Body image | Eating Disorders Victoria

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What is body image?

Body image refers to how a person perceives, thinks and feels about their body and appearance.

These thoughts and feelings can be positive, negative, or a combination of both. A person’s body image can change over time, and can be strongly influenced by what a person reads, sees and hears.

People’s psychological perceptions of their bodies are not always accurate, and this can affect what they see. For example, some people may believe their body is larger or fatter than it actually is, or become fixated on a particular body part and start to see it as being very unattractive. When people feel dissatisfied about their body, this can affect their behaviour; for example, someone who thinks they are overweight may choose not to exercise in public.

Healthy body image

A healthy body image means being content with your body and the way you look.  People with a positive body image usually have greater self esteem, better self-acceptance and a healthier lifestyle. When you are free from worrying about your body image, you have more time and freedom to spend on positive activities such as developing friendships and enjoying your talents and hobbies.

Body image dissatisfaction

Negative body image usually involves a difference between how someone thinks they should look, and how they actually look. People are influenced by family, friends, their peers and mass media. Body image dissatisfaction is not just about size and weight; it can also be about skin colour, ethnic diversity, disabilities and strength or fitness.

Anyone can be affected by negative body image – men, women, children, teenagers and adults.  However studies show that young people are particularly affected. Adolescence is usually when negative body image begins, but without a conscious effort to change, people can be affected by body image dissatisfaction well into adulthood.

What causes negative body image?

The pressure to conform to a particular “look” comes from many different sources in today’s society.  The messages given by the media, people’s family, friends and peers can all have a negative effect.  It can also be unhelpful to be around people who are overly concerned about their body image and engage in weight loss dieting and talking about their body in a negative way.

There are certain personal characteristics that can contribute to someone’s susceptibility to developing negative body image. These can include: perfectionism, “black and white” thinking, low self-esteem, as well as a person’s age, gender, sexual orientation and culture.

It’s important to remember that much of your physical appearance cannot be changed. Your height, muscle composition and bone structure are all determined by your genes.

How can you improve your body image?

Media literacy

We are all faced with a constant barrage of images from the media (TV, magazines, the internet and advertisements).  These images are often unrealistic and unattainable, and send the strong message that females should be thin, and men should be muscular and buff. Our society places a lot of emphasis on external appearances, which has the tendency to make us feel inadequate and also gives us a distorted view of what we should look like.

Become media literate – question the messages and images you are viewing. Are you being sold something? Are the images you are viewing unrealistic and unattainable? Have they been digitally altered? Do you feel bad about yourself after seeing them? If so, be careful about allowing yourself to be manipulated.

Be kind to yourself

 Instead of criticising yourself and focusing on what you don’t like about yourself, try focusing on what you do like. Avoid seeing yourself as a collection of separate body parts, and try to see yourself as a whole person.  Focus on all the great things your body does for you.

Positive thinking

If you find yourself criticising yourself or engaging in negative self-talk, catch yourself and stop. Give yourself a pat on the back when you’ve done something well, and treat yourself as you would treat a friend.

Avoid critiquing other people’s bodies

Stop yourself from making unkind comments about other people’s appearances. Not only are such comments potentially hurtful, they reinforce the importance of adhering to unrealistic beauty ideals to anyone listening.

Look after yourself

Take the time to look after yourself and spend time doing what makes you happy. Having hobbies, taking time to relax, and engaging in self-care are all extremely important. Rather than setting goals around weight loss, focus your goals on being healthy and happy.

 

Based on Australian Government Office for Youth’s information sheets  http://www.youth.gov.au/sites/Youth/bodyImage/information

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