As babies, we’re fascinated with our bodies—we can spend hours just checking out our toes. (Wow, there’s so many of them! And they fit in my mouth!) And as children, we confidently attempt handstands and skateboard ollies, and launch into impromptu dance parties, having fun and not thinking much about our appearances.
Yet somehow on the path to being a bill-paying, job-working, relationship-having Official Adult, instead of appreciating how strong our legs are or how hard we can kick a ball, we fret about how our legs look in our shorts and whether they jiggle when we run.
Ladies and gents: It's time to stop the body hate.
Not only does body-bashing fail as a motivational tool, it may make it harder for you to make positive changes. Take this recent study that looked at army recruits who needed to lose weight. The researchers found that the people with self-compassion slimmed down, even under stressful circumstances (and serving in the military gives plenty of those), while those who had a negative self-image gained weight.
And your self-perception doesn’t just affect your weight. A 2015 study found that people who had higher self-esteem had less depression, better relationships, and more job satisfaction. Self-esteem development across the life span: a longitudinal study with a large sample from Germany. Orth U, Maes J, Schmitt M. Developmental psychology, 2014, Dec.;51(2):1939-0599. Oh yeah: And they lived longer too.
So bring on the body love and put it into practice when you look in the mirror. We asked 35 health and wellness professionals to share their favorite body-positive mantra. Go ahead and steal their words of wisdom for your own inspiration!
“I particularly like this mantra when working with clients because it reminds them that they can stay strong. They do not have to give into the pressures they are feeling to be perfect or to listen to the body-shaming messages out there in the media. They are already beautiful and enough just as they are right now. Our bodies are meant to be celebrated!” — Vanessa Pawlowski, psychologist
This one is for the ladies: You have our official permission to rock whatever swimwear you like! Big or small, pasty or tan, cellulite or freckled: Bare it with pride because we believe beaches are for fun, not body funks. “I love to tell my clients the trick to how to have a bikini body! Step 1: Put a bikini on your body. That’s it.” — Kimberly O'Connor, marriage and family therapist, owner Hop Brook Counseling Center
"In 20 years you will look back and think, 'Wow, I looked good!' So why not just skip all the garbage and appreciate how good you look now?" — Alexandra Williams, exercise specialist and speaker, co-founder of Fun and Fit
Too often we see exercise as a punishment for eating too much or indulging in too many sweets. But this negativity doesn’t motivate. Instead, focus on all the ways moving your body helps you love it more: A soaring mood, incredible strength, or dazzling speed are far more inspiring. — Katie Goulet, founder of Endeavor Fitness
People sometimes assume that beautiful people must be happy when in reality being happy lets your true beauty shine through. "Happiness is not necessarily getting everything you want. It’s enjoying the little things in life—whether that's starting to eat healthy or just waking up a little earlier to enjoy more of your day." —Jane Ko, editor of A Taste of Koko
“Often the teens I work with scroll through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and see all the ‘perfect’ images of celebs and their friends. This can have a devastating impact on self-esteem. Heck, I'm an adult professional, and I sometimes get down when I see all the unrealistic retouched and Photoshopped images. So I have to remind them, and myself, that no one posts photographs of themselves looking poorly... There’s no point in comparing your worst to someone else’s best!” — Kimberly O'Connor, marriage and family therapist, owner Hop Brook Counseling Center
No matter what happens, if you can keep the bigger picture in mind, it will help you put your successes and failures into perspective. "I always repeat this mantra when I am hitting the wall, mentally or physically. I have had some struggles with my health over the past few years, including needing four surgeries. If Darwin were to look strictly at my genetic makeup and my family tree, he would probably predict that I am already dead. I am, by all medical accounts, a Darwinian fail. However, I believe that I am more than just biology. My body is also defined by my adaptability, perseverance, and strength. So while I am frustrated with my body and not always where I want to be, I have faith that I will get there." — Krysten Bishop, breast cancer and heart disease survivor, health and fitness motivational speaker
