Being female isn’t easy these days. The pressure to have a Barbie-doll body is greater than ever. Even those who seem to set the body-shape standards struggle to live up to the ideal. It’s become a regular occurrence for actresses and models to come clean about their self-destructive battle of the bulge. Other super-thin celebs (think Victoria Beckham, Paris Hilton and Cate Blanchett) fend off fat—but end up looking dangerously skeletal.
If so many of the most beautiful women around fight these demons, how is a normal woman to stand a chance?
A thin line
The recipe for feeling and looking good is to exercise and eat right. But the problem is that this path to a fit physique hovers tantalizingly close to a similar path of damaging behaviors.
A woman can exercise for strength and vitality. Or she can merely appear to be the picture of health by running marathons or spending hours at the gym, motivated by a drive to batter her body into submission. A woman can eat to nourish: filling up on veggies, good fats and good carbs. Or she might display good eating habits, all the while being driven by what is known in psychology as “restraint,” disordered thinking that deems a plate of nachos or dessert as the enemy.
The most important step to follow a healthy lifestyle for the right reasons—and to overcome a bruised body image that triggers harmful behaviors—is to fix the way you think. It’s no good setting a bunch of rigid rules to follow if your mindset is in the wrong place. Here are some tips on how to fight the negative feelings that keep you down.
"If only I had her long legs ... If only my stomach was as flat as hers ... My butt is so big!"
You’re only going to drive yourself crazy if you constantly focus on what everyone else has that you don't, or if you hone in one your hated bits and proclaim your disgust for the world to hear.
Women are pros at tearing themselves apart. But berating yourself certainly won’t change your body shape. And it’s questionable whether this sort of self put-down will actually motivate you, anyway.
Give yourself a break. “Everyone has different body types and each of us stores fat differently,” points out Valerie Latona, editor-in-chief of Shape magazine. Plus, not everyone can devote the same amount of time to their upkeep. “A woman who runs 10 miles a day will burn more calories all day than someone who works out three times a week, and a single woman may be able to spend more time on improving her appearance than a woman who's married, has kids, is working and can barely get out of the house dressed in the morning,” says Latona.
Don’t be intimidated by the glossy photos or big-screen images of seemingly-perfect celebrities. Not only do sophisticated camera work and hi-tech retouching (and, often, plastic surgery) play a role in their flawlessness, they are paid to do what it takes to look good. “Many have chefs, trainers, and fully-stocked home gyms,” Latona says. “To stay thin, they may work out several hours a day, and eat barely anything.”
Dress yourself up
So many women put off buying that really great outfit or getting a new fabulous haircut until they reach their goal weight. “But these simple ways to enhance your appearance will help you feel better about yourself almost instantly and will motivate you to continue healthy habits—which will, in turn, make you feel great about yourself long term,” Latona advises.
Of course, some women get the dressing-room doldrums after trying to shimmy into a pair of too-tight jeans or clothes that fatten rather than flatter. So what started as a pick-me-up shopping spree can result in a woman leaving a store feeling worse than when she walked in.
“Clothes shopping can be tough,” admits Lisa Druxman, M.A., CEO & founder of Stroller Strides, and co-author of Lean Mommy. Be realistic about wearing shapes that suit your body. If you have wide-hips, just don’t go near skinny jeans, or if your belly overflows, stay away from ab-baring tops. “Everyone can find outfits that suit them, so keep looking,” says Druxman. “When you get home you’ll feel so much better having fresh new clothes that compliment your body.”
But bag the baggy outfits, advises Stacy London, host of TLC’s “What Not To Wear.” Women who carry a few extra pounds tend to choose shapeless clothes that actually make them look larger. “Wear clothes that fit,” London says. “It’s OK to hug your curves.”
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