When Lingerie Models Are Body-Shamed #moonbodylove

I was a healthy sixteen-year-old the first time someone told me to lose weight. With one sentence the renowned photographer affirmed my long-held fears that I was destined for fatness and flawed as I was.

“You could be modeling in Paris if you lost 10 or 15 pounds,” he said.

So I did, gradually losing not only weight but my sense of self, until I nearly died of an eating disorder.

It would take years of hard, healing work to recognize that what I’d really feared was not mattering or measuring up—not by a scale’s standards, but the world’s.

In a culture where females are told in countless ways that we must appear certain unrealistic ways to be considered attractive or even valuable, every person who stands up for authenticity matters.

When I first learned of Neon Moon, an empowering lingerie company that features un-photoshopped images of models of varying shapes, sizes and races, I about burst out of my too-snug undies from excitement. (Yes, I got rid of those!)

Earlier this week, the company and its philosophies were under attack. A photo of one of their gorgeous models was nipped, tucked and shamed for all the world to see. Heartbreaking doesn’t seem a strong enough word.

To learn more, read Body Shamers Photoshopped Our Lingerie Model To Make Her ‘Perfect’ on Neon Moon’s blog. 

In response to the bullying Neon Moon launched a campaign, asking women to post photos of themselves online, stating what they love about their bodies as they are and including the hashtag #moonbodylove.

That is how we better the world—by standing up in the face of adversity and shedding light on what counts.

I’ll share my entry but first, here is a “before” image. Before I’d learned to fully embrace myself. Before I realized my true passions. Before I grew from recovering emotionally from the ED to healed, past tense. Before I learned that “model perfect” is a complete failure of words, even when you’re being paid to present it.

Me, circa 2004

Me, circa 2004

I recall the makeup artist working hard to hide my tan lines with what seemed like tan paint better suited for fences. (Even with sunscreen, a partial tan prayed tell of my beloved, mind-clearing Miami beach jogs in shorts.) The stylist chose a suit that covered my appendectomy scar, which I’d adored since the surgery saved my life a few years prior. In effort to avoid the need for editing, we waited all day until the “golden hour,” when the sun begins to set and all the world glimmers sublime.

The photo is lovely in some ways. The scenery indeed shines, and I liked the suit that reminded my of my dad’s long career with UPS.

But it’s far from authentic. I never looked like this woman, even then. Where is my smile? My fervor for life? The scars and lines illustrating that which kept me whole? The image wasn’t photoshopped but I was caked in makeup, spritzed with glossy-something and performing as someone else versus living freely as me. And while I was no longer anorexic, I was still investing more time and energy in thinness than wellness back then.

What would happen if the world glorified women in more real, natural states (as Neon Moon does)? Would the young girls desperate for approval see hopes and dreams instead of diets and reasons for shame? I have to think so.

Here is my #moonbodylove entry, a photo taken a few months ago during my first ever cruise. Now in my mid-thirties, I feel lovelier than I ever did in my twenties or while modeling—not because of my looks, but because of my improved relationship with myself. That relationship has attracted more beauty of all kinds into my life. Everyone deserves that.

MoonBodyLoveWhether you’ve learned to love your body yet or not, I hope you’ll join this campaign. I can almost promise that doing so will strengthen you while inspiring others, and let bullies who wish to keep women small (physically and emotionally) know who’s boss! We are, if we choose to be. United, we’re much stronger than on our own.

To participate, post your photo and why you love your body as it is, on Instagram, Facebook and/or Twitter, including the hashtag #moonbodylove. I can’t wait to celebrate real beauty with you! ♥

10 Ways to Look and Feel As Lovely As You Are #BOAW2015

OMG, it’s blog-fest day! Woo hoo! Can anyone else feel the sparkles in the air?

The Beauty of a Woman BlogFest IV is taking place at this link from 8am today through March 1. Head over there to read incredible posts from many talented writers, and for chances to win some awesome prizes!

Our grand prize sponsor, Rayne, and I created a little video gift for you all. We hope you enjoy it!

