Body image. It matters more than you would imagine.
Body image can influence our overall quality of life and affect how we interact with the world. But can we really control how we see ourselves or is it a choice out of our hands? Though our body image is often influenced by our environment and many external factors, we can change our perception.
What is it
Everyone’s body image is different to both themselves and others. According to Psychology Today, “body image is the mental representation an individual creates of themselves.” Although you create it, the product you come up with could’ve been influenced.
Potential influences could come from your family, friends, early experiences, emotions, mood, the media, and others.
The National Eating Disorders Association says body image encompasses what you believe about your own appearance, how you feel about your body, and how you sense and control your body as you move. We can unknowingly internalize messages throughout life which either leads to positive or negative body image.
Why it matters
It can be psychologically damaging if your body image remains negative for long enough. There are disorders associated with negative body image such as dysmorphic disorder and eating disorders. People with the dysmorphic disorder can obsess over slight imperfections that others may not even notice.
Body image can affect all aspects of a person’s life especially their emotional and mental wellbeing. Poor body image could negatively affect someone’s relationships, social interaction, or work performance.
As humans, we tend to focus on our imperfections (which is ironic because being human is all about making mistakes and being imperfect). People often use the phrase “it’s ok, you’re human” or some variation of that. If it’s okay to be imperfect, just why do we fret over small flaws that don’t impose any problems to our lives?
Well, we could obsess over any dissatisfaction not because it matters to others’ but because it matters to us. But why does what we might look like matter so much to us? Caring about how we look isn’t a bad thing, but when it gets to the point of dragging us down and worsening our quality of life we may need to reevaluate things.
Our habits can also influence how we might see ourselves. Do you often observe others or compare yourself to them? Actions like these can encourage us to have negative thoughts about ourselves. More often than not, the criticisms we make about ourselves are often not really true. Nevertheless, it becomes your reality — a reality where you’re in a seemingly never-ending cycle of negativity, dissatisfaction, and pity.
The good news is, if you do have poor body image, you can end the cycle.
Reassessing things is definitely easier said than done. You first have to realize that a change needs to be made, and attitude changes are among the toughest. However, it is a necessary step in order to make a plan.
There is no “quick fix” for changing something like body image though. Still, there are general things you can try to help you start improving your body image.
One possible method is to shift your perspective. Reflecting on what your body does for you is one way you can do this. Just list out small things: my body gets me to work, allows me to enjoy food, etc. This can shift your perspective in a way where you may begin to feel gratitude for your body.
Another method is to avoid triggers. Certain things might set off negative thoughts. I know I try to avoid mirrors and pictures. Psychology Today suggests curbing the use of social media. Social media can be a constant reminder to value looks.
“No one deserves to go through life hating the place where they live — their body,” they say. “Body image should not hinge on whether a person looks like a runway model. It’s possible for a person to have a better view of their body no matter what it looks like.”
You can also try and achieve a healthy body image by figuring out what the source of your negative criticism is. If it is due to your weight for instance you can try and eat healthier or exercise more often. All these changes would take time of course, habits are just as hard to make as they are to break. However, it is not completely necessary to try and lose weight if that’s where your issues lie.
Mirror-Mirror.org claims it is healthy and more practical to work towards acceptance. Ways you can do this include:
- Acknowledging parts of the body you like too
- Decreasing the amount you check your body for flaws
- Taking advantage of resources to support you (self-help materials, professionals, peers)
The Bottom Line
Maintaining a positive and healthy body image is important in preventing various mental health conditions. We can often be our own worst critic. And we are often too harsh when it comes to judging our own self-worth. At least, I know I can be.
I myself have struggled with poor body image and low self-esteem most of my life and it really takes a toll on many other aspects of my life. I know I am only really making things harder for myself, but it is a battle I am still fighting — and you can too. There are numerous ways to start improving the way you see yourself and perceive your body. So take advantage of all the resources out there in order to receive extra help. Just know it’s worth it and you are not alone.