You may have heard the phrase ‘body image’ before in the news, or maybe online. This phrase has become a hot topic given our desire to be seen as “perfect” on social media.
Of course, placing value on how good we look is something that existed long before selfie culture. We are taught from a young age that the better you look, the easier life will be for you. It’s never said outright, of course. But it’s pushed in more subtle ways. Studies show that children who are “good-looking” are more popular. Studies also highlight that job offers tend to go to more attractive candidates. And when we’re happy with how we look, we tend to feel a lot better about ourselves as well. All this ties into the idea of Body Image — how we see ourselves, and how satisfied we are with what we see.
What is body image?
Simply put, body image can be broken into:
- Body Perception — The estimation of physical attributes
- Body Satisfaction — How content one is, with their body size and physical appearance
These two concepts affect what you think and how you look at yourself in the mirror. Your body image is deeply tied to your self-confidence.
When you look at yourself, are you happy with what you see? If yes, then you are more confident about how you look. This will show in your mood and actions throughout the day. You are likely to have a stronger sense of self-worth. This is when you have an accurate assessment of your body and are satisfied with what you see, hence you have a positive body image.
However, if your first thought when you look at yourself are in the lines of, “I’m too fat for this outfit”, “My eyes are too close together” or “I’m not muscular enough”, you perhaps have a negative body image. You might be under confident and uncomfortable for the rest of the day and are likely to compare yourself to others. This will lead you to perceive certain parts of your body in a distorted or unrealistic way. For example, you may see yourself as fat even though you have a normal Body Mass Index (BMI) for your body type.
Negative body image occurs when you are dissatisfied with your physical attributes. Today, we are surrounded by images of celebrities, influencers, and even our own peers who always look their best. For many of us, it can be hard to measure up — in our own eyes if no one else’s. And the pandemic hasn’t been helping matters. Stress may lead to unexpected weight gain, hair loss, breakouts, and a myriad of other things that could affect the way we see ourselves.
Who is affected by negative body image?
The short answer? Everyone. While negative body image is something seen among women, particularly adolescents and women in their early 20s, it’s also on the rise for men. For every woman who compares herself to a Kardashian, there’s a man who strives to be Dwane Johnson. 3 things play an important role in how individuals see themselves:
- Their perceived notions of an ideal body weight
- The way the media portrays successful people, and
- Society’s standards of attractiveness for men and women
Negative body image could be subjective. Whether someone thinks of themselves as not muscular enough or too muscular, not skinny enough or too skinny, or anything in-between — people with a negative body image are very conscious of their perceived flaws.
This can have serious psychological consequences, including but not limited to:
- Emotional distress
- Low self-esteem
- Unhealthy dieting habits
- Development of eating disorders
- Social isolation
- Avoiding activities that may involve body exposure (going to the gym, the beach or even the doctor)
How to cope with negative body image
Changing how you think about your body is not easy, and there’s definitely no easy way to suddenly be satisfied with how you look. But there are a few things you can try to keep in mind the next time you catch yourself having negative thoughts about your body.
Be kind to yourself
We are naturally predisposed to thinking negatively when it comes to ourselves — this includes body image. This ‘negative bias’ means that we often zoom in on our tiniest flaws and magnify them. But though a pimple or a few extra pounds may seem like the end of the world to you, it may not even be noticeable to others. Taking a step back and giving yourself a bit of perspective might help shake you out of that mindset.
Know that “One Weight DOES NOT Fit All”
Our society has deemed ‘fat’ a bad word. Many of us are very conscious of our weight, and it might feel like a personal failing each time we gain a little extra. And yes, weight does play a big role in our overall health and wellness. However, different people have different body types, and what may be a healthy weight for one person might not for another. It can be hard to remember this when relatives make comments at family functions or when diet teas are constantly advertised on Instagram — but there is no “one weight fits all”. So long as you’re maintaining a healthy weight for your body type and activity level you’re doing great, no matter what that looks like for you.
Take everything with a pinch of salt
It’s easy to compare ourselves to celebrities and social media influencers, but we often forget how much of their look is manufactured to portray them at their best. Male and female celebrities alike have to wear make-up in films. They’re dressed by high-end designers for awards shows and sometimes even have their regular clothes tailored to fit. They’re airbrushed and photoshopped on magazine covers, and often have to go on intense diets and workouts to get into shape for a role. Henry Caville, for example, is certainly a physically fit actor. However even he had to drastically cut his water intake before shirtless scenes in The Witcher to get that intense level of muscle definition. These habits are neither healthy nor practical as long-term, real-world goals.
Surround yourself with positivity
Have you ever been told that certain clothes don’t suit your body — even if it’s something you tried on yourself and liked? Or felt guilted into working out by your friends’ gym selfies? A lot of our body perception comes from the people around us. A study by the University of Waterloo shows that the people around us have a big effect on how we see ourselves. People who surround themselves with friends who aren’t body-conscious have a more positive outlook on their own bodies. It’s important to think about whether your thoughts are your own, or whether it’s something that’s been influenced by the people around you.
Body positivity is more than a buzzword, it’s a state of mind we’re all trying to strive towards. But it’s not something that comes from crazy work out challenges or crash diets — it’s a change in mentality. Take little steps to change what you can and accept what you can’t. Remember that at the end of the day, a reflection or a selfie is just an image — there’s more to you than meets the eye.