10 Ways to Look and Feel As Lovely As You Are

 

For practical, entertaining style tips delivered to your email box each week, make sure to sign up for Rayne’s mailing list. Do so this week, as part of the #BOAW2015 raffle, and you’ll also gain four chances to win a prize! We’re giving away incredible prizes this year, including a personal style consult, swimsuit and perfume from Rayne, original artwork, professional manuscript analysis, a filmmaking consult, intimacy products and more.

Which tip was your favorite? What would you add to our list? We’d love to hear from you! ♥ 

Move Over Weight Loss! 8 Wellness Resolutions Worth Setting

“It is only possible to live happily everafter on a day to day basis.” – Margaret Bonnano

About 45 percent of Americans typically set New Year’s resolutions, according to University of Scranton research conducted in 2012, and weight loss tops the charts in popularity.

Not exactly the most joyful outlook of the new year...

Not exactly the most joyful outlook of the new year…

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather focus on gaining something wondrous than losing something I loathe. Luckily, positivity isn’t only enjoyable, but makes obtaining our goals easier. Here’s a prime example: Saying we want to lose weight immediately places focus on what we find detrimental, working like a mega-volt highlighter on those added pounds. We walk around hyperaware of our “flaw,” a state that can trigger food cravings, stress, depression and even weight gain. This is only one reason weight loss efforts tend not to work for long or at all.

The solution isn’t giving up on weight-related issues, in my opinion, but meeting them in alternate ways. More often than not, lifestyle problems are rooted much deeper than how many servings of ice cream we eat or workouts we skip. It only makes sense that we dig deeper when setting our sights on change.

Rather than aiming to diet, struggling through workouts you hate or fill-in-the-self-tortorous-blank, why not prioritize self-care? Taking care of ourselves makes way for goodness of all kinds. Doing so is also fun, healthier and safer than typical wellness-related resolutions and the closest thing I know of to a superpower. When we embrace it…MAGIC!

wondrous quote self care

That’s more like it!

Whether you plan to set New Year’s resolutions by January or simply strive to better yourself in general, I hope you’ll consider taking a positive stance. All of the following goals can help pave the way for enhanced weight control, wellness and, most importantly, overall happiness.

8 Wellness Resolutions Worth Setting

1. Look in the mirror and express self-love daily. “I love you.” “You’re beautiful.” Say them out loud! Look into your own eyes and mean it. Stare until you see something embraceable. It may sound silly, but I’m telling you, it works. Choose an affirmation that suits your area of challenge, or change it up with new affirmations every week. For a list of ideas, pop by the Huffington Post: Body Image Affirmations: 10 Mantras to Help Stressing Over Your Appearance.

2. Eat more nutritious, whole foods. Focus on more (of you, of wellness, of healthy fare…), not less (of you, of “bad” foods…). Seek tasty ways to savor healthy dishes. Restrictive diets don’t work, but nourishing your body and soul so do! The more you enjoy them, the more you’ll crave the same. If you work best with guidelines, dodge diets and consider these Intuitive Eating principles instead.

3. Engage in physical activities you enjoy. Take a dance class. Hike with friends. Walk your dog. While hitting the gym isn’t a bad thing, particularly if you enjoy it, we’re more likely to stick to and have success with activities we delight in. (Makes sense, right?) The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that most adults aim for 2.5 hours of moderately-intense activity per week. Aim to spend that time not in misery.

4. Prioritize sex! Speaking of enjoyable exercise… 😉 Routine sex promotes everything from strong immune function and libido to improved energy levels and a longer life. (Sign. Me. Up!) Prioritize physical intimacy with a partner and engage in solo sex. Seek ways to enhance all of your sensual experiences. Remind yourself that doing so isn’t selfish, but respectful and healthy. To learn more about the benefits, check out Girl Boner Perks for Jollier Holidays.

5. Keep a gratitude or dream-seeking journal. As many of you know, I mentor and provide nutritional counseling for people suffering from eating disorders. A technique that works well for them—shifting their focus from body and food fixation to emotional fulfillment—works brilliantly for weight control and overall wellness. If you find yourself stressed about food or shunning your physicality, don’t aim to shrink your body; expand your dreams and your willingness to pursue them. Journaling grateful thoughts is a proven way to boost inner and outer wellness.

