Body image refers to the way that you see your own body and the thoughts and feelings you associate with it. This can be positive, negative or somewhere in-between and affected by a range of factors including social pressure and environment.
Body image can fluctuate, and for many it is a regular battle with feeling uncomfortable and unhappy with the way that they look. Unchecked, negative body image can lead to low self esteem, development of an eating disorder and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
What is Body Image?
Our perception of our own bodies and the worth we place on them is a complex experience influenced by both external and internal factors. Body image is your personal beliefs, emotional attitudes, and perceptions of your own body. This is entirely personal, and another person may perceive your body in a completely different way. It is a sensory experience, influenced by, and in turn influencing how your body feels, and the way you experience it.
There are four aspects of body image:
Perceptual body image – this is the way that you personally view your body and is not necessarily an accurate representation of how you actually look.
Affective body image – this is the way you feel about your body, this could include happiness, contentment and disgust in addition to a range of other perceptions and opinions. It generally refers to satisfaction or body dissatisfaction that you feel when you think about the shape, weight and individual parts of your body.
Cognitive body image – this is the way that you think about your body and can result in obsessively thinking about your body shape and weight.
Behavioural body image – this is the way that your body image affects the behaviours you engage in. Disordered eating is one example of a behaviour caused by negative body image
Positive Body Image
Positive body image is related to body satisfaction and acceptance, it generally refers to feelings contentment with your size, shape, weight or ability. Whether you love every part of it, or still struggle to be happy about certain things, positive body image is about focusing on the general strengths and functions of your body, and ultimately being grateful for it.
Negative Body Image
A negative body-image or body dissatisfaction is when you have a negative view of your body image and experience a desire for it to be different, this can become pervasive and affect mental health and even lead to body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), eating disorders, and other conditions such as bulimia.
What Affects Body Image?
Body image is greatly affected by society and the way that it accepts certain bodies and dismisses others. Media and body image is a well-studied issue, and has affected the way people view and judge their own bodies that their worth long before social media.
Film, magazines, books, medicine and fashion can all have a profound impact on body image. There has, however, been growing concern since the wide availability of technology and specifically social media, that these applications have a negative impact on social media.
The seemingly inescapable influence of social media platforms, and specifically products wishing to make profit from appearance-related content often lead social media users to critique their own appearance in comparison to those on their screens, which often don’t reflect reality.
Body ideals change over time, and leave people struggling to keep up with these trends. If you feel ashamed about the way your body looks, and experience negative feelings about your body size; you are not alone.
It is difficult to ignore the media messages that focus on physical appearance and beauty as an ideal standard to be reached. It is important to remember that despite body image concerns you may have, your worth is not dictated by your body shape. It can seem tempting to improve body image by trying to lose weight or even get cosmetic surgery, however this is unlikely to change the underlying issues. Body appreciation, body positivity and body acceptance through talking to a mental health professional can help you overcome negative feelings about your physical appearance.
Social Media and Body Images
Social media can have a powerful influence on the way that we see ourselves. The nature of modern technology means that it is very difficult to evade media images that may trigger feelings of comparison and body dissatisfaction. Prior to social media, images sharing body ideals were found in magazines, posters, and film meaning they were viewed less.
In addition, this content was widely known to be carefully created and less likely to be accurate of the way a person looked in real life. In contrast, social media feeds are supposedly unfiltered images of a person’s body – at least that’s what young people may perceive when viewing such images.
The Positive Influence of Social Media
Despite legitimate concerns about the impact of social media on body image, there have been a number of ways it can positively impact body image. Young people, especially young women have traditionally been influenced by body ideals shared and produced by men, with most entertainment industries historically and presently dominated by men. Social media disrupts this, with a wider variety of body types shared and seen.
Social media has triggered a body positive movement, with a wave of body positive content celebrating different body types and highlighting the prevalence of body image issues in society. This has celebration of different bodies of different shapes, sizes and skin tones, support groups and information and acceptance of different gender identity.
Social media influences the way we see each other and ourselves and can be used as a force for good, with a positive effect on young girls’ self image in particular as they are the group most at risk of developing an eating disorder.
Dangers of Body Image Concerns
Body dissatisfaction can have a profoundly negative influence on mental health and wellbeing. With the rise in social media, the last 30 years has seen a steady rise in the number of people living with an eating disorder in the UK.
An eating disorder is a mental health condition that causes a person to use the control of food to cope with certain feelings or situations. They can start as negative thoughts about the way that you look, often influenced by messaging from people close to you or social media.
If you are worried about someone you know, unhealthy eating behaviours to look out for include; eating a lot of food very fast, restricting food groups, regularly going to the toilet after eating, exercising obsessively, avoiding eating with others, cutting food into small pieces or eating very slowly, wearing baggy, loose-fitting clothes and generally worrying about their weight or body shape.
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rates among psychiatric disorders, affecting all areas of a person’s life and a profound effect on the lives of people around them too. They are treatable, and most people can recover from an eating disorder with earlier intervention increasing the chance of positive outcomes.
If you are worried about the negative effects that your body image is having on your life, or you are worried about the body dissatisfaction or someone you care about, Addcounsel offer compassionate, expert care for eating disorders in the heart of London.
Negative body image can be debilitating and affect all other aspects of life, including socialising, relationships and work. Enjoying delicious food, being content in one’s body and having a generally positive outlook is within reach for everyone.
Offering a range of therapies and treatment modalities and an individualised treatment plan to suit your needs, Addcounsel are ready to support you in living a life free from self judgement and dissatisfaction.