“I hear the word ‘should’ a lot when working with clients. As in, ‘I should be thinner’ or ‘I should go to law school.’ But whose ‘should’ is that? Whose ruler are you measuring yourself with? Our culture’s? Your parents’? Your employer’s? If you do it, will it lead you toward your goals or make you unhappy or resentful? In the end, you need to decide if it is something you want to do versus something you do to make others happy.” — Megan Bearce, marriage and family therapist
Being kind to others can change a life, but being kind to ourselves allows us to change the world. "It's helpful to realize that this very body that we have, that's sitting right here right now, with its aches and pleasures, is exactly what we need to be fully human, fully awake, fully alive." — Pema Chodron, Buddhist teacher, author, nun
Just because you’re not a Victoria’s Secret Angel or a fitness magazine cover model doesn’t mean you’re not beautiful or handsome. Each of us has our own unique features that make us attractive. “To me this means doing what’s right for you as an individual, not letting cultural pressures to be sexy and sexual influence your behavior or make you feel bad about how you look.” — Susan Edelman, psychiatrist, author of Be Your Own Brand of Sexy
Whether you look in the mirror with fear or glee, it's important to remember that we choose what we see. "This reminds me that I'm living and doing and eating the way I want to be long-term, and that's the how I define success, instead of a number on a scale or clothing size." — Roni Noone, nutrition expert, co-author of What You Can, When You Can
Stop saying “I’ll like myself when... ” and realize that you can love an imperfect person—even yourself. “I like to point out to my clients that they don’t necessarily have to like certain parts of their bodies in order to accept them. Such a perspective helps a lot of people let go and find self-acceptance and contentment. I tell them that God loves and accepts them unconditionally the way they are right now, and therefore they can love and accept themselves unconditionally the way they are right now.” — Tres Adames, pastoral counselor
“I encourage my clients to look in the mirror while they say this several times a day. Many have said that the first few times they've said it in front of a mirror, it was very difficult and in fact they cry. It's gets easier, though, and most soon begin to experience more confidence and self-love.” — Jim Kellner, hypnotherapist, host of Exploring Awesome
“After struggling with an eating disorder for years, I decided to start trusting my body. Our bodies are built to run efficiently and metabolize the things we eat. Once I started trusting my body to do exactly what it is meant to do, my body image changed dramatically. I use this and similar trust mantras with my clients as well because so many of them have spent so many years trying to control their bodies that they have completely forgotten that our bodies already know what to do. We just need to trust and listen to them and love them!” — Melanie Rudnick, life coach, eating disorders specialist
Loving yourself sounds so simple, but it can be one of the hardest things to learn to do. "I teach my clients to love their bodies instead of bashing them, and this helps encourage them to make lifelong changes. Wellness is ultimately about connecting your mind, body, and soul." — Courtney Bentley, personal trainer, inventor of Star Systemz fitness program
You were made to move! Millions of years of evolution did not design us to sit like lumps in front of a computer for 12 hours a day. We need to respect that our bodies are capable of doing so much more than we give them credit for. You can do this; you were born to do this. "This is my favorite one to say to clients! I just love how our bodies were created for movement." — Lindsay Wright, personal trainer, owner of MoveMore Fitness
“I ask all my patients to make a list of the top four things they think makes a person valuable and worthy of love. Appearance is almost never on that list, and yet when I ask them to list the things they think make them ‘unworthy,’ appearance often shows up at the top. This disparity blows their minds when they see it!” — Erin Olivo, Ph.D., Columbia University assistant professor of medical psychology, author of Wise Mind Living
Always wanting more may sell makeup and cars, but learning that you are is enough is true wealth. “This mantra helps ground me and my clients when the insatiable demands of the world force their way into our hearts and heads and leave us feeling inadequate. By grounding ourselves in a place of 'enough,' we can be proactive rather than reactive. We make better choices when we operate from places of strength rather than weakness.” — Paul Hokemeyer, Ph,D,, expert for The Dr. Oz show, consultant to Fox News
Don't let your mind bully your body.
