Last week, I had the distinct pleasure of partnering with a local school to present an assembly called “How to Be Happy, Healthy, and Beautiful.” The school brought me in because they had become aware that some of the middle school girls were regularly skipping lunch in order to lose weight. Concerned, they asked if I would do a presentation around healthy eating and positive body image. Of course I said yes.
As a former teacher, I was well aware while planning the assembly that middle school is arguably THE toughest age to reach. Middle school kids long for nothing more than to be considered “cool” by their peers, and they will do almost anything for that acceptance.
As I planned the assembly, I knew that I would have a very small window of opportunity to present myself and the subject matter in a way that appealed to my audience. All it takes is for one popular girl to decide that I’m not cool, and the gig is up.
Thankfully, I think I passed the test. After some interactive introductory activities, I presented the girls with this slide:
Then, I asked, “How many of you would say that this is the message you’re getting as a girl growing up in the world today?”
Every single hand went up.
Although I expected this response, I have to admit that I was startled by how quickly they identified with the sentiment. Yes, I created a business around working with these issues, but I’m still constantly surprised by how deeply the “to be worthy you must be thin” belief is ingrained in our culture.
Anyway, I digress. Back to the assembly.
After exposing the truth behind the impossible portrayals of “perfect bodies” that the media presents (including clips from model Cameron Russell’s awesome TED Talk and this “Truth behind Photoshop” video), we forged into the territory of common healthy eating myths. Then, I ended the assembly with seven tips for being happy, healthy, and beautiful. (Sneakily, these tips are also ways to heal body image by reconnecting with and feeling good in our bodies – but ‘happy, healthy, and beautiful’ has a sexier ring to it).
Today, I’d like to share these tips with you. They are relevant way beyond middle school – I promise.
Tip #1: Move in ways that you enjoy.
Exercise does not have to be punishing, painful, and something you dread. It can, in fact, be quite pleasurable. All you have to do is choose to move in ways that you enjoy. It could be dancing, walking, or riding a bike. Pilates, yoga, or tennis. It doesn’t matter, as long as it makes you feel good in your body. Choose to burn calories in a way that makes you feel good, and let go of the life-energy-draining stress of forcing yourself to do yet-another session of exercise that you hate.
Tip #2: Play.
Most of us have forgotten how to play. Remember the good ol’ days of climbing trees, building forts, and running through sprinklers? The days when we stretched our imaginations and our bodies to the limit, just because it was fun? When we grow up, we tend to leave this behind, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Have you ever experienced a surge of love for someone as you watched them let down their guard and embrace being silly and child-like? Find time to play, and more of those surges of love will be directed your way.
Tip #3: Pamper your body.
Repeat after me: my body is worthy of pampering. Your body works hard for you all day, every day. It needs time to wind down and relax. Take a bubble bath. Spring for a massage, or just trade foot rubs with a friend. Attend a restorative yoga class. Spend an afternoon at the hot springs. Trust me, the relaxation response has ‘happy, healthy, and beautiful’ written all over it.
Tip #4: Hang out with people who make you feel good about yourself.
As human beings, we’re hard-wired for connection – but not all of our relationships are good for us. Lose the toxic friends, the ones that bring you down. Instead, focus on spending time with people who nourish you. It’s easy to distinguish – when you feel supported and heard and energized after hanging out with someone, it’s a sure bet that that relationship is nourishing you. The friends that make you feel drained and negative? It’s time to gently let them go.
Tip #5: Slow down and enjoy your food.
We have taste buds for a reason. Allow yourself to experience the pleasure of eating! Check out this post for more on the benefits of being present while you eat.
Tip #6: Lose the scale.
I used to let the number on the scale determine how I felt about myself. If the number had gone down, I felt on top of the world. Nothing could bring me down. But if the number had gone up, I felt terrible, and nothing could bring me up. Looking back, I see clearly what I was doing: I was giving the scale my power. I was letting a machine determine how I felt about myself. When I let go of the scale, I reclaimed my power. Now, I decide how I’m going to feel each day.
Tip #7: Breathe.
Deep belly breathing is one of the first things I teach my clients. There is no quicker or easier way to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (the one that works when we’re relaxed) than to take a few deep breaths. I do it ALL the time. As I’m about to start working for the day. Before meeting with my clients. While I’m sitting in traffic. As I’m preparing for my yoga practice. I can guarantee you that a stressed-out vibe isn’t going to win you any beauty awards. But when you rock the relaxed, calm, glad-to-be-here vibe? Anything is possible.
Did the catch the reoccurring theme in these tips? Do things that make you feel good in your body. When you make this a regular practice, you will start to see shifts in the way you feel about yourself and in the way you view your body. Over time, you will cultivate a more positive body image – and you may just find that you acquire a bit more happiness, health, and beauty along the way.