Body image is defined as the way someone perceives, thinks, and feels about their body; and if we stop to really consider what this means, we may realize that body image is actually a very layered concept. We often think of body image in terms of the dichotomy between having one that is “positive” or “negative,” but body image often exists outside of those two simplified descriptions.  Body image issues impact everyone, regardless of age, gender, background. We cannot escape the fact that we live, breathe, and experience life in and through our bodies, and this makes our conversations about body image and body image issues particularly important.

Body image can have a significant impact on the way we move through our lives: Having body image issues can significantly disrupt our mental health, self-esteem, and overall well being. A recent study showed that nearly 50% of first and second graders disliked some aspect of their body. First and second gradersheartbreaking, but maybe not so surprising. If we want to unpack why such young kids are experiencing body image issues, we have to look at the messages we are thinking, believing, and spreading about our own bodies as adults. There are several ways kids, teenagers, and adults may experience and then express a negative body image.

Ways We Experience Body Image Issues

Dr. Colleen Reichmann shares professional insight and her number one tip for examining your body image and relationship with your body in the video below:

While it is safe to assume that nearly everyone struggles with their body image at one point or another, it is not safe to assume that we all struggle in the same way with the same things. Body image issues may look like or manifest as:

  • Disliking the way you body (or a part of your body) looks
  • Constantly comparing your body to others’
  • Obsessing over your appearance
  • Excessive plastic surgery 
  • Feeling self-conscious in public without makeup
  • Feeling the need to cover up or get rid of wrinkles
  • Fixating on perceived flaws (potentially suffering from Body Dysmorphic Disorder)
  • Avoiding social situations that may draw attention to your body or make you feel insecure about your body’s appearance
  • Dieting and weight cycling 
  • Rigid exercise regimens and routines for the purpose of controlling your body’s appearance
  • Engaging in disordered eating behaviors or developing an eating disorder
  • Refusing to wear a piece of clothing solely because you don’t like how it makes a body part look

*Note: this is, by no means, an exhaustive list of the ways that issues with body image can come up. And some of these, in isolation, do not always mean someone struggles with body image issues.*

What Does it Mean if I Struggle with My Body Image?

Body image issues often stem from a complex interplay of factors: societal, cultural, psychological, and individual. Struggling with your body image means often there is some dissonance between what you believe your body (or a part of your body) should look like (as a result of one or multiple of these factors) and what it does look like. This means that, somewhere along the way, we have internalized unhelpful messaging about our bodies, their appearance, and their purpose. Media portrayal of idealized bodies, societal standards of beauty, peer pressure, and personal experiences, for example,  all contribute to how you perceive yourself. Past traumas, too, such as bullying or body shaming, can deeply influence your body image and contribute to a negative or complicated body image.

How Do I Address Body Image Issues?

It is important to address body image issues in a way that is going to help you move toward feeling confident and content in the body that you are in. Trying tirelessly to simply ignore or push down the negative perceptions, feelings, or thoughts you are experiencing about your body is not likely to be helpful and may, in fact, be more harmful in the long run. 

5 Strategies for Addressing Body Image Issues

1. Be mindful when talking about your own body

I find that it can be easy (and more socially acceptable) to self deprecate when talking about my own body to other people. For some reason, it feels more *humble* or relatable  to contribute a criticism about myself to a conversation that it does to say something positive or to just say nothing at all. Many of the comments we say that we think are harmless (“Oh, I don’t have the body for that dress . . .”) can have a great impact on our long term relationship with our bodies.

2. Examine Your Actions

If you are struggling with your body image, take a look at your habits: 

  1. Are you dieting often? Are you going from diet to diet? 
  2. Are you working out to punish, control, or otherwise manipulate your body? 
  3. Are you body checking every day?
  4. Do your thoughts and  feelings about your body interfere with your relationships, work, or activities?

If your actions are overtly or inadvertently implying that weight and youth are essential to level or attractiveness and value, it is worth considering how some of these behaviors can be first examined and then, hopefully, addressed and wrestled with.

3. Social Media Detox

 I know, I know – this tends to make it on a lot of lists for ways to deal with so many different things. But, hey – that has to mean something. So many of us struggle with body image, and by and large, social media’s obsession with, and evaluation and  presentation of “ideal” bodies and level of attractiveness is both exhausting and problematic.

We should not open TikTok or Instagram just to be met with a video of someone interviewing other people about how they would rate people’s level of attractiveness at their school. Or to a video that, at first glance, isn’t an evaluation of someone’s body or appearance, but then you peep the comments and see a full blown assessment of the hair, clothes, make up, and body type of the person in it. With these kinds of posts being so common that we deem them as normal, a social media detox where you completely disengage from social media for a period of time or you intentionally unfollow or mute accounts that add to your own negative body image can be more helpful than you may realize at providing you mental clarity about harmful messages you may have internalized. 

4. Choose Your Circle Wisely

The people we are around on a daily basis have a significant impact on the way we view and talk about our own and other peoples’ bodies. Pay close attention to how you feel and speak about your body around your friends and family members. Surrounding yourself with people (or even just a person) who focus less on the appearance of your (and other peoples’) bodies and more on the function of them, can help you to be less susceptible to problematic messaging, thoughts, feelings, and perceptions.

5.  Professional Help

If your negative or persistently fluctuating body image is something you have struggled to address on your own, please seek out professional help if you are able. A therapist who specializes in working with clients on their body image can help you get to the root of your individual body image issues, restructure your thoughts, and make an individualized plan for addressing the body image issues you are experiencing.

The Impact of Your Body Image

Your body is the vessel by which you experience your life’s highs and lows– and the way you think about your body impacts, well, everything. If you struggle with your body image and have, up until this point, tried unhelpful ways to feel *better* about your body, consider whether or not you want these same thoughts, judgments, and questions to be racing through your head five or even ten years from now. If you want to move toward a more neutral or positive body image now, there are strategies and people who can help you do this successfully. Reshaping your thoughts about and relationship with your body can be liberating, and that is invaluable.

By: Erika Muller, Assistant for Wildflower Therapy LLC

All images via Unsplash

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