6. Allow yourself some wiggle room! I wrote an article last year about research headed by Katrina Leupp, a doctoral student of sociology at the University of Washington, on the tendency for “Super Moms” to get the blues. The study showed that women who cut themselves some slack—ask for help as needed and learn to “let things slide,” have lower instances of depression. The same holds true for our lifestyle habits. If we aim too high, we’re likely to fall flat. In whatever area you tend to be hardest on yourself, commit to easing up.

7. Say ‘no’ when it means saying ‘yes’ to your wellbeing. It’s been called the “disease to please,” the common tendency to feel so compelled to please others, that we get lost in the shuffle, overextending and often compromising ourselves on others’ behalf. Committing to saying ‘no’ when saying ‘yes’ would stand in the way of your physical or emotional wellbeing is a primo goal worth setting. As etiquette specialists Kim Izzo and Ceri Marsh smartly said, “A gift isn’t a gift if it’s an obligation.”

8. Practice mindfulness. With few exceptions, this one does not come naturally to me—but lordy, is it important! Learning to eat mindfully instead of diet can turn something stressful or blasé into a gratitude-filled, fortifying experience. Staying present while we’re driving can literally save lives.  Too many times over the past year, I’ve caught myself physically in one place and mentally in another. While I’ll always embrace daydreaming (it’s arguably a writer’s job, right?? ;)), I’m committing myself to being more present in my daily life.

What goals or resolutions are you working toward? What are your favorite ways to stay physically and emotionally fit? Any questions or items to add to my list? I love hearing from you—so much so, I’ll even don my nutritionist’s cap if you have dietary questions. 🙂

Wishing you wondrous holidays! ♥

Embraceable Waves: 5 Benefits of Cellulite

“The human body is the best work of art.” — Jess C. Scott

Why is it that we delight in waves that turn still bodies of water into lilting streams, lakes and oceans…

flat wavy water

…and the sunshine, shadows and exploration derived from rolling hills…

flat rolling ground

…yet believe that women’s skin should appear as clear and bump-less as an egg?

woman holding egg

I’m sure you know where I’m heading with this. Some of you may be giggling or rolling your eyes. That’s okay! I get it. My dream for us all to embrace our bodies, with or without wavy skin, is lofty and arguably unrealistic. But if you’ll bear with me, I hope you’ll see that the above comparisons aren’t as wacky as they may seem. For those of you struggling with cellulite-loathing or poor body image in general, I hope that exploring some of cellulite’s perks will inspire you to cut yourself some slack.

Why explore cellulite now?

In a word? Inspiration. Last week I had the privilege of discussing ways to live sensual, pleasure-filled lives on the Loving & Lasting Radio Show with Ande Lyons, the ebullient passion curator of Bring Back Desire. We discussed everything from my very first memory of poor body image to air-brushed images of women, sans cellulite, in magazines.

As I mentioned on Ande’s show, most women—and many men—experience cellulite. Over 34,000 cellulite treatments were conducted in med-spas in 2009, according to The American Board of Plastic Surgery. Liposuction is currently the most popular plastic surgery treatment in the world, and cellulite creams (which do little more than moisturize) have been raging in popularity for years.

Imagine if we invested all of the energy we put into disliking or attempting to change largely natural shifts in our skin and other aesthetics into more positive pursuits! I’m not suggesting that we stop caring about physical beauty, but that we broaden its definition. Regardless of where you stand on these issues, I hope you’ll consider the following facts.

5 Benefits of Cellulite 

1. It’s normal. Most women develop cellulite at some point, in varying degrees. We’ve been taught to celebrate skin as smooth as egg shells, but the truth? Perfectly smooth, dimple- free skin is extremely rare, regardless of one’s age, shape or size. And most of the “flawless” bodies depicted in magazines we compare ourselves result from airbrushing and other editing—not special treatments, diets or genetics. Reminding ourselves that in most cases, cellulite does not reflect a serious health problem and that even most models in magazines experience it can help keep our perspective in check. (We’ll talk more about potential health concerns shortly.)

Airbrushing and PhotoShop take the realness out of many many models' bodies, setting standards even THEY can't live up to.

