Let me tell you something that took me a LONG time to learn: positive body image has nothing to do with your body size. And building a better body image has nothing to do with changing your body size. Instead, body image refers to your relationship with your body due to your perception of it as it relates to your beliefs and ideals about body size.
Five main elements make up your body image:
- Perception of your body
- Feelings toward your body
- Thoughts about your body
- Beliefs about your body
- Actions concerning your body
Research has shown that we create body image; it is not innate. Instead, we begin this relationship with our body based on cultural factors, environment, important figures in one's life (i.e., parents, teachers, coaches), media, and peers.
Body Image has become a struggle because these idealized figures are not just a few models in a magazine; it is now our PEERS. We pick up our phones, scroll through social media, and it is no longer just these few models that have perfect everything – it seems our peers have ideal everything. And THAT is what gets us.
As humans, we have an innate desire to evaluate ourselves continually, and we do this through comparison. We compare ourselves to others to assess how we are doing in life. This idea is called the Social Comparison Theory, founded by Leon Festinger in 1954. Comparison is not a new thing. What is new is the number of times we compare due to triggers- every time we open up social media. And because of the social media highlight reel we are falling into the trap of constantly comparing. And when you are viewing images of your peer's posed and edited bodies multiple times throughout the day, OF COURSE, YOU FEEL TERRIBLE ABOUT YOURS.
Negative Effects Of Poor Body Image (why do this work!)
However, it is crucial to notice what this poor body image is doing to us. Here are just a few of the adverse effects of poor body image:
- emotional distress
- low self-esteem
- unhealthy dieting habits or an eating disorder
- increased alcohol/drug use
- social withdrawal/isolation
- increased sexual behavior, or none at all
- yourself engaging in self-harming behaviors
- wanting to avoid any activity that involves showing your body
Hear me; there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with you. When I struggled with body image, I felt like something was wrong with me – I could not understand why I was feeling the way I was. I promise you are not alone and that your feelings are valid. The good news? If you are willing to change your mindset, it does not have to be like this for the rest of your life!
Most Common Body Image Assumptions: Are you guilty?
As always, before changing behavior, we must become aware of where this behavior comes from – i.e., what are we telling ourselves to make us dislike our bodies? Below are ten common body image Assumptions. How many are you guilty of having?
- If I lose X pounds, I will be happy with my body.
- I am still single because of my appearance; nobody will ever find this body attractive.
- If I could look how I want, my life would be much better.
- The first thing people notice about me is how I look.
- My appearance is responsible for what has happened to me in my life.
- If I don't look my best, people will think my life is a mess.
- Why is my partner with me? There are so many prettier women out there.
- If I looked better, people would be more interested in me.
- I will let myself go if I don't care about my appearance.
- The only way I could ever accept my body was to change it.
The goal here is to be curious, not judgmental, if you are guilty of any of the above. To question this assumption, ask yourself: When was the first time I assumed this? How long have I believed this to be true? Has this held me back in life? Would my life look different if I didn't have this assumption?
The two things that make up a positive body image are full acceptance and positive thoughts about the body. So how can we get there? Below are five easy changes that helped me when I was struggling with body image.
Instead of focusing on what your body looks like, focus on what it does for you.
Take the emphasis off of aesthetics. Instead, focus on ability. Instead of only acknowledging what your body looks like, think about what it does for you. For example, at the end of the day, think about three things your body did for you that day. This change helps remind you that your body is more than just an aesthetic.
Wear clothes that make you feel good
If your clothes don't fit or are uncomfortable, GET NEW ONES! I was so guilty of hanging onto my “skinny” clothes and living in workout gear to fit back into those clothes. So, I refused to buy new ones, making me feel worse about my body. If workout clothes make you feel good, then great, but for me, they were just a reminder that I could not fit into my other clothes. So, I made a conscious effort to get dressed in things that made me feel good, and I cannot tell you how much that helped.
*I understand being able to buy new clothes is a privilege. If you cannot buy new clothes, practice being intentional with the clothing you are choosing from your closet.
Clean up your social media feed
Okay, I know… Everybody says this, but it works wonders. You choose what you look at all day; choose differently. Then, fill your feed with bodies that look like yours, and add in people who show all sides to their bodies. This move is challenging; I get it, but trust me.
Take a break from people who have a negative relationship with their bodies.
As you begin the social media cleanse, think about interactions you regularly encounter that aren't helping your body image. Then, GET RID OF THEM (or set boundaries). Yeah, it's hard; I know it's easier just to take it. But it's not helping your body image.
Stopppp body checking
This tip was the NUMBER 1 thing that helped me make a significant leap in boosting my body image. I was always body checking, continually evaluating my body, constantly basing my mood on how I looked multiple times a day. When you notice yourself body checking, respond with, ‘NOPE. Not doing this today!' And remove yourself from the mirror or reflection.
Building a healthy relationship with your body is not about never having a bad body image again; it is about getting better at managing lousy body image days, so they are no longer ruining your day!
Ekern, Baxter. “Unhealthy Body Image and Five Signs of Exhibited Symptoms.” Eating Disorder Hope, 16 Dec. 2019, www.eatingdisorderhope.com/blog/five-signs-poor-body-image.
Munoz, Monica E., et al. “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Peer Competition, Television Influences and Body Image Dissatisfaction.” PsycEXTRA Dataset, 2011, doi:10.1037/e634112013-396.
Psychology, Today. “Social Comparison Theory.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 2020, www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/social-comparison-theory.
Thompson, J. Kevin, and Eric Stice. “Thin-Ideal Internalization: Mounting Evidence for a New Risk Factor for Body-Image Disturbance and Eating Pathology.” Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 10, no. 5, 2001, pp. 181–183., doi:10.1111/1467-8721.00144.
Unknown. “Body Image – Women.” Better Health Channel, Department of Health & Human Services, 31 May 2014, www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/body-image-women.
Unknown. “Body Image.” National Eating Disorders Association, 22 Feb. 2018, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/body-image-0.Vered, Shenaar-Golan, and Ofra Walter. “Mother-Daughter Relationship and Daughter's Body Image.” Health, vol. 07, no. 05, 2015, pp. 547–559., doi:10.4236/health.2015.75065.