Lean bodies, taut muscles, chiselled noses and waif bodies. We cannot escape these images around us. The gym and boot camp culture pushes exercise and body sculpting to a consumer product. The message is clear – produce the perfect body.
When you look at yourself in the mirror, what do you see? Are you happy? Is your body your friend or your enemy?
What is body image?
Your body image is your mental representation of what you believe your body looks like, and includes some sort of an evaluation as to how acceptable it is. Positive body image means that you see yourself as the way you are, accept what you see, and feel good about it.
A negative or distorted body image on the other hand is not compatible with reality. You believe yourself to be larger than you are for instance. You also believe that you look worse than others, and you feel ashamed of your body. You feel uncomfortable in your own body and very self-conscious of it.
During the time that their body is constantly changing, teenagers feel a great need to belong and be accepted. This could make them feel insecure about their bodies, especially when they feel as if theirs is different from the norm. As we mature, this self criticism of our body leads to negative self talk. “I hate my thighs”, “I can’t stand my body in a swimsuit”. This soon leads to avoidance of activities and situations where your predicted negative body image will be on display to others. We avoid swimming. Avoid certain clothes. In the extreme we may even avoid looking at ourselves in the mirror altogether.
Men and women can equally be perfectionistic about their expectations of their bodies. Except perfection is based on unrealistic images and goals. It is not uncommon knowledge that what is published in the media have been through alterations.
Body image is also affected by the people around us. Negative comments on your appearance can make a person feel worse about their body. A family culture of dieting and paying particular attention to appearances can also lead to a skewed self value based on appearance.
When Body Image Becomes An Issue
Body image issues can become an obsession, interrupting sleep, eating patterns and health. If you find that a majority of the time you are thinking about how you look, how to look better, and especially if this is starting to impact on your mood and eating habits, it probably is a good idea to speak to a professional. Body image issues go hand in hand with Eating Disorders. If you are finding that you world mainly revolves around your negative thoughts about your body and your eating, seek help.
Valerie Ling, MClin Psych, BA(Hons), MAPS, Clinical Psychologist has a passion for helping people find their voice and continue to write their life’s story. Committed to prevent burnout and empowering individuals to life an effective life, she is the Director and Founder of The Centre For Effective Living.