6 Phrases That Hurt Your Body Image (And What To Say Instead)

body image confidence motivation self talk Feb 09, 2020

Updated March 20, 2023

The relationship with your body lasts your entire life. Unfortunately, women have a hard time developing a positive body image no matter what age they are. Any attention we give our bodies is usually guilt-ridden or critical, so we avoid thinking about it. There are common phrases, concepts, and words normalized by culture that make this relationship harder. Over time, this creates a dynamic of disrespect, resentment, and even hatred towards our bodies. The words we use have incredible power over how we feel.

Believe it or not, there's someone in the world right now with the same body type as you, but they feel completely different about it. Think about it. There are probably thousands, if not tens of thousands, of women who wear your exact same size and have a similar shape, but not all of them have the same insecurities or points of pride (which, by the way, isn't a bad thing to have!)

How can two women who live in similar looking bodies have different body relationships? A simple first step in explaining this is paying attention to the words they use around their body. This creates the "soundtrack" to our body relationship. I'm not promoting toxic positivity, that's a whole different beast we need to watch out for. I'm talking about subtle changes to the harmful phrases we don't realize are running through our subconscious mind. Here's a good place to start. I changed these six common phrases that hurt my body image. See if you recognize them, and give it a try!


1. "It's okay, I earned it!"

Did you know the average woman burns 1800 a day without exercising? Sitting burns 75 calories an hour. We often forget that our bodies require fuel to do things like breathe, circulate blood, and regenerate cells. That stuff doesn't just happen! Any exercise you do increases your calorie usage (aka burning, but I don't like that phrasing either) for the day.

With that in mind, justifying a cheeseburger because you "earned it" is a common phrase you hear around women (and men with disordered eating habits) it's also a classic sign of low body image. When you peel back the surface level joke, this is a dangerous little comment to make. What this really says is, "this food is only okay to eat because I exercised to cancel it out"

If you're choosing to believe this, how will you feel on the day you have the cheeseburger and didn't exercise? Exactly, not so great. You might feel like you're cheating or like you've done something wrong. Guilt is never a good thing to feel when you're feeding your body. The truth is, the only food you shouldn't eat is food you don't like, food that's gone bad, or food you're allergic to. Food doesn't have morality. There's no such thing as "good" food and "bad" food, unless it's literally rotten or poisonous.

Food exists for us to enjoy. It exists so we can be nourished and our hunger satisfied. Humans use food to express their taste and culinary creativity. Think of all the cooking competition shows and movies about chefs. The level of self expression through food is crazy! We even use food to connect with other people when we sit around a table and eat a meal together. So the next time you think you need to "earn" eating food that's special to you, or your favorite, rethink that phrasing. 

Edit: “It’s okay, this is what my body wants to eat right now.”


2. "These are dangerous!"

Okay, hold up. What’s dangerous? Cheetos? Brownies? For real? Food isn't dangerous, unless it's actually poisonous. Fire is dangerous, lions are dangerous, driving 55mph in the left lane is dangerous. What you're really saying is "gaining weight is a threat" a threat to what, exactly? Here's my guess, that delicious food feels like a threat to your body weight, your social status, and a threat to any progress you made against your fitness goals. Here's the thing, nothing can threaten something you trust. Think about romantic relationships built on trust. No matter how attractive another person might be, they are not a threat to the relationship. Nothing can threaten that relationship. 

So this also indicates a sign of distrust between you and your body. That's another way to describe insecurity. But imagine if you build up the kind of trust where nothing can come close to being a threat to the way you see your body. What if you had the kind of trust with your body where nothing feels dangerous or threatening? Imagine the confidence and freedom that comes with that! It starts with small steps of changing how you speak about your body and then building trust with your body.

Edit: “That’s delicious…”


 3. "If I had her legs, I'd be confident, too!"

Confidence doesn't come from having the perfect body. This type of "passing the buck" diminishes body confidence to simply winning the genetic lottery. But talk to anyone in the modeling industry about their body relationship and you might change your opinion. It's a misunderstanding of what it takes to feel confident. It keeps you trapped in the thinking that your body is stopping you from feeling confident.

Blaming your body for your lack of confidence is unfair. Bodies do the best they can within the environment we create for them to live in. Rather than chalking up someone's confidence to the fact that I like how they look, I practice appreciating the qualities I like about people without drawing comparisons. This removes an opportunity to blame my body for feeling like I'm lacking something.

Edit: “She has nice legs.”


4. "I've been so lazy, it's bad."

