How Working Out Can Positively Affect Body Image

The correlation between working out and positive body image. 

I am going to go ahead and assume that we all have had our fair share of negative thoughts about our own bodies. As women, we are seemingly trained to think less of our beautiful form – we easily compare ourselves to other women, cultural or social “norms”, gender stereotypes, or women portrayed in the media. But even if we do have a positive self image, we are taught to downplay it. God forbid you vocalize your confidence to others for fear of sounding self-obsessed and conceited, therefore unaccepted by other women. When we receive compliments about our bodies, we are quick to dismiss them and counteract the statement by saying, “well, I’d rather have your thighs” or “thanks, but I’m still trying to lose 10 more pounds.” The self-shaming begins and becomes a vicious yet completely acceptable and comfortable cycle.

“Self-image is the personal view, or mental picture, that we have of ourselves. Body-image is part of self-image. Our body-image includes more than what we look like or how others see us. It also refers to how we think, feel, and react to our own self-perceived physical attributes,” states the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. Negative body-image is a psychological web of confusion and hurt. It is a learned reaction to our own experiences, relationships, and influences. The CCF goes on to explain, “Self-image is a product of learning. Early childhood influences, such as parents and caregivers, significantly influence our self-image. They are mirrors reflecting back to us an image of ourselves. Our experiences with others such as teachers, friends, and family add to the image in the mirror.” Now, with the rapid connection to readily available media via social networks, reality TV, and mainstream media, the opportunity to compare ourselves to other women has grown exponentially. How on earth will we ever overcome it?

Body image is not a thing that can quickly be fixed. It is an ongoing, lifelong process. Though many things factor into achieving positive body image, one that I find particularly fascinating is the connection it has to exercise. By no means is working out the only solution to improving body image, it is, rather, one aspect to assist you in your journey. I enjoy working out and I, too, suffer from negative body image from time to time. But when I sweat it out, I discover a distinct correlation to a happier mood and less critical thoughts about my body. After – and during – a workout, I become more aware of my physical capabilities and less focused on my physical appearance. Whether I am hiking, running, or (trying to do) push-ups, I am less worried about what my body looks like, and can appreciate the strength and capabilities it embodies. Working out improves fitness, raises feelings of accomplishment, and increases awareness of physical capabilities.


Tips to help achieve a higher sense of positive body image through working out:

  • Renew your mindset and reinforce positive body talk. A lot of our negative body talk actually originates from childhood learnings and experience. I was picked on for my height, crooked teeth, and bad posture and it still rings in my head to this day. That was nearly 20 years ago – I am not that little kid anymore. Positive body talk reminds me that I am a strong, driven, and yes, tall woman.
  • Do not compare yourself to other women. This is an extremely difficult thing to do but with positive self talk and awareness of deceiving thoughts, can be possible. And on the other side of the coin, accept other body types that are not your own. Everyone – and I mean everyone – is dealing with their own (and often unknown) struggles.
  • Focus on what your body can do. Appreciate the fact that you can dance, walk, run, swim, and frolic in a field if you want. Pat yourself on the back when you pass your goal lines, no matter how big or small. You deserve it.
  • Choose exercises that you enjoy. Sometimes going to the gym or sweating it out on the treadmill feels like punishment. But exercising should be fun – find something that will put a smile on your face or allow you to take long deep breaths of satisfaction. Love the outdoors? Go for a hike or walk around the neighborhood with a friend. Like to be around others? Sign up for a group class!

+ For more information on fostering positive body image, check out these articles from the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, National Eating Disorders AssociationPlanned Parenthood. Have a look at 10 steps to positive body image.


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4 years ago

It’s not about looking thin – it’s about feeling strong. If you feel strong in body it will have a positive knock on effect in your mind and you’ll feel like you can accomplish anything. Women are not the weaker sex, but strong in body, mind and soul. Once we can realise that collectively, we’ll free ourselves.

4 years ago

Beautifully said! Our early experiences bring us to were we are today in self esteem. But as we start to age you are really so thankful to be strong and not easily injured. Staying active keeps our moods in a happy place and you really start to realize, that for instance, if you stop riding your bike, you may not ever be able to go back to it! Stay active and enjoy as much as possible!

3 years ago

I agree with everything you’ve said here, and this same information can apply to men.
I began working out early in 2016 and though my body has changed dramatically, my body image has changed completely. I see myself differently than I used to and the change has brought better emotional health, more happiness, more peace in my life than I ever believed possible.