Body image is the collection of thoughts, feelings and beliefs we have about our bodies. It is often formed over time and affected by personal experiences. For some, body image is a source of distress, leading to depression, social isolation, eating disorders and anxiety. Considering it’s potential impact on well-being, what can we do about body image? Let’s look at some things that potentially harm body image and some things that help build a healthy body image.
3 things that can make body image worse
Growing up with negative body talk, bullying or strict diets
Our core beliefs are often formed before we have a chance to realize that there are many different ways to see the world. When we are young, the ways our family, friends, teachers talk and act about their own bodies and the bodies of others form the basis for our approach to our own bodies later in life. Being bullied about how you look can have a big effect, but so can being around someone we look up to who is highly appearance focused – always talking about weight, diets, size, shape or attractiveness. These experiences condition us to see the world in the same way and lead us to think that most of the world shares these ways of thinking.
High levels of social media use
Social media is sadly proving to be one the biggest sources poor mental health in our time. Being bombarded with images of people who seem successful, happy and beautiful creates a sense that all these things are connected. We easily begin to believe that happiness and success are related to appearance. Algorithms also drive us deeper into content that skews our sense of reality. The fact that much of what we see on social media is false, photo-shopped or the result of surgery twists our view of what to expect in a body. Social media has changed the way we interact with others and the pressure we feel to be photo-ready at all times.
Being involved in a performance art or sport
For all the good that sport and the arts bring to us, they also carry a higher risk of poor body image for those in them. Children who grow up in dance or a sport where physical shape is important, such as gymnastics, are often at greater risk of harsh beliefs about their bodies. In some respects, the control they are able to exert over their bodies is what makes them successful in their sport or performance art. On the other hand, it can be difficult to find a healthy balance. Comparison with others and a perfectionistic drive to succeed can lead to distress and unhealthy standards for their bodies.
3 things that can improve body image
Connecting with the function of the body
From the moment we wake up, the body takes a breath and carries us through our day. There is often no need to notice the body, unless something goes wrong. And yet, by turning attention towards how your body helps you is a wonderful way to build a healthier relationship with it. Enjoying a walk or a hug or the feeling of a comfortable sofa are all things that we can’t do without body. Performers and athletes might especially benefit from connecting with how the body is a valuable instrument for their activity and expression.
Consistent self care
Quality sleep, regular eating patterns and caring for the needs of the body are also important ways to heal body image. Poor body image often leads people to hurt their body in some way, such as going on a strict diet or taking up a punishing exercise routine. Or people hold out on treating themselves well until they ‘look better’. This might sound like saying I won’t buy clothes that fit me well. Or I won’t go out with friends because of the way I look. All these behaviors reinforce the idea that the most important thing about us is how we look. Instead, being kind and caring of the body’s needs will create a much better relationship with it.
Not expecting body image to always be the same
Body image shifts with situations, our health and our general mood. Expecting to always feel great about appearance is unrealistic. Instead of expecting to always feel attractive, remember that our body is more than just looks. And that we are in a relationship with the body we have, so we are partly responsible for making it a healthy relationship. Having expectations that are too high or unrealistic are bad for any relationship, even the one we have with our own body.
Therapy for Body Image and Eating Disorders in Katy, TX
Getting extra support is important if unhealthy body image feels like it’s affecting your mood or daily life. Talking to a supportive friend, limiting negative body image messages and good self care can all help. Psychotherapy and counseling can also be a great help for improving body image. If you are struggling with an eating disorder along with poor body image, extra support could be essential in your healing.
I offer counseling for body image, eating disorders, mood problems (anxiety and depression), trauma and relationship issues (communication, anger, boundaries) in-person or virtually. Contact me to arrange a consultation to discuss your needs. Click here to contact me now.