Our own body image determines how confident we feel within our own skin. There are many factors that contribute to both negative and positive body images. Having a negative body image can lower one’s self-esteem and cause that person to have a poor or distorted look on life. These images can affect our daily lives, influencing how we work, play and interact with others.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association body image is what we see when we imagine what we look like in or what we see when looking in a mirror. This includes how we believe we look, how we feel about our bodies and how we feel inside our body.
A majority of people believe their body is not acceptable or that it is flawed. These images occur when people have distorted perceptions of how they think their body looks, versus how it really does look. A distorted body image mostly occurs when someone is convinced by others that they are unattractive, over weight and have several physical flaws. These images often lead to feelings of being ashamed, anxious and self-conscious about one’s body. It also creates a feeling of uncomfortableness within one’s own skin.
A simple change in how one feels and perceives their own body image is enough to turn a negative body image into a positive one. Here are some characteristics of those who have positive body images:
- They have a true perception of their shape
- They see their body how it really is, not how they imagine it
- They celebrate and embrace their natural body
- They understand that appearance has little to do with character and personal value
- They are proud of their body
- They are accepting of their body
- They refuse to spend an unreasonable amount of time concerned with food, calories and their weight
- They are overall confident and comfortable with their own body
Body image factors
How we feel about our bodies is learned through the comments, actions and beliefs of others. There are many factors which lead to both positive and negative body images. Those factors include:
- Comments made by family and friends about their bodies and the bodies of others
- Global ideals regarding the perfect physical appearance
- The continual comparison of one’s body to others
- Media exposure to what is an ideal body image versus a normal body
- Experiences with physical activity
- Abuse, including sexual, emotional and physical
- Prejudices against race, religion, ability, gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity
- Pleasure, pain and health experiences
Some of the above listed factors are controllable, while others are not. The road to a positive body image is only reached when one can differentiate the controllable factors from those out of our control.
Effects of negative body image
Researchers have discovered there is a link between eating disorders and negative body images. Those with a negative image about themselves are more likely to suffer from feelings of isolation and depression. Both of these have been known to trigger obsessions with weight loss, resulting in various forms of eating disorders, including bulimia and anorexia. Both of these can lead to other health-related issues.
A negative body image increases the risk of someone taking extreme measures to achieve the body type they feel they should have. This can lead to over dieting, an obsession with exercising, laxative abuse, smoking, use of drugs and induced vomiting. All of which pose severe threats to one’s overall health images and wellness.
According to the Albert Ellis Institute those who are overly concerned about one or more body areas and have a complete misperception of these areas are commonly diagnosed with a psychological disorder known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). Many of those diagnosed with BDD tend to have only minimal or nonexistent flaws to be worried about. Common areas of concern among those suffering from BDD include flaws involving the face, head, breasts, buttocks, abdomen, hips, thighs and genitals.
In a study conducted by Brown University 74.4 percent of normal-weight women stated that they thought about their appearance and weight all of the time and/or frequently. The same study discovered that men are concerned about their body image as well, with 46 percent of normal-weight men responding the same way.
According to DoSomething.org other body image statistics include:
- 91 percent of women are unhappy with their bodies
- Only 5 percent of women have the ideal body shape deemed by society
- 58 percent of college-aged girls feel pressured about their weight
- 40 percent of women and 20 percent of men said they would consider cosmetic surgery to fix their bodies
- Only 10 percent of those with an eating disorder will seek help
Various studies focusing on the negative effects of media on body image show that a majority of women feel less confident about their looks after seeing other women portrayed in magazines, on television or in other forms of the media.
Standards of how society perceives the perfect feminine and masculine bodies are represented in just about every form of the media. We are bombarded with images of the perfect body multiple times a day. However, according to Westminster College the models and actors seen in the media are well below normal weight measurements. Some actually meet the criteria for being considered anorexia nervosa.
In reality, only a small percentage of those in the Western hemisphere match the images portrayed in the media. Because of that, these unrealistic images are a major contribution to what causes women and men alike to have a poor self-image, which leads to living unhealthy lifestyles in hopes of achieving the perfect body.
Research has shown that women who experience constant media exposure tend to have higher concerns about their weight. Though all forms of media can impact one’s feelings toward their own body, some have a greater impact than others. In a report from Westminster College, those who viewed a lot of music videos as a child tend to have intense negative body image issues. This is mostly because these videos portray skinny women who are able to wear what they want without a care in the world.
The same study from Westminster College, reported that 83 percent of teenage girls who read fashion magazines also had poor self-esteem and body image issues.
Symptoms of negative body image
In order to help someone improve their body image it is important to recognize the signs of a distorted body image. The different signs and symptoms of negative body image include:
- Obsession with mirrors and always conducting “self-checks”
- Making comments about their own body and the bodies of others
- Constantly comparing themselves against others
- Envying someone else’s body
- Constantly looking at images of what society deems the ideal body
- Spending more time in the gym than with friends and family
- Avoiding meals and only nibbling on foods
Boosting body image
The overall perception of our own body image can be improved. With a few simple changes in how we think and see the world, we can easily turn a negative body image into a positive one. Here are some tips to boosting you own body image:
- Recognize when things in the media make you feel bad about yourself and speak up. Do not allow mass media outlets to define what the perfect body should be.
- Do not worry about numbers. Focus more on your eating and activity habits instead of being concerned with weight and calories.
- Understand that you cannot change your body type. Some bodies are rounded while others are bulky. Accept your body and know it is the best it can be for your body type.
- Never compare yourself to others. You are you and you are not them. You never know what could cause someone else’s body to look the way it is and should never compare yourself to someone else.
- Stay away from mirrors during the day. The less you conduct “body checks,” the less likely you are to become obsessed with your body image.
- Stay active and enjoy your body. Regularly exercise by walking, swimming, dancing, biking or doing other physical activities you enjoy.
- Spend time with others who accept their body for what it is. This will show you there is more to life than worrying about how you look.
- Stop making negative statements about yourself. Also, avoid making a list of things you would change if you could.
- Dress for your body type. By dressing appropriately you will help yourself feel better about your looks and boost your overall self-esteem.
- Understand that size prejudice is just another form of discrimination. Not everyone can control their weight and too many people make generalizations about those who are overweight.
It may also be necessary to talk to someone about your personal body images. Groups, organizations and psychologists are available to help those suffering from low self-esteem and poor body images. Self-help books are also available and will help guide you to a healthier view of yourself.
Body image quotes
Oprah Winfrey works had to teach women across the country how to love their bodies and believe in who they are. Here are some “loving your body” quotes to help improve your own personal body image:
- “You are imperfect, permanently and inevitably flawed. And you are beautiful” – Amy Bloom
- “To love yourself as you are is a miracle, and to see yourself is to have found yourself, for now. And now is all we have, and love is who we are.” – Anne Lamott
- “Growing into your future…requires dedication to caring for yourself as if you were rare and precious, which you are, and regarding all life around you is equally so, which it is” – Victoria Moran
- “People often say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I say that the most liberating thing about beauty is realizing that you are the beholder.” – Salma Hayek
- “Real beauty isn’t about symmetry or weight or makeup; it’s about looking life right in the face and seeing all its magnificence reflected in your own.” – Valerie Monroe
If you or someone you know suffers from a body image issues, it may be necessary to get some help to improve how one sees themselves when they look in the mirror. There is no need to feel bad about how you look or to obsess with changing it. Though it is important to still live a healthy lifestyle, there may be other factors that affect your weight and appearance. Thinking positive about your own body image will help give you a new outlook on life and put you on the road to a happier, healthier one.