Body Image and the 'Lost Cause' Misconception
For many, a negative body image can result in feelings of hopelessness and despair, as if feeling good about the way one looks is a lost cause. Well, like so much in life, it appears that attitude is half the battle. Researchers tell us that just 6 weeks of moderate exercise can improve both body image and self-esteem. A positive attitude, in turn, can result in an increased willingness to exercise.
The reward? Looking and feeling great and having an overall more positive body image.
The Mirror Conspiracy
In a world where you're either hot or you're not, it's easy for many to simply give up on diet and exercise when faced with waistlines of Nicole Ritchie-like proportions and pecks of Brad Pitt-like prominence. What is certain today is that both men and women face an unprecedented onslaught of media images presenting the "ideal" physique.
Of course, physical attraction does play a very important role in our day-to-day lives, and has been found to guide our actions in many ways. For instance, a number of studies have shown that attractive job applicants have a better chance of landing a job and receive higher salaries when they do. So prevalent is this bias that it plays out in almost every social situation we may find ourselves in.
So why wouldn't we care about our looks, right? When considering how seemingly all-important having an ideal physique is in today's society, wouldn't it be natural, or even beneficial, to be self-critical when looking in the mirror?
The Body Type Conundrum
The research out there seems to suggest that attractive people are more successful, have more friends, and generally live more enjoyable lives. What confuses some is that, contrary to popular belief, you really don't need to have movie star looks to fit into the category of "attractive" in many (or most) people's minds.
According to recent studies, many of our ideas about the "ideal" body type (and how we stack up) may be without basis. Are we more attractive than we give ourselves credit for?
Women's Ideal Body Type
In The Evolution of Desire: Strategies for Human Mating, David M. Buss points out how men, contrary to popular belief, do not necessarily prefer women who are very petite. Buss asked American women to choose the physique they thought was most ideal in both a man and a woman. The women chose slimmer than average physiques for both sexes.
When Buss asked men to independently choose the female physique that was most ideal for them, they chose a body type that was more average, and less slim that than chosen by the women.
The conclusion? It appears that many American women overestimate men's preference for thinness in a mate.
Men's Ideal Body Type
Likewise, a recent Harvard study found that body image disorders are becoming more common among western males. When men in the study were asked which body type they thought women would consider ideal, the men answered by saying a "buff" body with 20 to 30 pounds more muscle than average.
The ladies' response? Like the men, women responded by saying that a body type much closer to the average would be considered ideal.
The Self Fulfilling Prophecy of Attraction
It's no wonder that attractive people are so popular, really. In many ways, attractiveness can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. For those who consider themselves attractive, confidence and self-esteem can positively affect their personal and professional relationships.
It's when we realize that body image perceptions can be distorted, and we take a few small steps each day to help us look and feel our best, that we can overcome body image negativity and begin to find ourselves truly attractive.
A Few Simple Ways to Improve Your Body Image
Given that only six weeks of moderate exercise can help improve our body image, an improved body image has entire range psychological benefits, and we don't have to achieve wafer-thin or muscle-bound bodies to get noticed, let's discuss some simple ways to begin an exercise routine that will have you looking and feeling great.
You could be taking on your first fitness routine, or you could be returning to your workout after a long hiatus. Either way, the following tips are simple ways you can begin working toward your own personal ideal body type.
- Walking is exercise! Instead of taking the elevator, take the stairs. Instead of driving to the store, walk. It may not seem like grueling exercise, but it can lead to weight loss, improved health, and a better outlook about your fitness.
- Biking or swimming are two activities that are non-weight bearing, which may be a good idea for those who are just getting into a workout routine and are carrying a few extra pounds.
- Accept the fact that you might not be as fit as others at the gym. If anything, the buff guys and gals at your local gym will respect the fact that you're working up a sweat with the rest of them.
- The results achieved with dieting can reach a "plateau." Along with a healthy diet, regular exercise can help you continue to lose weight.
- Find an exercise buddy. Whether getting back into a workout routine, or beginning to truly work out for the first time, an exercise buddy can both help you stay motivated and prevent workout excuses.
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