Body Image

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Jessica, a competitive high school swimmer, was sensitive about her bulky body and described herself as "feeling fat." As I measured her body fat, she anxiously awaited the decisive moment. "You are actually very lean, Jessica," I said. "You simply have a lot of muscle and a big bone structure. You have very little excess fat."

Visual appearance and body weight are deceptive for athletes who tend to compare themselves with their teammates. We come in all different sizes and shapes, most of which are genetically determined. Although you can change your body to a certain extent by losing fat or building muscle, you can't do a complete makeover. Even if you lose the excess baggage, sometimes you still won't end up with the body you want.

If you are a woman who has large thighs (like all the women in your family), or if you are a man who hates your "love handles" (which all the men in your family have), you need to be realistic in your expectations.

You can trim the fat on your thighs or around your waist a bit by creating a calorie deficit, but you are unlikely to get it to vanish. Rather than obsess about your body flaw, I recommend that you let go of your dissatisfaction with your body, accept yourself for the sincere and caring person you are, appreciate your body for all the wonderful things it does for you, and focus on the relationships in life that really matter. You can waste a lot of mental energy fretting about undesired body fat.

Again, we come in sizes and shapes unique to our genetic makeup. Just as some of us have thick hair, others have thin hair. Some of us have blue eyes, and others have brown eyes. No one seems to care about hair thickness or eye color, but the media have made us all care about body fatness. As a result, too many self-conscious people feel inadequate because of repeated failures at transforming themselves into a shape they aren't meant to be.

To put into perspective how irrelevant body shape or size is, think about a person who has been most influential in your life. Does that person's weight modify your relationship with him or her in any way? Likely not. I suspect that there are few (if any) people in your life for whom your feelings are based solely on their appearance.

Remember that your value as a partner, colleague, or lover does not depend on your physical appearance. Your beauty comes from the inside. Your concern about how you look can be a mask for how you feel about yourself. People who obsess about their imperfect bodies commonly have low self-esteem. Somehow, they believe they are not good enough.

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Mirror Madness

Mirror Madness

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