Airbrushing and PhotoShop take the realness out of many many models’ bodies, setting standards even THEY can’t live up to.

2. It’s feminine! Women are designed to have curves—some subtle, others more pronounced. What if we viewed the gentle waves in our skin as embraceable as waves in the ocean, or simply one trait that accompanies womanhood? The subcutaneous fat that causes those waves and dimples tends to appear on our hips and thighs,  which are particularly womanly (BEAUTIFUL ♥) body areas. If fatty areas on your hips or thighs bother you, grasp them gently and say, “I am a woman!” Defining ourselves as curvy, feminine and authentic is far more positive and attractive than fixating on perceived flaws.

3. It can alert us to the need for self-care. While some amount of cellulite is normal, severe cases can derive from poor lifestyle habits, such as eating a restrictive, overly processed or low-nutrient diet or exercising too little. It can also derive from estrogen deficiencies. Lucky for all of us, these issues are fixable! Taking better care of ourselves makes way for healthy, normalized skin and countless added perks, from improved sleep, energy and moods to healthy weight control, cholesterol levels and immune function. If you have difficulty prioritizing self-care, don’t be afraid to reach out. Very often, emotional issues underlie poor lifestyle habits. Seeking greater emotional fulfillment and self-acceptance can make a healthy lifestyle a near given—or at least obtainable.

4. It provides an opportunity for self-strengthening and empowerment. Too often, we wait to live fully  until ____. “I’ll be happy when I lose 50 pounds,” we might say, or “I’ll meet Mr./Ms. Right when I look attractive.” But that’s seldom how it works… Every time we accept ourselves, particularly aspects of our bodies society at large erroneously deems unattractive, we strengthen our character. We stand up taller, physically and emotionally, appear more attractive—because comfort with ourselves is SEXY!—and serve as positive role models in a world that is lacking. Particularly if you’re have or spend ample time around children, displaying self-embracement is a tremendous gift. 

5. Accepting cellulite can help strengthen relationships and make way for a satisfying sex life! Cellulite should never stand in the way of Girl Boner bliss. Chances are, your partner could not care less about your cellulite. If he or she does care, it’s likely only because you find it bothersome and they value your happiness, or in severe cases, because it’s one sign of numerous that you’re lacking self-care. When we embrace our bodies and selves, we’re more likely to desire and prioritize sex, experience sexual pleasure and orgasm and feel intimately connected with our partners. Who doesn’t want that?

For more on body image and sensuality, listen to my interview with Ande Lyons here: Blog Talk Radio: How to Live a Sensual, Pleasure-Filled Life—August McLaughlin or on iTunes. Her series in fantastic, and you can subscribe to the podcasts for FREE!

Loving Lasting

How do you feel about cellulite? Do you think we should embrace moderate amounts as “normal” or even beautiful? Which of the benefits above most struck you? Any perks to add? Or burning questions you’d like answered? I always love hearing from you. Speaking of which…

SPECIAL REMINDER: Don’t forget to join me, Ande Lyons, Pauline Campos and many more tonight for #BodyThanks—a Twitter party celebrating positive body image just in time for Thanksgiving! We’ll be starting up at 6pm PST. Simply enter the #BodyThanks hashtag in the Twitter search window to watch and join in! ♥ More details are available on the Facebook event page.

Gain #GirlBoner Gusto: 20 Ways to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

“In the process of letting go you will lose many things from the past, but you will find yourself.” – Deepak Chopra

Letting go. The simple word pairing describes one of the most powerful concepts we can embrace. Letting go of a romance-gone-wrong makes way for peacefulness and, if and when we desire it, new love. Releasing anger and resentment allows us to forgive those who’ve caused wounds, preventing clouds of bitterness from tinkering with life’s sunshine and replacing “Why me?” with gratitude-induced rainbows. Today I want to challenge you to loosen your hold on barriers that inhibit your Girl Boner gusto, which is a term I use to describe loving and respecting your body and sexuality with curiosity, intent and glee. (Can I get a WOO HOO?)

