Chances are you’ve heard the term body image thrown around in conversations or the media, but have you ever stopped to think about what it actually means?
In this article, I’ll explain what is body image, how it can affect our mental health and tips and strategies to improve it.
What is the definition of body image?
The National Eating Disorder Collaboration (NEDC) defines body image as “a combination of the thoughts and feelings we have about your body.” Body image usually consists of four aspects:
- Subjective body image – How we view our body is not always a correct representation of how it looks.
- Affective body image – How we feel about our body. This refers to our satisfaction or dissatisfaction about our body shape, weight and size.
- Cognitive body image – How we think about our body can lead to preoccupation with body shape and weight.
- Behavioural body image – How we engage with our bodies when we’re dissatisfied by how they look can lead to unhealthy behaviours as a means to change appearance
What is negative body image?
Negative body image is when an individual holds a distorted, critical view of their body, often believing it doesn’t meet societal beauty ideals. This perception can result in dissatisfaction, shame, and self-consciousness, leading to emotional distress, unhealthy behaviours and binge eating.
In today’s highly critical and appearance-focused world, it’s often the exception to find someone with a positive body image. We’ve been taught to scrutinise, judge and compare our bodies so much that we usually default to negative thoughts and feelings about our bodies.
What is a positive body image?
A positive image is the ability to accept, appreciate and respect your body, regardless of its weight, shape or size. People with a positive body image are associated with higher self-esteem, self-acceptance, and the ability to practice positive behaviours around food and exercise.
What impacts body image?
A combination of internal factors such as self-esteem, personality and ingrained bias and external factors like our social environments and societal expectations can influence our body image.
How does social media affect body image?
Social media can significantly impact our body image by showcasing idealised and curated images of our bodies. It can lead to comparisons and unrealistic standards, often making us feel pressured to conform, causing body dissatisfaction, low self-esteem, and even eating disorders due to constant exposure to perfected images.
How does body image affect mental health?
Body image can have a strong influence on our mental health. Negative body image can lead to anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. Individuals with poor body image tend to have lower self-esteem and reduced overall psychological well-being, impacting their daily lives and relationships.
How to Improve Body Image
Now that we’ve explored what body image is, its impact on mental health, and the factors that influence it, let’s delve into practical strategies to improve your body image. Remember that this process takes time and patience, so be gentle with yourself as you work on reshaping your thoughts and feelings about your body.
Bring awareness to external and internal triggers
External sources, such as friends, colleagues, family members, social media, health professionals, movies/TV, and pop culture, can all contribute to negative body image.
As it’s often difficult to broach the topic of body image with family, friends and colleagues, an easier step can be focusing on social media.
Consider doing a social media audit. Review the accounts you follow and ask yourself, “Does this person’s content make me feel good about my body?” If the answer is no, consider unfollowing or muting those accounts. Start to create an external environment around you with positive influences that promote self-acceptance.
Internal sources include the thoughts and beliefs we hold about our bodies. Bring awareness to these beliefs. For example, if you think, “Being in a smaller body is better because of X,” start to think about where that thought came from and whether it still serves you. It might be time to challenge it and let it go.
Shift Your Worth Away from Appearance
Your worth is not determined by your appearance. (read that again)!
Recognise your value as a person goes far beyond how you look. This will not be an overnight change.
Engage in activities and hobbies that make you feel accomplished and proud, irrespective of your body size or shape. Focus on your talents, achievements, and the qualities that make you unique.
When you notice yourself having negative thoughts about your body rather than beating yourself up, which can make the ideas worse, find self-compassion. You may find using positive body image quotes helpful, too.
Remember, having a body in this appearance-focused world, regardless of weight, shape and size, is hard. Whereever you are on this journey of body acceptance, remember it’s not your fault you have these thoughts, and you’re doing the best you can right now!
What to Do on a Bad Body Image Day
We all have days when we struggle with our body image. On these days, try the following:
- Wear Comfortable Clothes: Choose outfits that make you feel comfortable and confident. Dressing comfortably can boost your mood and self-esteem.
- Find Self-Compassion: Practice self-compassion by treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding you would offer a friend. Be gentle with yourself and remind yourself that everyone has imperfections.
- Do Something You Enjoy: Engage in activities that bring you joy and fulfilment. This can help shift your focus away from negative body thoughts and onto positive experiences
- Body image is a complex concept that can significantly impact our mental health and well-being.
- It’s crucial to be mindful of the internal and external influences that shape our body image and to actively work on cultivating a more positive and accepting view of our bodies.
- Where ever you are on this journey of body acceptance, remember it’s not your fault you have these thoughts, and you’re doing the best you can right now!
Need Help Feeling Better About Your Body?
At Balance and Bite, we understand that the first step in improving your relationship with food often requires accepting your body or working on your body image.
We offer appointments and support to help you reach a healthier body image and a more positive relationship with food.
Remember, you’re not alone in this, and seeking help is a courageous step toward a happier and healthier you.