ridiculous her proportions are. If young girls are not guided otherwise, they may believe that this is an achievable and a desirable ideal: is it any wonder that they become dissatisfied with their bodies from such an early age? I’m not saying that Barbie is the cause of all body image issues today, but with one in four teenage girls developing an eating disorder, surely we need to make sure that their early role models are the healthiest?  Besides, latest studies on female body shape suggest that the ‘hour glass’ shape personified by Barbie is on the decline among UK women, with less than 10% of women being an ‘hour glass’.   It seems to me that it’s time that Barbie became a more current and healthy role model.  It’s time she had a decent meal!

What do you think about Barbie and her influence on body image?