Body image refers to the way an individual perceives their external or physical appearance. It relates to how a person views their body in terms of aesthetics or sexual appeal, compared to the standards set by society and culture. It is about how attractive they feel themselves to be.
What is Body Image and Why is it Important?
Throughout history, people have attached a great deal of importance to the beauty of human physique. Society and popular culture have helped people shape their views of what should be considered ideal or beautiful. People who fit society’s narrative of an ideal body are often treated differently than others.
Body image does not necessarily stem from what we see in the mirror. It can be about how you picture yourself in your mind or how you feel when you move. It arises from a range of experiences and generalizations that happen throughout a person’s life. It is a product of the standards promoted around us.
However, popular standards are not always the most helpful.
This article will look at factors that contribute to our body image attitudes, why they are important, and what can be done to bring positive change.
How does Society Influence Our Body Image?
Society has had a long-held fascination with physical attractiveness. Popular culture determines our body’s worth by how good it looks, and not by how well it can perform.
Adding fuel to fire is the constant barge of airbrushed images and videos on social media and other entertainment platforms. We get continuously bombarded with images that cause us to feel uncomfortable and ugly in our skin, which then leads to distress and poor self-image. Our lowered self-worth manifests itself in everything we do, from our work to our social life.
The obsession with celebrity looks has narrowed our definition of beauty. Good looks and physical “perfection” is linked with success. So we tend to think that our inability to look good and achieve that perfect body is just another one of our failures.
Popular culture and social media have skewed our vision of a healthy body. We equate being lean to being healthy, while the truth could not be further from this.
You think you will never measure up to that fitness model whose profile you just spent an hour stalking.
Guess what? You’re right.
You will never look like her.
Because 1) her images are most likely edited to some extent and 2) she is a part of that 1% of the population whose physique is genetically predisposed to be, what we consider, “beautiful.” It is unrealistic to compare yourself against someone who makes a living off of their physical appearance.
We are all well-aware of the underlying digital modifications and editing that goes into achieving these flawless-looking bodies. We know it’s not realistic, but that does not stop us from judging ourselves against them. Just because we know the reality does not make things better for us.
It is human nature to always strive for perfection and want something greater and better than you. But when you’re constantly presented with people who are better than you and things that are out of your reach.
It is easy to internalize the narrative that there is something inherently wrong with you. We fail to realize that the overly thin bodies that are paraded around in mainstream media as ideal are likely a result of unhealthy diet patterns and disordered eating.
What is an Unhealthy Body Image?
A person who has a negative sense of self-worth feels dissatisfied with the appearance of their body. Unhealthy body image means buying into the notion that your body is not good enough.
Experiencing feelings of not being pretty enough or muscular enough. It tells you that your value as a human being rests solely on your looks.
Unhealthy body image can lead a person to:
- Compare themselves to others and feel embarrassed as a result
- Lack confidence
- Feel awkward and uncomfortable in their body
- Deem themselves to be inadequate based on their appearance
- Think of themselves as a failure
People with an unhealthy body image view different parts of their body in a negative light.
They fixate on trying to change their body which leads to them resorting to unnecessary surgeries and unsafe food habits.
Having a negative perception of one’s body leads to mental issues, such as depression, and even suicidal tendencies.
According to research, children as young as six express an unlikeness towards their body proportions and weight.
A study conducted in Ontario on 400 girls, ranging from grade 7 to grade 8, revealed that 60% were on a diet to lose weight.
Body dissatisfaction is not limited to females. A recent study conducted by the University of Toronto revealed that 1 in 6 people suffering from anorexia are men.
This increase in body dissatisfaction can be linked with not just media prevalence, but also our culture, family, and friends.
Our personal relationships have a huge impact on our emotional insecurity, which can contribute to a negative self-image.
Experiencing microaggressions at your workplace or society, in general, can cause a person to feel as though they are somehow lacking.
Different illnesses like skin conditions can also have an impact on a person’s social confidence and body image.
Why Does Body Image Matter?
Body image and self-esteem are directly correlated to each other. Studies even suggest that about one-third of our self-esteem is linked to our perception of our bodies.
It affects our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, all of which contribute to a person’s physical and mental well-being. Feeling bad about yourself can change your behavior in unhelpful ways.
As a result, you might avoid social situations and isolate yourself. This might put you at greater risk of depression and low self-esteem.
Body image can trigger feelings of masculinity in males and femininity in women. Telling yourself that you need a particular set of physical features to look or feel like a “real” man or woman is likely to get you discouraged, even where there is no need to be.
The worse we see ourselves, the worse we are going to treat ourselves.
As unhealthy body image issues rise, so do instances of disordered eating. People with a negative self-image are more likely to develop poor health due to severe dieting and trying harmful dietary supplements.
All of this ends up being an unending vicious cycle where poor body image leads to unhealthy habits which lead to poor health which then reflects poorly on your outward appearance and the cycle continues.
On the flip side, a positive body image can be one of the first steps towards your physical and mental wellness.
People with a positive body image are less likely to have negative thoughts about themselves. This makes them less prone to adapting harmful eating behaviors and fall into depression.
A healthy body image leads to self-acceptance and higher self-esteem. It also changes your attitude towards diet and exercise.
You are more likely to go out and enjoy being in social situations. It also increases a person’s confidence and they do not end up missing out on exciting opportunities because of their insecurities.
How do You Stop Body Image Issues?
Body image is important because the way we view ourselves influences every other aspect of our lives, and how we take care of ourselves.
There is a fair bit of work that needs to be done in the media to increase the representation of all body types, especially those with a visible difference.
In any case, change starts with us and it’s important to think about how our actions can be tweaked for the greater good.
One of the first steps you can take towards improving your body perception is acceptance. There is nothing wrong with feeling a little low sometimes.
Realize that you cannot be a confident person 365 days of the year. There will be times when you feel a little off. Accept that you cannot be the most beautiful person in every room that you walk into and that it does not matter.
Additionally, here are some things you can implement to help you and the people around you:
- Spend time with positive people.
- Don’t pressurize yourself into eating certain foods. Eat what makes you happy.
- Practice positive self-talk.
- Look beyond your physical appearance. Focus on what your body can do and not what it looks like.
- Avoid comparisons with other people.
- Wear clothes that you find you look attractive in.
- Use media mindfully.
- Make your fitness goals about being healthier and not prettier.
- Practice self-care in the form of skincare, haircare et cetera.
- Be nice and accepting towards others.
The fact that you assume that others do not like the way you look likely stems from the reality that you yourself cannot accept your looks. It is a thought that is built upon assumptions, not facts. So,
We are all flawed in one way or another.
And that’s OK.
Accept your shortcomings. It is going to make your life suck a lot less. That perfect self that you have envisioned for yourself does not truly exist, anyway. Be respectful towards your body. Be thankful for it.
After all, it is the only home for that mighty brain of yours.
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