Last week I had the honor of discussing Girl Boner with Dr. Lisa Masterson on her fabulous radio show, Health in Heels with Dr. Lisa. The practicing OB/GYN, mother, philanthropist, author and former cohost of the Emmy award-winning TV show, The Doctors is equally vivacious and sharp, and we had a BLAST exploring body image, sexuality and the unbreakable link between. (To listen to our full interview, scroll down to the link in the last paragraph.)

August McLaughlin, Health in Heels, Dr. Lisa

Chatting about sexuality and body image with the fabulous Dr. Lisa!

After I explained the inspiration behind Girl Boner, here’s what Dr. Lisa had to say:

“We really are sort of backwards about sexuality, about pleasure, about physicality… What I’ve found in my practice is that girls that felt really comfortable with their bodies had a real sense of self and a real pride in themselves and their bodies—those were the ones least likely to get pregnant, to develop STDs, because they care about their bodies and themselves.”

She is so right! When we embrace our bodies as adults, we’re also more likely to have fulfilling relationships, feel and appear more attractive, practice self-care—which leads to fewer instances of chronic disease, stress and depression—and have more energy to invest in positive ventures. I also loved what Dr. Lisa had to say about swimming in the nude:

“The first time I went skinny-dipping with my girlfriends was last year in Fiji… It’s a freeing thing because it’s sort of getting over yourself, feeling comfortable with yourself. I can’t stress enough how important that is to feel good about [your] body.”

As I explained on her show, getting to that place of embracement can seem grueling, considering the multitudinous forces against us. On the bright side, however, such work is not only doable, but more empowering than most folks realize. It all starts with baby steps, in my opinion—taking even one bold step into a zone in which you would like to feel more comfortable. Not sure where to start? Consider the following suggestions.

20 Ways to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
& Into Girl Boner Embracement ♥
If you’re up for the challenge and eager for the scrumptious rewards of embracing your sexy self, choose one or several of the following suggestions to commit to in the coming days or weeks. Or let your mind wander and conjure your own. If your heart races slightly and your lips curve upward as you consider a practice you haven’t tried, it’s likely a great pick!

1. Spend more time naked or in your skivvies. (Sleeping, reading, cooking, cleaning…)
2. Say “I love my body” aloud at least once daily—sarcasm not allowed!
3. When you shower, explore your vagina with your fingers, doing your best to name each part.
4. Use a mirror or camera phone to observe your sexual anatomy.
5. Look at your full body naked in the mirror daily, thinking loving thoughts (and telling others to hush up!)
6. Buy yourself underwear or other apparel you feel sexy in!
7 . Read or write erotica.
8. Watch an erotic film.
9. Buy yourself a new, or your first, sex toy—and try it out!
10. If you’re fixated on weight and size, toss your scale in the trash and remove size tags from your clothes.
11. Stop the diet you know in your gut isn’t healthy and focus on enjoying a variety of (mostly whole) foods mindfully—with awareness and appreciation.
12. Take a pole dancing class!
13. Go out for a night on the town with your girlfriends, dressing however you feel happy, comfortable and sexy.
14. Write a love letter to your body, paying mind to its sexual capabilities and parts.
15. Make love by candlelight.
16. Masturbate by candlelight.
17. Share a sexual fantasy with your partner. If you’re both game, act on it!
18. Keep a sensuality journal, tracking sights, sounds, smells, tastes and happenings that tickle your senses—and, of course, those that tickle your Girl Boner!
19. Prioritize and initiate sex more often.
20. Remind yourself daily that your sexuality is not dirty, but beautiful, natural and worth embracing.

Regardless of how you go about gaining and maintaining Girl Boner gusto, what matters most is that you do. If we don’t prioritize sexual and body embracement, there’s a good chance they’ll fall to the wayside, ridding us of countless benefits—and that’s pretty tragic, in my opinion. You all deserve to live full, happy lives! Recognizing that our sexuality is a crucial part of that opens the door to wondrousness.

During our interview, when Dr. Lisa described skinny-dipping with girlfriends as a liberating way you to “get over yourself,” I was totally sold! (Telling her I’m “not much of a swimmer” was a bit like describing the North Poll as somewhat chilly, but I adore the concept. LOL)  Merely getting our feet wet, literally and figuratively, can be all it takes to set sexy self-embracement in motion.

