What is body image?

Body image includes both how you feel about your appearance and what you see when you look at yourself in the mirror. Often, this mental image can be quite different than reality, especially for those struggling with an eating disorder. In short, body image is more about how you feel than how you actually look.

What affects body image?

  • Your body image can be distorted by a number of factors, many of which can seem out of your control.
  • The beliefs you were raised with about how you should look, appear, and behave.
  • The current societal norms about bodies, as depicted in the media or around you. These norms can vary based on your culture, location, and family.
  • How others respond to your appearance and any changes it might be going through.
  • Your emotions and moods.
  • Hormonal fluctuations.

What Are Some Signs of Bad Body Image?

  • Looking in the mirror or weighing yourself often.
  • Excessive body checking (noting the sizes of various parts of your body or comparing these parts to how they “used to” look).
  • Comparing your own size or shape with others, both those in your daily life and in the media.
  • Making mean comments about your own appearance, whether out loud or in your head.
  • Despair or anxiety about your appearance leading to the use of eating disorder behaviors.

How is Body Image Connected to Mental Health?

When you feel poorly about your appearance, you are often more vulnerable to other mental disorders, such as anxiety and depression. Remember that it’s important to seek help for all of these conditions, as they are often interrelated.

Why is body image often “the last thing to go” in eating disorder recovery?

One of the most frustrating parts of recovery is that even after a meal plan is established and accepted and even after behaviors cease, there can still be a small voice in your head telling you that your body is “wrong.” That it should look a different way. That it “feels” faulty. These messages and feelings are bad body image, and it can linger even after you feel recovered in certain areas.

This is when it’s important to use the coping skills you have learned in order to challenge the irrational beliefs that your mind and our society’s diet culture may dictate to you. Just because your body changes, either in recovery or in life, this does not mean that it is wrong. Bodies are meant to exist in various different sizes and shapes. No “diet” you may undergo will change the way you are genetically programmed to be. It can take time to accept and feel at home in a shape that you were previously denying. Peace can be achieved, though, and the bad body image will eventually go away.

How Does Social Media Contribute?

While eating disorders arise from a complex mix of genetics, environment, and personal triggers, it is also true that the media images we are faced with every day have the potential to heighten our body image issues.

How can you fight back?

  • Cull your social media feeds. Go through and unfollow accounts that present an idealized vision of either themselves or their bodies. Seek out and follow accounts that celebrate strength, achievement, and Health at Every Size ®.
  • Remind yourself that these images are airbrushed and presented through filters, and that the accompanying captions are written in a way to deliver a message of perfection. Behind the lens, these people may be struggling as much as you!
  • Take a social media break! It can be refreshing to step back from the need to “present” yourself, as well.

How can we model positive body image for others?

  • Don’t weigh yourself! Find worth in accomplishments outside of the scale.
    Refrain from engaging in “fat talk” and body bashing when you encounter it.
    Talk to others about the amazing things your body can accomplish. Ask others what their body can do for them.
  • Engage in appropriate and healthy eating habits and exercise levels, without having to “earn” food through movement.
  • Urge others to analyze the messages they may receive from society, the media, and any online channels.
  • Compliment others on what they can do and who they are, not what they look like.

How can we strengthen our own body image?

Loving your body in a world that values appearance is not easy feat, and accomplishing positive body image is a complex task. It can vary by the day, too, so don’t despair if you have hard moments. You can fight back, though!

To start out:

  • Make a promise to yourself to work on the goal of loving—or even accepting—your body.
  • Realize that your body is the house for your soul, and that is why your body is special.
  • Make a list of positive things that you love about your body.
  • Practice gratitude for the things that your body can do for you and the world. What more could you do and enjoy in life if you spent less time obsessing about your size and shape?
  • Become a political activist for people of all body sizes.
  • Relatedly, recognize and speak out about how oppression for those in larger bodies is heightened by issues of intersectionality.
  • Think about your own biases and beliefs about body size and appearance and try to directly counter any unhealthy beliefs.
    Fill your social media feeds with images of all types of bodies. Understanding that all bodies are beautiful, just as they are, is a key part of loving—and not desiring to change—your own.

Further Reading

Written By

Written by Jen Petro-Roy, http://www.jenpetroroy.com

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