In simple terms, body image is:
“…the perception that a person has of their physical self and the thoughts and feelings that result from that perception.” (National Eating Disorders Collaboration)
The phrase body image was first coined by the Austrian neurologist and psychoanalyst Paul Schilder in his book The Image and Appearance of the Human Body (1935). Human society has at all times placed great value on beauty of the human body, but a person’s perception of their own body may not correspond to society’s standards.” These perceptions can be positive, negative or both and are influenced by individual and environmental factors.
As this definition shows, body image isn’t just one unidimensional construct. It’s made up of four aspects:
1. How you see your body. This is not always a correct representation of how you actually look. For example, a person may perceive themselves as overweight when they are actually underweight.
2. The way you feel about your body. This relates to the amount of satisfaction or dissatisfaction you feel about your shape, weight and individual body parts.
3. Your beliefs about your body. This may include views about the ‘right’ appearance. For example, some people believe they will feel better about themselves if they are thinner or more muscular.
4. How you behave towards your body. When a person is dissatisfied with the way they look, they isolate themselves because they feel bad about their appearance. They could also employ destructive behaviours (e.g. excessive exercising, disordered eating) as a means to change appearance. (NEDC, 2017)
Body image is also affected by stereotypes and beliefs, those of the people around you as well as your own. Having a positive body image does not mean that you think everything about your body is perfect. It is accepting your body for what it is, celebrating your natural shape and size, and how your body performs.
Why is positive body image important?
The way we see and think of our bodies affects all aspects of our lives -weather we realize it or not! Positive body image plays a big role in our relationships and the everyday activities we take part in.
“When you see yourself positively and feel good in the body you’re in, it shows! It improves our interaction with other people and allows for us to reach new goals. When you feel inferior in other parts of your life such as your job, it influences your performance. Body image works the same way!”
When we stop to think about our bodies, it’s easy to compare our differences to other people. By doing so, we fail to recognize the strengths and characteristics of our bodies that we should be proud of. Hence we can no longer care for them in the way that they need. As a result, we can’t fully embrace and experience the journey toward better health.
We are bombarded every day with images of perfection: perfect lives, perfect bodies, perfect children. All held up for inspection via social media. These images are hard to live up to. It is no wonder that mental health problems are rising, especially among young people.
It is, however, possible to take steps to protect yourself against the onslaught of perfection. Positive body image occurs when a person is able to accept, appreciate and respect their body.
A positive body image will improve:
- Self esteem, which dictates how a person feels about themselves and can infiltrate every aspect of life, and contribute to happiness and wellbeing. The way you view yourself impacts the amount of confidence you have. The way a person shys away from activities with other people, because of what the others may think/say. If we think we are lacking something in our physical appearance, we are likely going to have lower self-esteem as we believe that something is wrong with us. We thus place a higher value on the physical traits that we think we should possess and those who possess them. Studies even suggests that up to a third of your self-esteem is linked to how positive or negative your body image is.
- Self-acceptance, making a person more likely to feel comfortable and happy with the way they look. Also less likely to feel impacted by unrealistic images in the media and societal pressures to look a certain way. Self acceptance is key to positive body image. To achieve this we need to address the underlying emotional issues. These issue begin at very tender ages for most young girls who as young as 6 years become self conscious. This strong denial of our body types grown to adulthood. When we feel comfortable and happy with our bodies, it shows!
- Healthy outlook and behaviours, as it is easier to lead a balanced lifestyle with healthier attitudes and practices relating to food and exercise when you are in tune with, and respond to the needs of your body.