Body Image

One Part of Many

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”

For 30 million people in the U.S., the answer is likely to be a resounding “certainly not I!” A staggering 90% of women have reported not feeling satisfied with their body image; increasingly, men have been providing similarly dismal evaluations of their body image.   Studies have shown that body confidence among women is on a steady decline and overall body dissatisfaction among men has tripled over the past 25 years. Globally, body hating has reached epidemic proportions. The gazillion dollar question is: why? Let’s check this out:

A Touché Topic

Body image is a sensitive and complex topic.  Most of you reading these words likely has had (maybe is currently having) some pretty harsh thoughts or feelings about their body image: too fat, too curvy, not muscular enough, too much hair, not enough hair, not pretty enough, too tall, too short, the possibilities are endless. I will disclose to you that I am among the staggering number of women who has been insecure about their body image. No one is alone is their struggles with their body image!

Also endless are the painful and distressing thoughts and feelings that go along with such evaluations.   After puberty, it has been found that 70% of girls feel not good enough or like their looks don’t measure up to “ideals” and up to 12% of teenage boys report having already used unproven supplements or steroids to “improve” their body image. In addition, there are risks for both males and females overly preoccupied with their body image: for mental health disorders (especially anxiety or depression), physical health conditions, or other harmful behaviours (disordered eating habits, abuse of medications or illicit substances, or self harming behaviours).

Outside In

Commonly, when the notion of body image is brought up, thoughts of one’s own body image and how it measures up to standards are predominately negative. Particularly women and girls as young as 5 years of age consider their body image to be lacking or imperfect in some way; men are not exempt from such judgments: nearly half of all men report feeling unhappy with the size or shape of their body. However, what other people see on the outside does not always match up with all that the person is on the inside.

Body image refers to much more than just the external elements of a person: thoughts/perceptions of one’s body, emotions, early experiences, moods, attitudes, and numerous other factors are influential; a person’s physical appearance does not accurately indicate all that makes up a person. Like Romeo said: “A rose by any other name smells just as sweet”; in much the same way, a person with any type of body image is just as valuable/worthwhile.

Unfortunately, a lot of different pressures and (unrealistic) expectations have been set out for young and old men and women alike: unattainable images and messages from the “perfect” (and largely photoshopped) images of skinny, tall, beautiful women and handsome muscular men in the media, the judgment and intolerance of differences in society, and the equation that beautiful = skinny and flawless. Further, there are also familial and genetic predispositions for different body sizes and shapes over which we have no control; said differently, it is not possible for everyone to fit the same image of perfection displayed in glossy magazines.

Just be YOU

Having a negative body image is distressing and could lead to anxiety, depression, or risk of more serious eating disorders or body distortions; just like we are all vulnerable to pressures and misconceptions about our body image, we all also have the ability to alter our relationships with our body image and, ultimately, come to caring for/loving ourselves and the body we have and the person inside of that body.  What would it be like to be satisfied with and love the body you have right now? To be comfortable in the skin that you are and have always been in? Let’s check out how you can start loving the body you have – just by being the you that you are. Not some supermodel or muscleman – you.

Steps to try out:

  • Give Yourself Some Love
  • Notice the thoughts and beliefs you have about your body: where do they come from? How do you feel emotionally when these thoughts/beliefs take hold of your mind?   How do you feel physically?  What actions/behaviours are common?
  • Notice if there are patterns of when or with whom you feel bad about yourself.
  • Embrace the idea that everybody has a different body – which is great!
  • Appreciate the body you have and all it does for you: it breathes, your heart beats, you can watch a sunset, you can listen to your favourite song, you can dance, you can read, write – there is a lot your body helps you to do!
  • Think about what you would tell a good friend if he/she told you of his/her negative body image.
  • Approach food and exercise as ways of caring for yourself/for your body rather than as obstacles to or means of losing weight or gaining muscle.
  • Engage in self care activities.
  • Talk to someone you feel comfortable with and trust about your concerns – perhaps a friend, family member, coach, or other professional.
  • Educate yourself about and perhaps become involved in w the Body Image Movement/
  • Give yourself a hug!

Your Body’s Nobody’s Body But Yours

Would you expect all 8 billion people on this planet to fit into the same pair of jeans? Of course not! It is similarly unfair (and unrealistic) to insist that all bodies look the same; while there are certainly differences across cultures in what the “ideal” body shape or size is, all men and all women are equally entitled to feeling good, feeling comfortable, and feeling satisfied with the body they came to this world in. We all have lifetime warrantees on them!

Andrea Dasilva is a Masters of Education, and a Registered Clinical Counsellor at No Fear Counselling and Summit Counselling Group.

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