When was the last time you heard an infant say she couldn’t come out to play because she was having a bad hair day? How many toddlers do you know who’ll refuse an ice-cream cone because they want to squeeze into their “skinny jeans”? We are not born with a body image. The way we feel about how we look is learned and influenced by family, friends and the media. It is also influenced—positively or negatively—by our race, our gender and the culture in which we are raised.

Do you worry that your body image is down in the dumps? Do you wonder why it matters if your body image is negative or positive? Learn more about body image and how you can boost it with the following information from Lisa Druxman, MA, a group exercise instructor and personal trainer who is creator of Stroller Strides, LLC, and has a master’s degree in psychology with an emphasis on exercise adherence and weight control.

Why a Negative Body Image Can Hurt You. Body image is the conception or picture you have of your own body. Unfortunately, research has shown that negative body image can harm kids, adolescents, men, pregnant or postpartum women and women of all ethnicities. There is clear evidence that negative body image is linked to serious health and emotional problems. People with poor body image are more likely to experience depression, disordered eating and anxiety disorders. They are also more likely to go to unhealthy lengths to change or alter their bodies and appearance. Not sure whether your body image is positive? Read the signs in the “Poor Versus Positive Body Image” box.

Work Toward a Positive Body Image. If you find yourself feeling bad about your body, try these strategies:

  • Care for and value your body at
    all times.
  • Dress in a way that makes you feel
    good right now.
  • Find a physical activity that is pleasant
    and sustainable; accomplishing some-
    thing physical will boost your
    self-esteem.
  • Learn to trust your body.
  • Look in the mirror without judging
    yourself; view yourself as a whole
    person instead of compartmentalizing
    your body.
  • Set your goals in terms of achieving
    physical health and emotional well-
    being rather than obsessing about
    your physical appearance.

Change Your Negative Thinking. If you have a hard time with the strategies mentioned above, do one or both of the following activities:

  • Magazine Montage. Gather a variety
    of magazines. Create two different
    collages of ads, one showing healthy
    images and the other showing negative,
    unrealistic images. Use colored markers
    to draw silly images on the negative
    collage. This exercise helps you identify
    how few healthy ideals appear in the
    mainstream press and allows you to
    “cross out” the negative images from
    your reality.
  • Celebrating Self. This exercise focuses
    on recognizing and celebrating your
    positive qualities. Do the exercise with
    a friend or loved one. Ask the other
    person to write down what he or she
    thinks are your positive attributes and
    then do the same for him or her.