What steps are you willing to take to better embrace your body and sensuality? Remember, there’s no shame or judgment here—only support! Which may include a few giddy, cheer-you-on squeals. 😉 I love hearing from you! If you decide to write that love letter to your body and would like to share it, post it on the Girl Boner Facebook page or email it to me for possible (anonymous, optionally) inclusion in an upcoming post. ♥

To listen to or download my chat with Dr. Lisa for FREE, visit Health in Heels on iTunes, Episode 11/14If you like what you hear, I hope you’ll consider posting a review of Dr. Lisa’s program! She deserves all the praise she can get. For a chance to have your sex or health-related questions answered on the air, tweet them to Dr. Lisa at @drLisaM using the hashtag #AskDrLisa.

10 Body Image Boosters for Satisfying Sex

Based on research, who do you think is most likely to have a gratifying sex life?

Amy: a slightly overweight American

Beatrice: a lithe Brazilian supermodel

Cassandra: a post-menopausal American with saggy breasts and cellulite

Deirdre: a post-menopausal Parisian with saggy breasts and cellulite

Erica: a healthy mid-30s American of average build

Fannie: a Vegas stripper

I’ll start with the wrong answers. For Amy, like more than 50% of adults, self-perceived unattractiveness distracts her in many facets of life, sexuality included. Beatrice, like many models, is anorexic—a condition that starves the body not only of nourishment, but sexual function and libido. Cassandra deems her aging body un-sexy, therefore non-sexual, and may be experiencing unaddressed hormonal imbalances that worsen matters. Erica sees more flaws than fabulousness in her body, holding herself up to ideals of pop culture and weight-fixated friends. So while she may desire sex, insecurity often minimizes or prevents her pleasure. Fannie has lost sight of what sexual intimacy truly is, and likely suffers complications derived from sexual trauma in her youth.

Before we all start mixing valium with vodka or punching walls, meet Deirdre. Older French women’s confidence, sexual beliefs and cultural philosophies regarding beauty and aging make Deirdre deLight the clear winner, suggests research.

Va va va VOOM.

Viva la VOOM!

In France, women consider themselves sexy as they age, says John H. Gagnon, PhD. A study he headed showed that French women, including those with sagging parts, continue to have sex routinely after age 50, significantly more than American women.

I certainly found this to be true. When I moved to Paris during my modeling days, I expected photographers and clients to impart more physique-related pressure than I’d experienced in Manhattan. At my first shoot, the photographer said, “Stick your belly out. I want you to look more natural.” Unfortunately, it was too late for me to look natural or embrace the French notions of embracing one’s self more so than Western culture encourages. But I’ve never forgotten that.

It would be easy to fill this post with reasons we tend to feel insecure about our bodies–a primary reason female sexual pleasure and desire dwindle. Research in the U.S. has shown that women’s body dissatisfaction has more than doubled since the 1970s, according to Katharine Phillips, MD, director of the Body Image Program at Butler Hospital. From the $40-plus billion dieting industry to the media’s unrealistic portrayal of beauty, the contributing factors are as innumerable as they are severe.

Here at Girl Boner Central, we prefer to focus on the positives. Why? Because there are plenty to be had. Confidence is one of the biggest, most valuable turn-ons for women and men, and it’s more attainable than you might think. While the notion seems sweet, we need not move to Paree

10 Realistic Ways to Feel Better About Our Bodies (And Savor the Satisfying Sex Lives We Deserve)

1. Focus on Pleasure. We all have gas pedals (things that entice us) and brakes (things that trigger inhibition), according to the dual control model of sexual response. The feel of your partner’s arms around you or the smell of his cologne could push your gas pedal, for example, while pondering recent weight gain or an acne flareup might activate the breaks. “By being mindful and learning to enjoy the way your body responds to touch,” writes sex educator Emily Nagoski, “you can train your ‘brakes’ to ignore body image and other thoughts that can impede sexual arousal and orgasm.” In other words, focus on what excites you.