Here comes the morality again! Calling yourself lazy just because you aren't in the gym doesn't make sense. It certainly doesn't make you "bad". Adults have a million daily responsibilities. In fact, you might be moving around so much in your day-to-day life that you don't need to add intentional exercise. Exercise is not the only way to measure laziness and activity. Your body is being used for something every single day. Even if you're sitting down, it's working on keeping you alive. Don't forget things like cleaning your apartment, going shopping, working, cooking, etc. all involve your body and count for exercise. It's not "bad" if you haven't been hitting the gym. 

Setting aside time to care for your physical body is important. You can do this through stretching, yoga, meditation, walking, or traditional "exercise" in a gym setting. Maybe the reason you put off your workout is because you don't enjoy it. We have this idea that real exercise feels like torture. If this is the case, it's not surprising we avoid it! Instead of defining exercise as "an hour at the gym on the treadmill" you can define it as playing basketball twice a week with your friends. Maybe you enjoy rock climbing or dance classes. There are so many different ways to strengthen your body and increase stamina, flexibility, and mobility that you really should challenge yourself to get creative. Experiment with new things and find what feels fun. Get creative with your definition of exercise and it will help your body relationship. There's a way to motivate yourself without shaming yourself.

Edit: I’m feeling stagnant, I want to physically challenge myself.



 5. "I wish I had the confidence to wear that..."

Another common mistake is telling yourself confidences comes before "risk" taking. The truth is, confidence comes as a result of taking risks! What you need is just a little courage. When you have the courage to take a fashion risk, it builds confidence in your taste, your sense of style, and your freedom to express yourself. It helps you build trust with yourself, too. But too often, we keep ourselves small in order to stay safe. We don't wear what we want to wear, we wear what everyone else thinks we should wear. This isn't an authentic expression of yourself. It's you stifling yourself and conforming to cultural expectations.

Here's a story that illustrates this. I was riding the elevator down to the gym (don’t judge me, I lived on the 5th floor) when a woman noticed my hot pink Nike’s and said, “omg I love your shoes…”

“thank you,” I said, stepping one foot to the side so she could see more.

“…I wish I had the confidence to wear a bright color like that.” she said. I looked up in surprise and my heart sank.

“wear the bright colors, the confidence comes later.” I said with a smile.

Ask yourself what type of things are you stopping yourself from wearing (or doing) just because you're afraid what someone might think? Or because you have an idea in your head that, "I'm not the kind of person who wears that kind of thing" but secretly wishes you were.

Edit: I’m going to wear what I like without worrying what people think.


 6. "well, at least you're skinny"

Wherever you find your comfort, that's what you're trusting to save you. Comforting friends (or yourself) with a line like this poisons your body image. When you peel back the "compliment" you find that it actually reinforces the belief that when all else fails, thinness is going to save you. But what happens when this changes? What happens when your "at least" comfort statement is no longer true? Your confidence will crumble. This is the danger of putting your confidence in the way you look and why true confidence can never come from physical attributes.

Truly confident women put their comfort and trust in the relationship they have with their body. They don't hinge it all on a physical attribute. Just like in a romantic relationship, how safe would you feel if your partner was saying all the things they didn't like about you...but ended it with, "well, at least you're rich" that would tell you exactly why they're sticking around, what what will happen if you lose your money. You will not feel safe or confident in that relationship, because you cannot control a stock market crash or if your financial situation will suddenly change.

Edit: At least you’re a good person. At least you’re trying. At least (literally anything else can go here).



 The words we use hold more power than we think. This is an extremely practical step for building a positive body image. Taking the 16 Day Challenge for beating negative self talk is a great way to get started in changing how you speak about your body. You can sign up for that by clicking the link below this post.

Not only will this change how you feel about your body, when others hear the respect and appreciation and grace you have for your body, it helps inspire them to rethink how they speak about their own body as well. Who knows, the next thing you say about your body out loud might change someone's entire life - just by editing these common phrases we hear women say about their body.

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Living in a body obsessed culture has women checking their reflection, on average, once every thirty minutes. So how are some women just effortlessly okay with what they see? They don't have a perfect body, they have a healthy body relationship - and you can, too.



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Your life is happening right now. Whether this is your first (or 50th) step towards a healthy body image, I'm here to make sure it's your last.

The Body Image Solution is a program designed to help you become carefree in your skin by rebranding how you see your body. Enjoy peace of mind tomorrow by learning body confidence today.


16 Days to Beat Negative Self Talk

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