Body image: What is it?
Body image is the mental image we have of our physical appearance. It includes the perception we have of ourselves and the emotions and feelings that this image arouses in us.
The idea we have of our body image depends not only on our perception but is also strongly influenced by the people around us and by society in general. We must not forget that our identity as an individual is created by the experiences we have throughout our development in an ever-changing context. We constantly receive implicit or explicit messages from our friends and family about our bodies, while we are also exposed, sometimes unconsciously, to aesthetic norms imposed on us by a consumer society that associates success with physical appearance. Often, this cult of the body imposed by social networks moves away from the reality and natural norms of our bodies, creating an idyllic and unreal image that is difficult to achieve. These ideas of the ideal body as an antidote to happiness create a negative self-image in many people, which not only damages their self-esteem and self-confidence but also opens the door to the development of various psychological disorders such as eating disorders (ED) or emotional disorders like depression and anxiety.
Our body, regardless of its measurements and proportions, is our mechanism to live, enjoy and feel pleasure. While it is important to take care of it, exercise it and eat healthy, worrying about how it should look or feel is never a good way to promote our well-being and health, both physically and mentally. We must be aware that several factors and agents intervene in the development and change of our physique: the genes inherited from our parents, the natural growth and ageing process, the amount of physical activity we have daily…
A positive body image implies, on the one hand, realistic perception of our body, the ability to appreciate it regardless of its dimensions, feelings of acceptance and appreciation, and the awareness that the body is just another part of our personality that has nothing to do with our value as a person.
On the other hand, a negative body image promotes a distorted perception of one’s own body, arouses feelings of shame, fear, discomfort, and creates a general unease at the gates of an unnecessary and limiting suffering
What can we do to improve our body image?
Eating healthy and exercising is a great way to develop a healthy and balanced body, but there are some things we cannot change no matter how hard we try. So if there are things we cannot change, is not it better to go along with our body than to fight it? What is important is not how it looks, but how we feel about it. Accepting ourselves is the first step to our happiness. No matter how big or small our bodies are, there are always things about them that are attractive to us and the people around us.
It is important to understand that changing the negative thoughts we have about our body image is not a quick and easy path but requires a process and a series of changes in the way we tend to relate to it. The more we practice these changes, the better we will feel about ourselves.
- Appreciate what your body can do for you. Celebrate all the amazing things your body does for you: running, dancing, breathing, laughing, dreaming, experiencing pleasure… Work with your body, not against it.
- Remember that “real beauty” is not just something superficial. When you feel good about yourself, about who you are, you carry yourself with a sense of confidence, self-acceptance and openness that enhances your personal and social well-being. Make a list of the ten things you love most about yourself, things that are not related to your weight or appearance. Read your list often and notice that your physical image does not define who you are or what you are worth. Complete it as you become aware of what you like about yourself.
- Consider yourself as a whole person. We are not a body and a soul; we are a whole! When you look into the mirror or see yourself mentally, choose not to focus on specific body parts. When faced with negative and frustrating thoughts, try to bring out what you like about yourself.
- Surround yourself with people who respect you and make you feel comfortable. People who criticize you or try to make you feel bad about your body don’t care about how you feel. Consider these comments as part of their struggle, not yours.
- When faced with messages and impositions about the perfect physique, become a critical viewer. Pay attention to images, slogans or attitudes that make you feel bad about yourself or your body. Protest against these messages that make you a prisoner of society and its unhealthy influences.
- Do something that makes your body feel good. Take a bubble bath, take a nap or find a quiet place outside to relax.
- Say no to self-destructive and limiting behaviours that keep you from moving forward. Use the time and energy you may have spent worrying about food, calories and weight to do something that helps others and/or is rewarding for you.
Remember! The more we practice these changes, the better we will feel about ourselves.
In cases where body image is associated with general discomfort that lasts for a long period of time and significantly affects daily life, going to a mental health professional may be the only way out of this vicious harmful and limiting circle.