You'd never bully others, and yet the things you say to yourself are often filled with cruel vitriol. Stopping the negative self-chatter is the first step in learning to appreciate who you really are. "Your mind should listen to your body, not the other way around." — June Tomaso Wood, clinical social worker, psychotherapist, creator of the Calm Down Now app
“One of the most common areas where my clients lack acceptance is in body image, regardless of how beautiful or attractive they are. I use this mantra to help them associate positive thoughts with thoughts of their bodies. It is not about perfection but rather about maximizing their own feelings of self-acceptance and confidence to figuratively 'glow' and attract others to them. By reciting this mantra in the morning daily, my clients have been able to stop striving for perfection and begin loving themselves exactly as they are.” — Kelsey Silver, marriage and family therapist, author of Crack the Social Code
Instead of being a damsel (or dude) in distress waiting for someone to rescue you, take charge of your own life and use your own unique powers to be a superhero. "Wherever your body is today, it is perfect. I use this to remind my clients that their strength comes from within, and that it doesn't matter what we think we should be able to do or how we should look, but that we are trying our very best." — Erika Chau, personal trainer, registered yoga teacher
A lot of people get this backward. They think if they lose five pounds or win a race, then they will be happy. But attitude is everything. Practice thinking positively about yourself, and then you will naturally start making positive changes. "If you think you can, you can achieve anything!" — Angelena Marie, personal trainer, author of Happy, Healthy & Balanced
Run, jump, play, work, paint masterpieces, or write the next great novel: The truth is our bodies were made to do, not just be. So stop thinking of yourself in a cosmetic way and embrace all the things your body is that let you express who you are! Ariane Machin works with professional athletes, people whose bodies are at their peak, and yet she still sees a lot of body dissatisfaction. “I love this mantra because it’s a reminder that we are all striving for progress, not perfection!” — Ariane Machin, clinical and sport psychologist
“Many folks will think they are ‘fat’ or ‘ugly’ but not question the veracity of the thought. In reality everything is simply individual to that person. Encouraging people to think that what they are thinking might not be true is the first step to abolishing such destructive thoughts.” — Mallory Moss, psychiatric nurse practitioner, nursing doctorate
Life is, ultimately, what we make it. But it can be easy to forget that we can choose how we feel about ourselves and our lives. “I breathe in peace and exhale peace. I breathe in joy and exhale joy. In the craziness of life, this mantra helps to keep me focused on my highest intention: choosing to live the way I want to.” — Audrey Hope, motivational speaker, relationship counselor
The power of positive thinking can sometimes sound trite, but it turns out that we do listen to how we talk about ourselves. So cut the negative self-chatter! "Every positive thought propels you in the right direction, and I truly believe that positivity will (not just 'can') change your life. It has the unique ability to shift your perspective on yourself and help you see your own unique capabilities." — Elisabeth Tavierne, founder of CHAARG
“Clients suffering from anxiety tend to identify with their symptoms. They say things like, ‘I am fat’ or ‘I am anxious.’ As a result they spoil their efforts by approaching things from a state of brokenness. This mantra reminds people that they are much more than their symptoms. It teaches them to speak to their higher self/soul, the part of them that is infinite and whole. It is from our wholeness that we are able to move through challenges successfully.” — Sherianna Boyle, psychologist, author of The Four Gifts of Anxiety
"I'm a firm believer that if you don’t fit in anywhere, you can fit in everywhere." — Glenn Marla, performance artist, writer, beauty pageant queen
“This Zen proverb eloquently conveys the normalcy of varied size and shape in nature, both on the grand scale and with a light touch. Beauty is a constant of creation.” — Lisa Geraud, marriage and family therapist, registered dietitian, executive clinical director of Eating Recovery Center of Washington
Originally published February 2015. Updated April 2016.