2. Know that he probably loves your breasts. Research shows that up to 70 percent of women worry about breast size. Research also shows that while men indeed love breasts, they tend to most enjoy their partners’ most, regardless of size. Women often assume that bigger and perkier are better. “This tells us that a lot of people are worrying about their appearance for no good reason,” says Justin Lehmiller, a Harvard University social psychologist and sex columnist. (The same applies to men; they tend to worry about penis size, while women seldom do.)

3. Masturbate regularly. Sexual pleasure and orgasm are powerful stress reducers, and poor body image can be a mega stressor. Masturbation allows us to experience sensual pleasure without fear of others’ judgment or watchful eyes. It also increases sexual confidence by allowing us to learn more about our bodies and what makes us tick. Watching ourselves self-stimulate can be powerful, particularly if we learn to embrace what we see in the mirror.

4. Exercise regularly. We don’t need to be triathletes, but the Mayo Clinic recommends routine cardiovascular and strength-training activity for boosted body confidence and sex drive. Focusing on what our bodies can do and the benefits of increased health, fitness and energy make way for all around improvements. Exercise also increases the metabolism and burns excess calories, staving off excess pounds that often fuel insecurity.

5. Steer clear of toxins. I’m not talking about nicotine or air pollutants—though those won’t help either. Airbrushed magazine images, fad diets and relationships with people who judge us by our appearance or fixate on their own are proven body image zappers. Surround yourself with uplifting books, magazines and television. Aim for a balanced diet, based on whole foods, and choose your friends wisely.

6. Address underlying issues. Poor body image often derives from issues more significant than our waist size, breast shape or skin tone. Looking inward, making efforts to address life dissatisfaction and seeking professional help when necessary can go a long way toward resolving underlying causes. The more we stifle them, the more damaging they’re likely to become.

7. Respect your insecurities, and change gradually. If only we could click our heels together and POOF!—no more problems. (Even Dorothy had to work for improvements.) Small, gradual efforts add up over time, and every one counts. Amy Levine, sex coach and Ignite Your Pleasure founder, recommends wearing lingerie that covers body parts of concern at the start of sexual play, then gradually removing it as our comfort increases. The same can be done with lighting, going from dark to dim.

8. Communicate. Talking to our partners about how we feel about our bodies can provide perspective and enhance intimacy. In many cases, our partners aren’t concerned about our bodies the same way we are. They may also have insecurities of their own. If they love and respect you, they’ll do what they can to support you and your growth.

9. Try something new! It’s easy to get so wrapped up in our insecurities that adventurousness falls to the wayside. Exploring new sexual experiences, such as new sexual positions, pleasure toys, background music and role playing, however, can distract us from body angst, rev our sexual engines and provide a sense of empowerment. Need some ideas? Check out Cosmo‘s 31 Ways to Spice Up Your Sex Life.

10. Crank the tunes. No, that isn’t bizarre sexual slang—that I know of. A study commissioned by Spotify found that 40% of people value music over their partner’s physique when it comes to sexual arousal. Create playlists for your varied sexual moods then get the party started.

How do you keep body insecurities from hindering your sex life? Which of these tips appeal most to you? What songs make your GB-turn on list? I love hearing from you, and welcome all respectful thoughts.

As a reminder, signups for the Beauty of a Woman BlogFest II have begun! I hope to see many of you there.

Body Image Mirrors: What Does Yours Reflect?

“Beauty is not caused. It is.” — Emily Dickinson

If only we all saw it in ourselves…

The first few times I spoke publicly about my eating disorder, I shared photographs of my former emaciated self. Most people gasped at the sunken in cheeks, sharp bones and skin that looked too small for its skeleton. Others, sadly, were impressed.

One day, after speaking at a university in Minnesota, I received an email from a woman who’d attended. “I looked at that picture and all I could think was, I wish I could be that thin. Why don’t I have that discipline?” she wrote. The words threw a brick at my heart and opened my eyes.

Based on the woman’s email, I figured she was A) anorexic and body dysmorphic B) affected by another eating disorder or C) generally healthy physically, but riddled with disordered eating thoughts and behaviors—a state far more common than diagnosable eating disorders, and no less worthy of addressing. I didn’t need to know which; my reaction would’ve been the same regardless.

