We all have a body image. It’s part of the human experience to have feelings about how we look and how we think others see us. Body image isn’t just about liking or disliking certain body parts, it encompasses your perception of your whole body. It includes how you perceive the way you look, how you think and feel about your body, how you think other people view your body, and how connected you feel to it. It’s the link between how we see ourselves and how we treat our bodies.
What’s a Negative Body Image?
People with a negative body image see their bodies in an unrealistic way. They may have a distorted perception of specific body parts, or their body’s overall size and shape. Common signs of a negative body image include:
• Feeling ashamed, anxious, or guilty about your body;
• Believing that your body is not thin, beautiful, or fit enough;
• Equating what you look like with your self-worth; and
• Feeling physically uncomfortable or awkward
Having a negative body image can cause a person to engage in self-destructive behaviors, such as extreme dieting, compulsive exercising, or disordered eating in an attempt to change their body shape.
Extreme cases of negative body image can lead to Body Dysmorphic Disorder, a condition in which people become so obsessed with their distorted body image that it affects their jobs, education, and personal relationships.
What’s a Positive Body Image?
Having a positive body image means that you have a realistic perception of your body, feel good about the way you look, and are comfortable in your own skin. More importantly, you recognize that physical appearance has nothing to do with self-worth. Common signs of a positive body image include:
• Recognizing that there’s no one standard of beauty;
• Appreciating your natural body shape and size;
• Valuing who you are instead of your physical appearance;
• Separating physical appearance from self-esteem; and
• Not spending a lot of time worrying about weight or food.
What are the Challenges?
Body image is not only influenced by our own beliefs, but also those of family, friends, and society as a whole. We live in a world today that places tremendous value on physical beauty. And the media has served as a powerful tool for transmitting and reinforcing this value. From a very young age, we are surrounded by images in magazines, movies, television, and the internet seeking to teach us what is beautiful. And they’re having a very powerful effect. According to the National Eating Disorder Association:
• 42% of girls in 1st-3rd grade want to be thinner,
• 80% of 10-year old girls are afraid of being fat, and
• By middle school, 40-70% of girls are dissatisfied with two or more parts of their body.
This ideal body image phenomenon doesn’t stop with our children – it’s a lifelong concern.
The challenge is that the ideal body image we are taught to adhere to is a societal invention that is biologically unattainable to 95% of the population. Yet, we are continuously told that these unattainable bodies are normal, desirable, and achievable.
Most people’s perceptions of their own bodies don’t correspond to our collective body image. This disconnect creates the potential for a significant increase in negative body image and associated dangerous behaviors, such as disordered eating, smoking, exercise compulsion, and substance abuse. It often becomes a vicious cycle: the more preoccupied we become with our physical appearance, the worse we tend to feel about how we look.
We all have experienced body image concerns at one point or another. Culturally, we present an unrealistic ideal of masculinity – that in order to be desirable, men should have 6-pack abs and a hyper-muscular physique. With women we take it a step further. Not only do we expect women to achieve an idealized physique in which she is tall, thin, and has large breasts, but we also link a significant portion of her value as a person to her perceived attractiveness.
Why is it Important?
The road to a healthy body image isn’t always an easy one to travel. But, walking down this road asks you to understand why you think of yourself – and your body – the way that you do. A negative body image is a symptom that is pointing to something deeper. By becoming preoccupied with “fixing” your body, you are often distracting yourself from issues in other areas of your life.
We know that true embodiment – fully embracing the body you are in right now – takes time, love, and psychological strategies that truly work. This is the foundation of our Eating Psychology Coach Certification Training.
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
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