Whatever positive things your body does for you, taking a minute to appreciate it, Dr. Craddock says, can help you remember that it’s so much more than what it looks like—or, rather, what you think it looks like to other people. Research also suggests that practicing gratitude may lessen body dissatisfaction, with one 2018 study in the journal Body Image showing that body-focused gratitude exercises can reduce internalized weight bias and improve body image.
Remember that nobody cares all that much—and that’s a good thing.
When a photo causes you to obsess about how you appear to others, it can be helpful to remember that famous truism often attributed to writer Olin Miller: You probably wouldn’t worry about what people think of you if you could know how seldom they do. “It’s important to keep in mind that most of the time, these photos won’t even be looked at more than a few times or for a few seconds, if they’re even looked at at all,” says Seegmiller. “Others aren’t nearly as interested in our appearance as we are, nor are they criticizing our appearance as harshly as we criticize ourselves.”
Try putting yourself in their shoes, Seegmiller suggests: Do you pick apart photos of the people you care about, or even strangers, and obsess about them for days? In most cases, I’m guessing the answer is no. And even if you do, that’s likely about your own insecurities and not about that person’s perceived flaws, Seegmiller adds.
Try to find the good in the photo.
In the moment that I saw the distressing dinner party candid, I wouldn’t have been able to name a single thing I liked about it; all I saw were my “flaws.” But when I looked again, while writing this article, I could see other things: the amazing-looking food laid out on the counter; two dear friends laughing together in the background; my daughter, delirious with happiness, tugging at another friend’s shirt. My body was far from the most important or interesting thing in the photo.
To help with seeing the, um, full picture, Seegmiller recommends identifying three things that you like about the photo in question, and then another three things you like about yourself that have nothing to do with appearance. That’s what I did, and I can attest that it helped me put things in perspective (how my legs look isn’t that important!) and remember the things that make me feel good about myself (I’m a great cook, a fun mom, and a great friend!).
Be compassionate with yourself—feeling horrible about a photo makes sense.
If you think of yourself as having “good” body image, you might feel shame about reacting negatively to a photo—it’s so trivial, right? But the fact is, appearance pressures are virtually inescapable today, and it’s only human for you to feel their effects, no matter the state of your body image.
“This isn’t a problem that’s unique to you or your body—it’s a societal one,” says Dr. Craddock. “Having a negative reaction to a photo of yourself could simply serve as a reminder that societal pressures to look a certain way are really potent. It’s also worth remembering that not liking a photo doesn’t detract from any healing you’ve already done to improve your relationship with your body—and it certainly doesn’t make you a bad person.”
I always feel a little knot of dread in my stomach before looking at a photo of myself (Will what I see ruin my day?), and that may always be the case. But I now know that I can learn to change my reaction once I see a photo, and that this shift in mindset just might be what allows me to create beautiful, real memories—not just photographic ones—in the moment. As Seegmiller says, “We are complex, introspective, and deep human beings having a human experience. A photo can’t, won’t, and doesn’t capture that.”
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, you can find support and resources from the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA).