Positive body image

Body Image: Accept yourself

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Body Image: Accept yourself

Body image is a combination of the thoughts and feelings that you have about your body. Body image may range between positive and negative experiences, and one person may feel at different times positive or negative or a combination of both. Body image is influenced by internal (e.g. personality) and external (e.g. social environment) factors.

Body image is . . .

• How you see yourself when you look in the mirror or when you picture yourself in your mind.

• 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 feel in your body, not just about your body.

Positive body image

Body image can be further broken down into four categories:

1) Body image satisfaction refers to how satisfied you are with your body and appearance.

2) Body image investment refers to the importance you place on physical appearance in defining yourself and in determining yourself-worth.

3) Body image behavior refers to appearance related behaviors such as grooming, checking, concealing aspects of your appearance, and avoiding places, activities or people.

4) Body image perception refers to how accurately you estimate your own body size and/or shape

Negative body image

A negative body image is a distorted perception of your shape. You perceive parts of your body unlike they really are. You are convinced that only other people are attractive and that your body size or shape is a sign of personal failure. You feel ashamed, self-conscious, and anxious about your body.–You feel uncomfortable and awkward in your body.

The strongest evidence suggests that the possible causes of negative body image are:

• Being overweight

• Being exposed to media images

• Attitudes and behaviours of family and peers

• Personal psychological characteristics.

Positive body image

Positive body image is a clear, true perception of your shape. You see the various parts of your body as they really are. You celebrate and appreciate your natural body shape and you understand that a person’s physical appearance says very little about their character and value as a person. You feel proud and accepting of your unique body and refuse to spend an unreasonable amount of time worrying about food, weight, and calories. You feel comfortable and confident in your body.

How is body image measured?

1. Self-report questionnaire. These scales include the Body Shape Questionnaire, Body Esteem Scale and the Body Shape Satisfaction Scale. A low score on these scales would indicate inaccurate body perception or low levels of body satisfaction. These scales are generally well established and have been subjected to a number of tests to assess their reliability and validity.

2. Figure drawings. Typically when using this method a participant is presented with a series of drawings of body shape and asked to identify their ‘ideal’ body shape or the body shape that they feel best reflects their actual body shape. A low score using this measure would indicate inaccurate body perception or low levels of body satisfaction

3. Actual body weight and shape. An additional strand of data collection in this field is to gain accurate body shape and weight measurements for each participant. Some research studies use physical examinations by trained medical professionals to gain accurate body weight and shape data whereas others rely on participant self-report on their weight and height. Whilst the latter option is a much more convenient method of data collection research has shown that self-report measures can be inaccurate with 35-48% of obese participants under-reporting their weight on self-report measures

What is body dissatisfaction?

Body dissatisfaction occurs when a person has persistent negative thoughts and feelings about their body. Body dissatisfaction is an internal emotional and cognitive process but is influenced by external factors such as pressures to meet a certain appearance ideal. Body dissatisfaction can drive people to engage in unhealthy weight-control behaviours, particularly disordered eating. This places them at heightened risk for developing an eating disorder.

What are the signs of body dissatisfaction?

• Repetitive dieting behaviour (e.g. fasting, counting calories/kilojoules, skipping meals, avoidance of certain food groups)

• Compulsive or excessive exercise patterns (e.g. failure to take regular rest/recovery days, experiencing distress if exercise is not possible)

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• Valuing appearance as essential to self-worth(e.g. the belief that others judge you based only on how you look, and that you cannot be successful, valued or loved if you are not ‘attractive’, ‘fit’, ‘built’ or ‘beautiful’)

• Checking behaviours (e.g. checking appearance in reflection, measuring body parts, pinching skin)

• Spending a lot of time on appearance, hair, make-up or clothing

• Thinking or talking a lot about thinness, muscles or physique

• Consistent negative talk about themselves and/or people living in larger bodies

• Self-surveillance (e.g. monitoring own appearance and attractiveness)

• Self-objectification (e.g. when people see themselves as objects to be viewed and evaluated based upon appearance)

• Aspirational social comparison (e.g. comparing themselves, generally negatively, to others they wish to emulate)

• Body avoidance (e.g. avoiding situations where body image may cause anxiety such as swimming, socialising).

Who is at risk of body dissatisfaction?

Age: Body image is frequently shaped during late childhood and adolescence, but body dissatisfaction can occur in people of all ages.

Gender: Women are more likely to experience body dissatisfaction than men, however people of all genders may experience negative body image.

Gender dysphoria: People with gender dysphoria are more likely to experience body dissatisfaction than people without gender dysphoria. This body dissatisfaction can extend beyond sex characteristics only.

Friends and family who diet and express body image concerns: Role models expressing body image concerns and modelling weight-loss behaviours can increase the likelihood of a person developing body dissatisfaction regardless of actual body type.

Body size: People living in a larger body are at an increased risk of body dissatisfaction due to societal focus on weight.

Low self-esteem and/or depression: People who experience low self-esteem or depression are at an increased risk of body dissatisfaction.

Teasing and bullying: People who are bullied about appearance and/or weight, regardless of actual body type, have an increased risk of developing body dissatisfaction.

Personality traits: People with perfectionist tendencies, high achievers, rigid ‘black and white’ thinkers, those who internalise beauty ideals, and those who often compare themselves to others, are at higher risk of developing body dissatisfaction.

How can you improve your body image?

• Focus on your positive qualities, skills and talents, which can help you accept and appreciate your whole self

• Say positive things to yourself every day

• Avoid negative self-talk

• Focus on appreciating and respecting what your body can do, which will help you to feel more positively about it.

• Set positive, health-focused goals rather than weight-related ones, which are more beneficial for your overall wellbeing

• Avoid comparing yourself to others, accept yourself as a whole and remember that everyone is unique

• Unfollow or unfriend people on social media who trigger negative body image thoughts and feelings

Reference

  • Abbott, B. D., &Barber, B. L. (2011). Differences in functional and aesthetic body image between sedentary girls and girls involved in sports and physical activity: Does sport type make a difference? Psychology Of Sport & Exercise, 12(3), 333-342.
  • Algars, M., Santtila, P., Varjonen, M., Witting, K., Johansson, A., Jern, P., & Sandnabba, N. (2009). The adult body: how age, gender, and body mass index are related to body image. Journal Of Aging And Health, 21(8), 1112-1132.
  • Asgeirsdottir, B. B., Ingolfsdottir, G., & Sigfusdottir, I. D. (2012). Body image trends among Icelandic adolescents: A cross-sectional national study from 1997 to 2010. Body Image, Available on line 12 March 2012. Accessed 11/05/12
  • Groesz LM, Levine MP, Murnen SK. The effect of experimental presentation of thin media images on body satisfaction: a meta-analytic review. Int J Eat Disord. 2002 Jan;31(1):1-16. doi: 10.1002/eat.10005
  • Nichols TE, Damiano SR, Gregg K, Wertheim EH, Paxton SJ. Psychological predictors of body image attitudes and concerns in young children. Body Image. 2018 Dec;27:10-20. doi: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2018.08.005.
  • Holland G, Tiggemann M. A systematic review of the impact of the use of social networking sites on body image and disordered eating outcomes. Body Image. 2016 Jun;17:100-10. doi: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2016.02.008.
  • Austin, S., Haines, J., & Veugelers, P. (2009). Body satisfaction and body weight: gender differences and socio-demographic determinants. BMC Public Health, 9313.
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