‘Poor body image.’ ‘Body Positivity.’ ‘Body neutrality.’ ‘Body image dissatisfaction.’ These days we are constantly being bombarded with all kinds of messages and terminology related to our bodies and how we view them. This can be confusing and might even lead a person to wonder what does body image really mean and why is it even important?!?
‘Body image describes how we think and feel about our bodies, especially related to shape and weight. Body image can be a positive, neutral, or negative experience. In today’s culture, many of us, regardless of age and gender, find ourselves distressed around appearance. Because so many of us struggle with negative body image, many view this experience as just part of being human in today’s culture. It’s even normalized. The problem is that body image concerns can affect our relationships, both with self and others. Poor body image is also a risk factor for mental health problems such as increased anxiety and self-criticism, depression and postpartum depression, disordered eating and eating disorders.
What impacts body image?
Modern media and social media constantly bombard us with images of idealized bodies. These images are digitally altered and are the norm to which many of us compare ourselves. They are also unattainable for the vast majority and can create body image concerns. Even when we know that an image has been ‘doctored’, we still feel worse about our own body after viewing it.
In addition to exposure to images of idealized and unrealistic bodies through media or social media, body image can also be influenced by:
- How our family and peers feel and speak about bodies and appearance
- Pressure from others to look a certain way or to match an ‘ideal’ body type
- Past experiences related to appearance and weight
How can you improve your body image?
- Consider a ‘spring-clean’ of your apps. Be aware of feelings that come up when using them. If you find them causing more stress in relation to your body image, consider uninstalling them.
- Note the accounts you’re following on social media and be mindful of how you feel about your own body when scrolling through. Consider muting or unfollowing accounts or hashtags that cause you to feel negatively about your body or appearance.
- In our daily lives, we can all be more aware of the ways in which we speak about our own and other people’s bodies in casual conversations with friends and family. Constantly saying things that reinforce youth and being slim as the essence of beauty (for instance: “I feel fat today”, “They don’t have the body to wear that”, “You look great, did you lose weight?”, “They look so old” or “It highlights my wrinkles”) may feel harmless in the moment, but can make us feel worse about our bodies in the long run.
- Find the best way that works for you to stay active. Joyful movement can make us feel stronger and more positive, encourage good mood, and decrease stress. Tune into your intention behind your choice to move.
- If your body image is a significant cause of stress, consider talking to a friend, a trusted adult or a therapist.
- At home, parents and caregivers can be influential in how their children view their bodies. Check out this blog for more ideas on how to model positive behavior and support positive body image.