“All bodies are not created equally. Even the most seemingly ‘perfect body’ has features that are not so perfect. Embrace the opportunity to love YOUR body. It’s the only one you’ve got!” – Shonelle George
The term body image refers to the mental picture an individual creates of their own body. Body image is not about how a person looks. It has to do with how a person feels about their appearance. For some of us, that mental picture may or may not align with the reality of our appearance. Thus, any misalignments in perception is called a distortion. Body image distortions occur based on several external and internal factors. External factors include: culture, our friends and families’ opinions, verbal, and non-verbal expressions about our physical appearance, and media’s portrayal of the perfect body. In addition, our lived experiences during critical developmental stages play a crucial role in the way we perceive our bodies from childhood to adulthood. Internal factors like negative emotions, mood, and thoughts of achieving the ideal body also create body image dissatisfaction.
Low self-esteem, preoccupation with appearance, depression, unhealthy body changes (rapid weight loss or gain), extreme exercise regimen, frequent use of muscle and performance-enhancing substances, and frequent cosmetic surgeries some mediating factors associated with body image dissatisfaction. A severe form of body image distortion is body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), which occurs when an individual becomes severely obsessed over minimal or unnoticeable imperfections in their appearance. Some eating disorders are also related to body dissatisfaction.
Body image distortions maintain body dissatisfaction, and healthy body image begins with acceptance. Here are some suggestions on how to develop a healthier body image by managing the way we think about our body:
- Putting things into perspective. If social media becomes a trigger for your negative thoughts about your body, create boundaries by limiting your access. If snapping a selfie makes you feel worse about yourself, you may need to avoid engaging in this unhealthy behavioral pattern.
- Challenge automatic negative thoughts. Develop more flexible ways of thinking about yourself. Know that our thinking affects our feelings, which affects our behavior. When we make room for negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors to grow, they become so disruptive that they affect our daily functioning. Challenge those negative thoughts by replacing them with realistic or positive facts. Take time to identify the evidence to prove those beliefs as false.
- Don’t solely focus on changing yourappearance. Body image distortions are not always about appearance. It is about the thoughts associated with the appearance. It is likely that, even if your physical appearance changes, your negative thoughts may remain. As a result, your body image dissatisfaction will continue to plague you. Therefore, working with a professional to explore ways to improve your perceptions about body image will likely reduce the negative impact on your daily life.
- Embrace your imperfections. All bodies are not created equally. Even the most seemingly ‘perfect body’ has features that are not so perfect. Embrace the things about you that are not perfect. There is strength in loving yourself and your body, even if it is not perfect. If there are things you do not like about your body, there are healthy and positive ways to care for your body. Eating healthy and engaging in regular physical activity can support a healthy body from the inside-out.
- Recongize that some things are not within your control, while others are. There are some aspects of our bodies that we may not be satisfied with or may want to change. Many of us can relate to this feeling. It is wise to take some time to identify and assess what precisely you wish to change about your body and how much control you have over those changes. For example, a person may not like being 5’ with a slender body type, but this is an aspect of your body that is not entirely within your control. It is helpful to understand this concept so that it guides your thinking about your body. It is also reasonable to have a desire to lose weight, primarily if weight loss is a healthy and necessary option to improve your overall health and wellness. Recognizing what is within your control versus what is not within your control can be helpful in guiding your efforts to make reasonable and healthy changes that could bolster satisfaction about your body.
Shonelle George is a clinical psychotherapist. Her clinical orientation is focused on allowing individuals to delve beneath the surface of their problems and emotions to uncover the conflicts that prevent them from living their best lives. She also believes in an integrated approach to addressing challenges to wellness. She is passionate about advocating for women and girls, which has allowed her to create psychoeducational and socioemotional workshops that focus on self-esteem/self-concept, relational trauma, anxiety, relationships, stress and coping, and mindfulness meditation. Shonelle is an international workshop presenter, motivational speaker, blogger, and currently serves as the public affairs and media director for 4 Real Women International, Inc. As an advocate, she believes that everyone can become agents of social change in their spaces of influence.