That’s right. Body image struggles affect people of all shapes, sizes, ages, and genders. They don’t discriminate, and they can be really overwhelming, negatively affecting both physical and mental health. February is historically dedicated to raising awareness about body image, like the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) designates the last week of the month to raise awareness about all things eating disorders, disordered eating, body image, and more (#NEDAwareness). So, let’s talk about body image and how it may be affecting you, whether you realize it or not.
Per NEDA, body image is defined as “how you see yourself when you look in the mirror or when you picture yourself in your mind.” It includes:
What you believe about your own appearance (including your memories, assumptions, and generalizations).
How you feel about your body, including your height, shape, and weight.
How you sense and control your body as you move. How you physically experience or feel in your body.
From that definition, it’s easy to see that we all have a body image, be it positive, negative, neutral, or fluctuating somewhere in between. Negative body image, then, is characterized by persistent negative thoughts and feelings about one’s body, often with a fixation on changing one’s body. It’s experienced internally but is often influenced by outside things, such as societal pressure to look a certain way. A negative body image can contribute to unhealthy weight-control behaviors, including disordered eating, excessive exercise, or full-blown eating disorders. Moreover, these attempts often yield disappointing results, contributing to guilt, shame, lower quality of life, and more risk of engaging in unhealthy behavior. (Source: https://nedc.com.au/eating-disorders/eating-disorders-explained/body-image/)
So, what can be done to improve body image?
Focus on positive qualities. What skills and talents do you have? What cool things can your body do? Focusing on these things helps to foster appreciation and respect for your body and removes the emphasis on appearance.
Avoid negative self-talk. Always talking or thinking bad about yourself? Change that. Say positive things to yourself instead. Maybe you’re a good husband or wife, mom or dad, son or daughter. Maybe you’re a great driver! Talk to yourself about those things, because they matter, and because a negative mind is not one that’s a place for positive change.
Avoid weight-related goals. These often lead to disappointment, and health-focused goals are likely more beneficial to overall health anyway. Need to eat more vegetables? Great. Need to get more sleep or move your body more? Great. Set the goals, with the desired outcome being about overall health, not weight.
Avoid comparison to others. It’s true that comparison is the thief of joy! You are YOU, and that’s what the world needs. How great could we be if we all focused on being the best version of ourselves?
Do a social media audit. Following people or accounts that trigger negative thoughts? Unfollow! It’s really that simple. If these accounts aren’t serving you, unfollow them and search for body-positive ones to take their place.
As a reminder, body image struggles do
not discriminate. They can wreak havoc for people of all weights, shapes, sizes, ages, and genders. If this post resonates with you, let us know! Or simply reflect on how you might be able to have a better relationship with your body because after all, it’s the only one you have.