Here’s an idea: there is no correlation between the size of our thighs and our self-worth. Obvious, right? Well, it’s important to keep in mind because some of us can be pretty tough on our bodies. But there’s a shift happening – and it’s towards body love.
The proof? A new study, presented at an American Psychological Association convention, found that over the past three decades, women’s feelings of body dissatisfaction have fallen more than 28 per cent. Researchers say this reflects a positive change around body acceptance and body diversity. This change in attitude has also made its way onto social media, in the form of women proudly posting stretch mark selfies rather than airbrushed perfection. Actresses such as Jennifer Lawrence are also openly refusing to starve themselves to conform to Hollywood’s body ideals, while singers (thank you, Pink) are standing up for a more diverse range of the body beautiful.
Another sign we’re happier with our bods? The word ‘strong’ has begun to replace ‘thin’ as the most ticked in our body vocabulary. And, when asked in a recent Women’s Health poll, readers said they wanted to see words like ‘strong’ and ‘toned’ rather than ‘ripped’.
Many experts believe that loving the skin we’re in begins in the bathroom. “Routinely caring for our skin sends a message to our brains that we care about ourselves, which contributes to greater body acceptance,” says psychologist Dr Vivian Diller, author of Face It. “There is research showing that people who pay attention to themselves can improve their attitude and therefore their health. The healthier and happier we are, the more confident we feel.”
Ready for self-love? Here are four rituals that will benefit your body, inside and out.
#1 / Exfoliate
The process of shedding an outer layer of skin is a critical part of the life cycle of many animal species. Exfoliation can bring a similar sense of renewal for people, too, both physically and mentally. “The skin cells on the body are hardier than those on our face and don’t renew on their own as easily,” says New York-based dermatologist Dr Julie Russak. So we need to pitch in and scrub from the neck down more than we do from the neck up.
There are many ways to exfoliate, but the mechanical route is the best for your mood. The reason: it requires actual physical scrubbing and interaction with your bod, unlike a chemical exfoliator, which uses acids (think glycolic or lactic) to do the job.
Sugar- or salt-dosed body scrubs smooth and hydrate simultaneously (many also now come with a dose of mind-boosting aromatherapy). But you might also want to enlist an exfoliating tool. Textured body mitts rely on nothing but brisk buffing once or twice a week to eliminate dead skin cells on tough areas such as the feet, elbows and knees. Then there’s dry body brushing – the Ayurvedic practice of sweeping a vegetable-bristle brush from the toes to the neck. “The upward motion revs blood circulation and also helps with lymphatic drainage, too,” explains Russak.
#2 / Stretch
We know that yoga does the body a world of good – but it also works wonders for the mind and skin, too. Downward Dog kickstarts blood flow and skin regeneration, twisted poses aid digestion (often the source of skin issues) and Mountain Pose creates an oxygen flow that helps the body to purge toxins.
“Yoga is a great way to boost your circulation,” says Lorna Jane Clarkson, yoga expert and author of Love You. “It may seem slow and relaxing at first – but once you start, you’ll realise it is actually quite challenging. Before you know it, your heart will be pumping.” Studies show that regular yoga practice can calm stress levels and balance out hormones – both of which are associated with premature cell ageing. “When done in combination, a series of yoga poses can pump oxygen through your body, which is proven to help increase circulation and also reduce skin dullness,” says Clarkson. “The stress relief that comes from doing yoga regularly is also your best friend when it comes to anti-ageing.” Good incentive during a challenging pose.
#3 / Soak
Baths are a major time commitment. But what you lose in minutes, you gain in calm. A 2016 study in journal Health & Place found that simply being near water lowered stress levels. If you want to ramp that effect up a notch, use the tub as a shortcut to meditation.
“The benefits of yoga and meditation are endless,” says Clarkson. “Setting aside time in your day to be in the moment and truly tap into your inner thoughts allows for clarity and an inner calmness that is incredibly beneficial for our emotional health,” she adds.
All it takes is a few minutes of simple meditative and intentional breathing: inhale deeply, drawing the belly in, then exhale slowly, letting the belly get softer. Repeat. “By bringing your attention to your body and your breath, you calm your mind and relieve any physical and mental tension,” says Clarkson. Try to make bathtime a tech-free, book-free, sound-free experience to calm the senses and prepare for inner peace. And keep the temperature warm, never hot, advises Russak. This is especially important if you’re prone to skin irritations such as eczema.
#4 / Massage
Sure, it’s relaxing. But numerous studies have found the sense of touch to be critical for boosting immunity, managing anxiety and reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol. So when you apply your moisturiser, don’t just slap it on – take a moment to work it in.
“Research shows that oxytocin is released by gentle, conscious touch from another or oneself,” explains chiropractor and movement specialist Dr George Russell. “Some researchers call it the ‘bliss hormone’; I call it the ‘eat, pray, love’ hormone, because it gives a feeling of generosity, contentment and connectedness. And the more you feel your own body, the more secure, confident and responsive you’ll be.” It doesn’t have to be a 60-minute massage either – a few minutes a day of positive touch reaps serious benefits. Starting at the feet, work a body oil into skin with both hands. Using a circular motion, move from legs to hips to belly into the chest, arms and up over the shoulders. “There’s something very powerful in nurturing yourself in that way,” says Kerrilynn Pamer, co-owner of spa and boutique Cap Beauty in New York. “Skin care is like lingerie: maybe not everybody sees it, but you know what it feels like.”
This article originally appeared on Women's Health.