How to Beat Body Image Issues and Learn to Love Yourself
Body image is a broad and complex area of psychology. It’s a fast evolving one too, given that many people’s body image problems are influenced by images they receive from culture and the media, and those factors have evolved at an astonishing rate in recent times. While there’s far too much to cover in one brief blog, we’ve put together some solid advice including some facts about body image and tips on how to feel better about your body.
Don’t compare and despair
In another post about the influence of social media, we looked at how the comparisons we make between ourselves and the images we see online can have a negative impact on our wellbeing. But it’s not just the internet. Before the rise of the web, the debate centred around fashion and lifestyle magazines. Everywhere we go we’re surrounded by supposed body ideals. When we find ourselves troubled by comparing ourselves to others, it’s worth having a look at our motivations, which takes us on to our next point…
Examine your motivations
At the root of many body image issues is way we compare ourselves to others, whether that’s those around us, celebrities, or images on social media. According to the tripartite influence model of body image and eating disturbance there are three basic motives that draw us to compare ourselves with others: self-evaluation, self-improvement and self-enhancement.
Self-evaluation is when we feel a need to see where we fit into the scheme of things – to determine our place in the tribal hierarchy. We want to know whether or not we are keeping up with those around us and whether our status is rising or falling in relation to them.
Self-improvement is when we aspire to better ourselves by imitating or associating ourselves with certain influential figures. We look to solve issues for ourselves by referring to existing social models and allowing ourselves to be influenced by the behaviour or appearance of someone we perceive to be more successful.
Self-enhancement stems from basic pleasure seeking. We seek to get a hit or a thrill from perceiving that we’re out-performing another person, giving us a boost to our self-esteem.
It’s a good idea to have a think about what we think we might be getting out of it when we compare our bodies to people and imagery we see around us. Comparison can give us a bump of feel-good chemicals, or it can get us down – either way it’s not the healthiest way of gauging our self-worth.
There’s no such thing as the perfect body
There is a growing belief that there is one particular “ideal” body shape to which everyone must aspire. This idea is amplified throughout social media, where a very narrow range of body types are held up as desirable. For women it has traditionally been an extremely slim, Barbie doll type build, though some have perceived a shift to the more hourglass figure sported by influential personalities like the Kardashians. For men, ideal body-types tend to fall within a spectrum of tall, V-shaped physiques ranging from slim-built to very muscular. A significant negative impact of media on body image is that, for most of us, it’s unrealistic for us to expect ourselves to conform to these ideals, leading to body dissatisfaction and body confidence issues.
It’s worth aspiring to be fit and healthy, but what you look like when you are fit and healthy might look very different from what Mo Farah or Serena Williams look like when they are in peak physical condition. The fact is, people’s bodies are very different and there is no one single ideal body shape for us all to chase after.
A healthy body image is one that reflects who we are and how we see ourselves, not an unattainable ideal. And remember, you may be comparing yourself to a retouched photo – even the girl in the magazine doesn’t look like the girl in the magazine!
Solving the ‘problem’ won’t always solve the problem
If there is an underlying problem with our self-esteem, then even achieving the body you crave may not resolve the issue. If you could click your fingers and instantly remove your perceived flaws, there would most likely still be challenges for your psychological wellbeing. That’s because, if there is still some work to be done on the inner you, no amount of work on your outward appearance is likely to change that.
One of the effects of negative body image can be that it can cloud deeper issues, in which case therapy can be helpful to unearth and address the causes of low self-esteem. As blind blogger Blogging Astrid points out, it’s a myth that blind people are unaffected by body image issues, proving that it’s not only the information that we receive visually that can cause these issues.
Body image and eating disorders
Having an issue with body image is not necessarily going to set you on a slippery slope towards and eating disorder, or even body dysmorphia disorder. Plenty of people struggle with their body image without ever experiencing an eating disorder. Likewise, people with a diagnosed eating disorder may have developed their condition without ever worrying about body image, instead focussing on taking control over their life, body and surroundings.
That’s not to say there’s not a link between the two experiences. Body image issues can lead someone to attempt to change their body shape by modifying their eating behaviours. In some cases where that relationship with food becomes dysfunctional, an eating disorder can arise. In either case, therapy can be a great way of getting to the bottom of issues around our relationship with food, or with our own bodies.
Forget body-shaming – are you body-blaming?
Have you ever missed out on an opportunity and put it down to someone’s perceptions around your body? Or have you pulled out of an exciting activity, or decided not to pursue a relationship because you felt that your body was holding you back?
It could be that you’re pinning the blame on your body when actually it’s fear or some other factor that’s holding you back. Try taking your body out of the equation and taking a look what other factors could be at play.
When we have negative feelings about our bodies, we can fall into the habit of blaming them for all the bad things that happen to us. This blame will only cause a negative body image to worsen yet further. Try breaking the cycle, by seeking out and exploring your deeper motivations.
Acceptance is golden
One of the best ways to boost our body confidence is through acceptance. If you can face a mirror every day and cultivate a positive body image, then acceptance and confidence will follow. The difficulty comes in facing down the critical inner voice that seeks to find fault with ourselves and distort our body perception. Try cultivating a defiant attitude towards that voice. You may find it can help in overcoming body image issues. Take your right to be happy and confident seriously, and don’t take any lip!
We all have a body and we all have an opinion about it, which is partly why body image is such a wide-ranging and universal issue. There are as many body images as there are bodies, but if our relationship with our body becomes troubling to us, it can be helpful to seek some professional help. Therapy For You offers treatments for issues around body image such as low mood, low confidence, adjusting to later life, anxiety and emotional over eating.
To find out about these treatments and more, contact us on 01268 739 128 to book a telephone appointment with one of our qualified therapists.
If you are at a very low point and need immediate help, visit our crisis page or contact your GP for an emergency appointment.