- Body Image - Problems and Improvement
- "Instead of embarking on a more meaningful quest women have placed their faith in products and images. Rather than loving their bodies, and being peaceful, respectful, and gentle with them, women have attacked, manipulated, and controlled their physical selves, never feeling satisfied or content.”
- (“Body Wars", Margo Maine, Ph.D.)
- A person's body image is their perception of their physical appearance. It is more than what a person thinks about what they see in a mirror, but is inextricably tied to their self-esteem. A person with a poor body image will perceive their own body as being unattractive or even repulsive to others. While a person with good body image, or positive "body acceptance", will either see themselves as attractive to others, or will at least accept it as is. Body image is most strongly affected during puberty, and is influenced by peers, parents, teachers, mentors, and commercial advertising.
1. The Trouble with Body Image
- Mind and Emotions. Individuals with a poor body image tend to be preoccupied with aspect's of their physical appearance. The more dissatisfied they are with the way they look, particularly if they consistently compare themselves unfavourably to others, the greater will be the adverse effects on their mind and emotions.
- Actions. A person with a poor body image will often alter their actions to avoid situations that make them uncomfortable. This may take the form of wearing baggy unfashionable clothes, avoiding social activities and shying away from close romantic relationships.
- Self-Esteem. Self-esteem (self-worth) is often a measurement of how a person feels about their body. If someone is engrossed in thoughts of their physical appearance, they often overlook the fact that they are a valuable, loveable, unique human being, packed with natural gifts, skills and abilities... much more than just a body.
- Tunnel Vision. Individuals who are obsessed with the need to change their appearance, tend to spend so much time focussed on this aspects of themselves, that they can fail to cultivate and develop other ambitions and skills. This will thus result in further failures e.g. unfilled dreams in other areas of their life.
- Depression. Prolonged unhappiness with ones appearance can develop into depression. Depression is a mental state characterized by feelings of sadness, despair and discouragement There are often feelings of low self esteem, guilt, self reproach, social withdrawal and physical symptoms such as eating and sleep disturbances.
- Eating Disorders. Eating disorders are a group of mental disorders that interfere with normal food consumption. They may lead to serious health problems and, in the case of both Bulimia Nervosa and Anorexia Nervosa, even death. Individuals suffering from an eating disorder often have a distorted body image.
2. Negative Body Image
- Seeking Perfection. Today women and a growing number of men are focused on doing whatever it takes to achieve the perfect body. The problem with this, is that the culturally defined 'perfect body' can only be achieved by a very small number of the population i.e. those born with the required genetic make-up. Thus, for the vast majority of us, the ideal is unachievable.
- Childhood Messages. A person's body image is created over many years, starting when they were a baby, through the constant massages we receive from parents, siblings, peers and the media. How they perceive and internalize these childhood messages determines their ability to build self-esteem and confidence in their appearance. The good news is that it is possible to change these internalised massages.
- Lifestyle Changes. Poor body image, low self esteem and the fact that change is often difficult and frightening may result in individuals not making the lifestyle changes necessary to improve their overall health and body image. However, by choosing not to make the required changes, their life will continue yielding the same unsatisfactory results.
3. Improving Body Image
- Change the Way of Thinking. It is not possible for a person to be happy and enjoy life, if inside they are thinking sad thoughts and are unhappy or even depressed about the way they look. The solution is neither easy or quick, as it requires a change in the way they think about themselves. The first step is to be less self critical and embrace a more sympathetic view of self. Rather than focussing on the aspects that they don't like, they should make an effort to list the things about themselves that your do like. Seeing their body in a positive way, will improve their body image, self esteem, general outlook and how they respond to other people.
- Body Distortion results in:
Emotion based conclusions: "I feel ugly.... therefore I must be ugly". This thought pattern concludes that how you feel is fact.
An all encompassing outlook. "I have a large stomach...therefore I am unattractive".
Focusing on the negative. "I hate having droopy breasts" and ignoring the positives.
Altering positives to negatives. Hearing "you are look well" is interpreted as "you have gained weight".
- It is essential to reverse the above way of thinking and begin replacing these thoughts with positives self affirming ones.
- Self Acceptance. Transforming the way an individual thinks by positive affirmations, will enable them to sympathetically accept themselves and bring the benefit of an improved outlook. Example. a) "I like myself" not "I do not dislike myself".
4. Changing Behaviour
Often, an individual may avoid certain activates, because of a poor body image. Over time, improved body image and self esteem will result in reduced/ a change in avoidance behaviour.5. Body Image and Culture
Individuals who do not accept the 'cultural norms' of thinness and beauty, tend to have a more positive body-image than those who try to achieve the 'ideal'. It is thus important to adopt a wider and more critical prospective towards societies norms.