Body Image – Do you see what I see?

Woman-looking-in-mirror 2Talking with my friend the other day she shared with me how when she was younger she always thought to herself that when she reached her fifty’s she wouldn’t have to be concerned about her weight and body image anymore. She thought it would be a glorious time of just enjoying life and not having to think about how she looked, because in her mind people of that age didn’t care anymore and it was expected that you could be a little “thicker” but so what? Who, would care?

Even though we got a good laugh about her twenty year old mind thinking that being in your fifty’s was old and she wouldn’t care, the sad fact was she had a negative body image then and thirty years later she STILL has a negative body image. When she looks back she wonders what in the world was she thinking that she did not measure up and why did she think that. She realizes now that she was actually in pretty good shape “back then.”

And now here she was in her fifty’s and true enough she was “thicker,” just like she had predicted but she had misjudged how she would feel about it. She still had negative feelings about how she looked. Although she regrets all the years that have gone by and realizes how her perception of herself has robbed her of many fun times that could have been had, she still can’t seem to break her thought pattern.

Body Image is how you feel and what you think when you look at yourself. It’s also how you imagine other people see you. How you feel about your body and all of its parts including your build, legs, stomach, nose, the color of your skin, color or texture of your hair along with other parts, all play a role in your body image.

So, what shapes our body image you might ask. Well, we don’t develop it all on our own. The people around us like family and friends and our culture strongly influence it. Starting from when we are very young we get both positive and negative messages about our bodies. The media also generously contributes by instilling in us how we “should look” by models and celebrities that do not look like your average person whether it be television, magazines, films, or any other media. Case in point, are there any women out there who remembers as a young teenage girl looking at a magazine such as (Seventeen) and sighing in the mirror when you couldn’t make yourself look like the pictures despite all the “helpful tips and advice” that was freely given?

In my friends case, growing up she never felt like she measured up. It didn’t help that her best friend had a very petite frame, hair that always behaved no matter what the style and not a sign of acne anywhere. She couldn’t recognize her own good qualities because she was too busy comparing herself with someone who was totally different than her. Now that she is older, she can recognize how that had a big influence on her.

How about you? Do you have a positive or negative body image? Below, are some questions to get you thinking about your body image:

  • How do you feel when you look in the mirror?
  • What do you think other people think about how you look?
  • How do you feel when you see pictures of attractive people in magazines, on TV, or online?
  • Do you often feel critical about the way you look?
  • How do you usually reply when people pay you a compliment on how you look?
  • Do you ever avoid activities like exercising or having sex because you are uncomfortable showing your body?
  • Can you list your three favorite things about your body?
  • Do you often feel jealous of other people for the way they look?

Having a positive body image means that most of the time, you see yourself accurately, you feel comfortable in your body, and you feel good about the way you look. It does not matter what you look like from the outside. Your appearance may not match your family’s ideals or the ideals in the media. But, you have learned to be proud of the way you look.

On the other hand, if you have a negative body image, you may feel self-conscious or awkward, and you may feel shame about your body. We may all feel this way from time to time —that’s normal. But if you have negative thoughts about the way you look or the way you think other people see you most of the time, that could be a problem.

For some people it can be serious. Having a negative body image can have a harmful effect on one’s health and well-being. If it is long lasting, you could be more at risk than people who have a positive image to have anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, shame, or possibly an eating disorder. If that is the case, it is advisable to seek professional help.

There is a lot you can do to improve your body image, even without changing your body. Remember, body image is not about HOW you look, but how you FEEL about the way you look.
Many times, talking with a trusted person about the way you feel can help whether it be family, friends or a therapist. Develop new ways to think about your body and self-worth.

Pay attention to the times when you feel bad about your body. Did you just read a magazine? Did you just weigh yourself? Did you just talk to a friend or family member who is negative about their own body?

Here are some good tips to develop a positive body image:

  • Remember that health and appearances are two different things.
  • Accept and value your genes — you probably inherited a lot of traits from your family members, so love those traits as you love your family.
  • Keep a list of your positive qualities that have nothing to do with your appearance.
  • Surround yourself with people who are supportive and who make you feel good about yourself.

If you do choose to change your appearance for whatever reason, make sure you have realistic expectations about how much it can change how you feel about yourself. Some changes can boost your self esteem and body image while some changes might not. If you have a negative body image though, it is important to deal with the mental and emotional aspects of it in order for any physical changes to be truly successful.

Many of us struggle with body image whether we are male or female. Sometimes it is difficult to understand all of the feelings we have about our bodies and ourselves. You may have questions about your body image and whether the things you think and feel are normal. If you would like help navigating through your feelings, please give me a call at (616) 516-1570. I’ll look forward to your call.