I wrote back, apologizing, offering support and reiterating some of what I’d shared in my talk. I thanked her for showing me how irresponsible I’d been, and meant it. Even if masses of people were horrified by the photographs, sharing them wasn’t worth it if even one used it as a measure of her self-worth. Needless to say, I’ve been much more cautious about sharing them since.

Whether we realize it or not, we are role models and example-setters. Our attitudes and behaviors regarding food, eating and our bodies can empower or hurt others—even when our intentions are good.

Positive body image reflects empowering light on others.

Remarkable things happen when we accept ourselves and stop trying to whittle ourselves away or morph into people or shapes we’re not. We stop judging others’ shapes and sizes. We see people, not body parts or competition. We see fuel and enjoyment on our plates, rather than numbers or damage. We eat healthfully and exercise because it feels good, not for calorie burn or scale shifts. And photographs of skinny models don’t motivate us or fill us with envy; they simply make us sad.

Study after study has shown that unhealthy attitudes and behaviors regarding food, weight and appearance negatively influences our peers and loved ones. Research published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders in 2011 revealed that peer and parental fixation on appearance and weight control significantly increase teen women’s likelihood of binging and purging. Children of dieting parents often develop poor body image and self esteem, struggle with weight control and hold increased risks for anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, obesity and depression during youth and adulthood.

But fear not. There’s good news. 🙂 Many steps can be taken to improve our own food and body-related attitudes while safeguarding our loved ones from these complications.

8 Ways to Boost Body Image in Others

1. Make self-acceptance a priority. Perhaps it’s obvious, but the best way to inspire positive body image is by example. For more on this topic, and tips on boosting your own body image, feel free to visit my post, Body Image Myths: Exploring Myths & Walking the Walk.

2. If you’e not feeling it, fake it. Reversing poor body image seldom happens simply or quickly. But talking about body parts you loathe can give those thoughts power and negatively influence listening ears. If you have thoughts about your “huge thighs” or “imperfect” skin, keep them private. Why does Coca Cola continue to advertise when we’re well aware of their products? The power of suggestion. It works—sometimes too well.

3. Don’t diet. Dieting, including following rigid lifestyle plans geared toward weight loss, wreaks havoc on our bodies and minds. It also inspires similar problems and complexes in our peers and loved ones. Poor body image, self esteem, eating disorders and obesity run rampant in children of dieting parents. They may be small, but they’re highly absorbent sponges.

4. Make healthy lifestyle habits a family affair. Forcing kids to eat healthy foods seldom works. Even if only one member of your clan has a weight or dietary problem, involve the entire family in physical activity and healthy eating—and make it fun. Enjoyment is a huge factor in developing and maintaining healthy lifestyles longterm.

5. Don’t comment on others’ weight. If a friend has shed excess pounds and looks great, tell her she looks healthy and happy—not thin “and what’s your secret?” Celebrating weight loss places emphasis on body size. What if she lost weight through starving? Would you celebrate that? Our loved ones need to know that we care about who and how they are, not their pant size.

6. Talk positively about food and your body. Rather than discuss your weight or physical “flaws,” talk about the strength of your body, gratitude for your health or how great you feel when you self-nourish with healthy foods. Describe desserts as “decadent,” not ‘damaging.” Viewing foods in terms of calories, carbs and grams can zap pleasure and perpetuate negativity. Save numbers for your accountant, and away from your plates.

7. Give body image-boosting gifts. Affirmation cards, empowering books and films, massages and even counseling sessions make wonderful, uplifting gifts. Rather than a gym or weight loss center membership, sign you and a friend up for fabulous dance classes or hiking events. Instead of fitness-geared magazines, give MORE, Oprah magazine or others that promote inner/outer beauty. Or give a gift related to a friend’s passion. Happiness breeds inner-beauty, outer-beauty and self-acceptance.

8. Set loved ones straight. If you catch friends or family members dissing their bodies or partaking in harmful weight or diet-related behaviors, call them out. Tell them you won’t allow them to bash or hurt themselves around you, that you love them too much. And ask what you can do to support positive changes. It’s not always easy, but it’s worthwhile.

What do you do to set a positive body image example for others? Any challenges or success stories to share?