The body is an amazing instrument. Major organs work together to allow you to breathe, convert food into nutrients, move in space, reproduce, protect yourself or heal from illness, and perceive and make sense of the world around you. While the body is capable of so much, why do many individuals dislike their bodies? The answer to this question is more complicated than it may appear.
What is Body Image?
Body image is a term that describes thoughts, feelings, beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions about one’s body (Hosseini & Padhy, 2022).
Specifically, body image is defined as:
- How you see your body, including your height, shape, and weight, and individual body parts,
- What you think and believe about your body,
- How you feel about your body, and
- What you do to address your feelings, beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions about your body.
Body image is an important component of overall wellbeing and influences how people function on a day-to-day basis. Body image exists along a negative/positive continuum and may change at any time. When realistic expectations, acceptance of and/or satisfaction with the body occur, a positive body image is experienced. Conversely, when thoughts, feelings and beliefs about the body are inconsistent with an ideal image one forms in their mind, a negative body image occurs (Office of Women’s Health, 2021; National Eating Disorders Association [NEDA], 2021).
How is Body Image formed?
The development of body image is a complex process. It begins in early childhood and evolves over time. The process consists of interactions between external and internal factors (Hosseini & Padhy, 2022; NEDA, 2021).
- External Factors: Cultural/Environmental/Social—Messages from parents, siblings, peers, teachers, and the media influence beliefs and assumptions about the body. Comparisons to others coupled with a culture that focuses on beauty, perfection, and anti-aging may contribute to shaping opinions about the self. This is often seen on social media as it often perpetuates that beauty and perfection are the ultimate goals, with filters and editing tools creating a distorted reality. The constant bombardment of images promoting youthfulness can make individuals feel inadequate and self-conscious about their appearance. Traumatic experiences (accidents, sexual/physical assault, emotional neglect) may impact body image. Developmental milestones such as transitioning from child to adulthood, starting a family, dealing with adult children leaving home, and aging/retiring from work may increase the probability of fluctuating body images.
- Internal Factors: Personality/Emotional/Psychological—Anxiety and depression, and personality characteristics such as perfectionism, rigid thinking, and high expectations of self may influence or reinforce body image.
Tips on Achieving and Maintaining a Positive Body Image
Your wellbeing is in part, dependent on your body image. Therefore, working towards and maintaining a positive body image benefits your physical and psychological health, as well as your relationships with others. These recommendations may help you in your journey (NEDA, 2021) toward an optimal body image.
- Remember your body is merely the shell in which your emotional, physical, and spiritual person resides. Your body does not define you.
- Take care of your body. To function properly, your body needs a consistent dose of nourishment, including food, physical activity, and social relationships.
- When thoughts about your appearance start to overwhelm you, remind yourself of all the things your body can do. Your body allows you to move through space, view the world around you, problem-solve, experience different emotions, and connect with others.
- Limit negative media influences: Unfollow sites that equate extreme body types (for example, very thin or very muscular) with happiness. This includes unfollowing people and influencers on social media that put a focus on unrealistic body images. Receive information on healthy dieting from your doctor, not the media. Observe the contents of advertisements with critical eyes and ears before making impulsive decisions to adopt the message or purchase the item.
- Surround yourself with positive people and messages. Being with people you trust and receiving messages that inspire you help to prevent an unrealistic body image.
Be mindful of signs that may signal a path toward a negative body image. It is normal to engage in some of these behaviors every now and then. However, if you find that these activities are starting to interfere with or prevent you from accomplishing routine daily activities, it may be time to discuss these issues with your doctor. Avoid these behaviors:
- Looking in the mirror multiple times a day.
- Believing that happiness is equated to physical attractiveness.
- Comparing your appearance to others.
- Avoiding social situations because you are not attractive enough.
- Wearing loose or bulky clothes to hide your body shape.
- Engaging in extreme diets.
- Declining invitations where eating is involved.
- Refusing to be part of a photograph or editing photographs of yourself before sharing them.
- Approaching hygiene needs or shopping for clothes with dread.
- Feeling depressed or anxious, or having trouble concentrating after you eat.
- Asking friends and family about their opinions regarding your appearance.
An ideal body is not measured by how you look. An ideal body is one that functions optimally and allows you to embrace what life has to offer. Slowly shifting your thoughts from self-criticism to ones of appreciation and respect may improve your overall wellbeing.
- Hosseini SA, Padhy RK. [Updated 2022 Sep 5] Body Image Distortion. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546582/
- National Eating Disorder Association. (2018, February 22). 10 steps to positive body image. Body Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/body-image-0 https://www.womenshealth.gov/mental-health/body-image-and-mental-health/body-image
- S. Department of Health & Human Services. February 17, 2021, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health. Office of Women’s Health. Body Image https://www.womenshealth.gov/mental-health/body-image-and-mental-health/body-image