Everyone has a body image, or to put it in a different way, everyone has a self-image, however, some people are less impacted than others. For some, it creates significant distress and discomfort in their daily lives. This is why I wanted to talk to you about this topic, as I feel it is only through our own learning, education and unlearning that we can create a society where bodies can live free from this negative impact on body and self-image.
Let’s start with what is self-image
Well essentially, self-image is how you feel about how you look. It affects everyone as we all have likes and dislikes about ourselves.
Body image is how you feel about how you view yourself. For example, if you look in the mirror, it’s how you think about yourself in your mind at that moment. It also includes the way we think other people see us. Body image can be both positive and negative but is often linked to feelings of low self-esteem and negative thoughts about ourselves.
Why is what you see so different to what so many people who love you see?
As Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist, says we all see ourselves through our own subjective lens. What that means is that it clouds our perspective based on the experience that we’ve had in our life. She goes on to state that we only really see ourselves when our emotions are low and we’re experiencing moments of clarity. In those moments, we can see all the good and all the positive, but how often does that really happen for us?
Here are some reasons for why we might not truly see ourselves as we should:
Imposter syndrome is the fear of being revealed as a fake or a fraud. We automatically deem everyone else around us to be better. As humans, we tend to compare up, always finding somebody who is better than us. A prime example of where this is rife is within the world of diet culture, where we are comparing up to about 5% of the global population who lives in this thin “perfect” body ideal.
The second one I want to talk to you about is the poor self-perception that we might struggle with. Our culture, values, diets, fitness, muscle mass and size. We battle to live up to the standard of perfection, and if we don’t, we blame ourselves, we blame our body and we struggle to find or acknowledge our own strengths, qualities, and capabilities.
The social media influence
Social media is the third point I want to draw your attention to because it is the perfect platform for self-comparison. I was reading recently that when we lived in smaller societies and smaller cultures, success was celebrated and then forgotten, but social media has allowed success to travel far and wide and be given far more attention, maybe than it deserves. This provides the perfect recipe for us to feel poorly about ourselves, to really feel dissatisfied with our achievements, our looks, our homes and even our holiday destinations.
We experience FOMO or the ‘Fear Of Missing Out’ even when we’re doing amazingly in ourselves, and this also exists in the world of diets. We’re never fully content. We’ll never be good enough or we will never be truly happy because there will always be somebody else with that ideal way of eating or that ideal standard that we will compare ourselves to. And with social media, that feeling is just heightened.
Honing in on the negatives
It is human nature to seek out information that proves our negative thoughts are preconceptions. What that means is that we are very good at filtering out the positives and honing in on the negatives. If a friend makes a comment about somebody else’s body that happens to look similar to yours, we zero in on it. One negative remark out of many positive remarks is the one we focus on. To us, it becomes the perfect proof that our body and our mind needs to say, “See? You don’t meet up. You’re not worthy, you’re not valuable, you are a failure.”
Why is having a negative body image so damaging to your health?
Having a negative body image means that you don’t like a specific aspect of your body and it is impacting your quality of life. Remember, the way I have defined health in previous blog posts is that health is having the capacity to live your life in a way that is meaningful for you. If your body image, your negative body image, is impacting you in a way that you cannot live that meaningful quality of life, it is impacting your health.
For example, somebody who has a negative body image might place all their value in how their body looks and believe that their key to happiness or the key to being accepted is when that body changes. ‘If I only had more muscles, if only I had bigger boobs, if only I could lose the weight, then I would be…..’
We put off living until we change our bodies, and therefore we impact our health.
A person who is living with a negative body image is likely to engage in extremely restrictive or disordered eating behaviours. That means that they are constantly in a cycle of removing food groups, cutting out foods, not eating enough food to fuel their hunger, not eating enough food to actually give them energy, and not eating enough food for their body to function.
These disordered eating behaviours can create conditions like low mood, dizziness, or just a feeling of lethargy on any given day and they can also interfere with your menstrual cycle which can lead to further complications.
What can you do?
For now, I want you to think about this. Can you in 10 seconds write down three strengths that you have about yourself?
If not, I want you to know this: It is not always easy to see ourselves where we live in this incongruence between what our thoughts say and the reality of who we are. Choosing a trained coach who can support you in this way is a great step so that you can finally become more at ease within yourself and reduce those negative body image thoughts, those negative self-image moments that you have.
My role as a non-diet coach, with a weight inclusive approach, is to support change in how we treat people based on their body size, and I can only do that if I work on myself first. Because of this, I choose to acknowledge my thin privilege in this conversation. Acknowledging a privilege doesn’t mean that you also don’t have any challenges because negative body image can exist in all sized bodies.
What it does mean, however, is that you are acknowledging that you have not been as negatively impacted in the same way as those who have experienced fatphobia and weight stigma.
Through my work, I continue to commit to learning, unlearning and becoming aware of my own blind spots and to grow within this area, so that I can support you on your journey to a positive body image.
If you feel like you would benefit from a deeper conversation about this, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or book a consultation here.
You can also download my guide to Food confidence here and learn more about the intuitive eating approach.