Do you always feel anxious whenever out in public, perhaps fearing that others are staring at you because of a self-perceived body flaw? Have you experienced “panic attacks” while in social settings, causing you to become so self-conscious that you have begun to avoid going out all together, including routine jaunts with friends and family? If so, this may suggest a more serious problem known as Social Phobia. The typical traits of Social Phobia can include the avoidance of social situations due to overwhelming fears that others are watching you because of a self-perceived physical defect. Often however, the defect is imagined.

Self-esteem is the sum total of how much we like and approve of our self-concept; Webster’s Dictionary defines it simply as “self-respect.” In America these days, how much we respect ourselves may hinge in large part on how we look. Some psychologists claim most people’s body image is so bad that having a bad body image is “normal.” According to the American Psychological Association, 30 to 40 percent of Americans are somewhat unhappy with their appearance, and another 45 percent may experience anxiety or depression because they dislike their appearance.

In an era of gender equality, Americans’ obsession with body image is almost equally divided among the sexes. One body-image study found that 55 percent of all women were dissatisfied with their physiques, followed closely by men at 45 percent.

So how can we feel better about our bodies and bolster our sagging self-esteem? I went to the Internet for answers and my research yielded these five suggestions.

ONE: Quit dissecting your body. People generally look at some small part of the body they don’t like and stake everything on it. Instead of fixating on a flaw, take several steps back, squint your eyes and peer through your lashes. Look at yourself the way the world does, through a soft focus. The world sees the whole you, not just one feature. Love the whole you.

TWO: Focus on presence, not perfection. Do you remember those girls and guys in high school who were popular but not pretty? Chances are they had presence. Presence is far more attractive to both sexes than physical beauty. After all, physical beauty is relative.

THREE: Accentuate the positive. You can probably name those aspects of yourself that you dislike, but can you name those features about yourself you admire? Maybe you have shiny, healthy hair, or clear, supple skin. Whatever your favorite features are, play them up. Get a manicure or give your hair a deep conditioning treatment. Dress up your self-esteem by taking care of your appearance. Wear clothes that fit and make you feel good about your body.
Speak lovingly and positively to yourself and fight negative mind talk by complimenting yourself. Look for the good and praise it.

FOUR: Befriend your body. Instead of torturing your body by dieting and exercise, pamper it. Get a massage, take a hot bath, go dancing, and indulge in your favorite foods from time to time (it will help prevent binging). Get into your body and enjoy it for the wonderful machine it is.

FIVE: Focus on who you are, not how you look. Acknowledge the whole you and not just your body. What are your talents, gifts and dreams? Think of all the lives you have touched. Create a feel-good box. Find a box or basket (I have a file) and every time someone gives you a compliment write it down on a piece of paper and drop it in. My file includes notes of appreciation as well as gift cards. And when I am feeling blue, I revisit it.