Body image refers to the way people see themselves physically, and it often goes hand-in-hand with self-esteem. Feelings begin to form at a very early age and are influenced all throughout our lives by parents, caregivers, peers, life experiences, and more. Society also sends messages that we should hide our feelings; expressing them is depicted as being overly emotional or weak. However, when we bottle our feelings up inside, they often get expressed in unhealthy ways. The way somebody feels about them self has a powerful effect on their mental health and behaviors, so having a positive body image is critical for a healthy, happy life.
Body image can be negatively impacted by multiple events and factors, and problems can range from mild dissatisfaction to severe body hatred. The media has grown to be one of the most influential components in our society, especially for teens and young adults, portraying an unattainable “ideal”. Dissatisfactiondue to not exemplifying this “perfect image” often leads to weight loss attempts, disordered eating habits, full-blown eating disorders, and other mental illnesses such as depression.
An individual struggling with negative body image may show signs of chronic comparison with others, whether that is friends, peers, strangers, models, or celebrities. Accepting compliments is difficult, and they often question the motives of others. It’s difficult for the individual to be present, because body image concerns consume their thoughts. Getting treatment for distorted body image is a critical step in recovery.
Acknowledging feelings can help you to become more comfortable in your body and lessen the tendency to revert to unhealthy behaviors. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one approach that works to reframe irrational thoughts into more positive, realistic ones. Other therapies such as dance, movement, or art are also useful in developing an appreciation for the body beyond aesthetics. Recognizing and embracing the differences between people is also important, so it may be useful to break yourself from activities of competition or comparison. This could mean discontinuing magazine subscriptions, no longer watching certain TV shows, and/or unfollowing social media accounts that promote diet culture. Look for others that promote acceptance and body positivity, and remember that we’re complex individuals worth so much more than the way we look.
Amy Helms, LMSW, MS, RD, LD, CLT
Hi! I’m Amy, the founder of New Hope Counseling and Wellness Center, LLC. I’m an experienced therapist and dietitian and I believe in the power of human connection and self-compassion to foster growth and powerful transformation. I have dedicated my career to counseling, supervising, and teaching in the field of nutrition, body image, intuitive eating, eating disorders, and food allergies. Please reach out if I can support you on your journey.