It’s that time of year again- the diet industry is in full swing making us all feel guilty for our Holiday celebrations. With all the messages from the media, and friends and family talking about their new year diets, it makes sense to be struggling with body image. You may even be wondering if body positivity is even possible!
When we talk about body image, we are talking about how you see yourself, or your own perspective about how you look. According to NEDA, body image encompasses:
- 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 or how you physically experience or feel in your body.
As a therapist for young adults, I know that having a healthy body image is an important part of mental well-being and eating disorder prevention. We know also know that body image isn’t black and white- it’s not either negative or positive. Instead, body image is more so on a spectrum.
Body Image is on a Spectrum
On one end, we have negative body image. This often looks like having intensely negative thoughts about one’s body and taking actions to try and change or alter it. It can lead to behaviors around food, body and health that is harmful. Negative body image often prevents the person from enjoying life to the fullest.
On the other end of the spectrum is body positivity. This has been a movement that has taken social media by storm over the years. To achieve body positivity, one has to reject the idea of patriarchal beauty standards and free themselves from the idea that their body determines their worth in the world.
Somewhere in the middle is Body Neutrality and Body Respect.
struggling with body image
Here’s the interesting thing about our body image. Our perspective and thoughts about our body is often not our own. Our perception is instead shaped by the messaging we receive from society around what is ‘ideal beauty. When we don’t “measure up”, we somehow feel our body is to blame. Think about how the image of a “perfect body” is always changing. One minute it’s very petite and slim and the next its curvy and voluptuous. Then it’s the fashion trends-one minute it’s all about skintight clothes and the next it’s baggy pants and sweatshirts. How can we possibly keep up?!
I’ll let you in on a secret- we’re not supposed to. Remember, the beauty and diet industry is a business. Through media messaging, they are able to create insecurities, then turn around and sell a product to try and “fix” it. Genius marketing…but at what cost?
Negative Body Image can lead to:
- Eating Disorders
- Social Anxiety
You may feel that you are personally struggling with some body image dissatisfaction or you may feel that a loved one is dealing with it. It can be such a hard thing to see others put themselves down and it can be so hurtful to put our own selves down. I find my own perception of body image to be fascinating because it is constantly changing and constantly making me feel differently about myself. Being vulnerable about my own body image is something I have started to come to terms with in that the image of myself is not always great, but that is ok.
Is Positive Body Image even Possible?
The reality is, body positivity may not be attainable for everyone. That is why I like the idea of body image being on a spectrum. If it doesn’t feel possible to have a positive body image, is it possible to aim for body neutrality? Where sometimes you have negative body image thoughts but have worked hard to not attach to them and let them go. Where you can learn to engage with your body as a vehicle to live life, not some ornament or object.
Or how about aiming for body respect? Is it possible to appreciate and take care of the body you have to the best of your ability?
As a therapist for young adults, I know that body image struggles can be a very sensitive topic for most and I walk through this with caution because everyone is dealing with and healing in their own way. Just know, if body positivity doesn’t feel attainable right now, ask what you can do to just move one step away from negative body image or body hatred. How can you get one step closer to body neutrality or body respect? Here are some ideas.
I will leave this with a message of support. There is a part of almost everyone that struggles with something they want to fix about themselves. It’s important to recognize when negative body image can turn into more negative thoughts and start to be harmful.. If you feel that there is part of you or a loved one that is struggling with body image, don’t hesitate to reach out and find support.