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The Impact of Body Positivity on Mental Health health and fitness|woman smiling in mirror health and fitness body positivity|young woman smiling on white background health and fitness body positivity


The Impact of Body Positivity on Mental Health

Mental health is on everyone’s mind today and there is plenty of good reason to stay on the sunny side of the street. A positive approach, optimistic outlook, and complete acceptance of uncomfortable situations can keep the mind buoyant and resilient to all kinds of negativity. When it comes to dealing with personal dissatisfactions about physical appearance, these attributes can mean the difference between anguish and elation.

The body positivity movement encourages people to waive judgments and criticisms about themselves, their bodies or anyone else’s. This is accomplished through building a stronger relationship with the self based on love, compassion, kindness, and full-acceptance. When applied to a balanced life, this new relationship will allow the individual to define their personal path to full potential and influence other positives as well.

Human forms and physiques are displayed profusely across the media today, but this is mostly done in a biased and highly-judgmental way. Body positivity is not about competing with these notions, but about taking the superficiality out of the equation when forming opinions about personal appearance. It is about understanding that beauty is not a height, weight, or waist size, but a personal expression and an experience to be enjoyed.

woman smiling in mirror Benefits of Body Positivity to Mental Health

Protects Against Unrealistic Standards

Movies, music videos, and even commercials are filled with unrealistic body images that have a seriously adverse effect on the way people view themselves. Because humans have a natural tendency to compare themselves to what they see, unrealistic body imaging as portrayed in the quantity we see today causes many to think they are abnormally, tall, short, thin or heavy and this contributes to a wide range of disorders.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders, like anorexia or bulimia, can cause people to obsess over food and diets due to perceptions of being overweight. This is more common in women and most often those suffering from eating disorders are severely underweight and at risk of malnutrition. These conditions can be caused by other factors, but unreasonable body imaging has been common among those suffering anorexia or bulimia. 1

In addition to the psychological distress caused by eating disorders, poor nutritional habits also leave the individual more susceptible to heart disease, neurological dysfunction, and gastrointestinal issues. 2

Depression and Anxieties

The portrayal of unrealistic body types across the media can also be a source of moderate to severe stress and anxieties. People care deeply about their appearance and perceiving this portrayal as a constant reminder of personal inadequacy can be a strain on the mind. 3

Unrealistic expectations from society and the media has also been associated with the development of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). This is where a person develops an obsession over their appearance that begins to affect their behavior and reality. It is not uncommon for those suffering from BDD to imagine a flaw where there is none and avoid social engagements for fear they don’t look just right. 4

Effects on Children

The effects of media portrayal of the ideal body are bad all around, but their insidious effects are experienced worst by the younger generation. For the most part, an adult mind can distinguish fact from fantasy and even laugh off exaggerated representations made for the sole purpose of comedy or shock factor.

Children’s minds are not so discerning and can base their personal worth on the things they see on media channels. This is where the guidance and supervision of parents and caregivers is crucial in building confidence in children and applying professional attention as needed. 5

To counter the effects of unrealistic body images as projected in the media and the slew of health conditions they cause, Body Positivity cultivates a firm foundation of self-acceptance, self-love, and self-worth based on a positive view of personal appearance and body type. When the view of the self is applied with compassion and respect, these exterior factors have less control over the sense of self-worth.

A sense of self-worth founded in a strong perception of personal beauty won’t be shaken easily. Parents and caregivers who can exhibit and pass this confidence to their children will protect them from the pitfalls of external opinions and comparisons. 6

Increases Resilience to Body Shaming

Modern communication can be done instantly and without much thought or accountability and this has created a major problem with shaming and bullying on an international level. Psychologists and psychiatrists alike have warned against the epidemic levels of mental and physical illness that can come from social media platforms and unmitigated public commentary of all types. 7

Just about anyone with a social media account can be subject to bullying, but the dangers are much higher for women. According to the statistics, 94% of teenage girls to women have been body shamed online at least once. Men and teenage boys have about a 65% chance of being body shamed online. Regardless of gender, the effects of these thoughtless and irresponsible remarks can be detrimental to the mind. 8

Studies have shown that negative perceptions about personal appearance can begin with shaming, bullying, and stereotypical remarks related to body types. Those that have suffered from such unkind remarks and even opinions that were not necessarily directed at them, are more likely to develop eating disorders as well as anxiety over their appearance. 9

Cultivates Self-Acceptance

Body positivity encourages the individual’s acceptance of themselves in their entirety, strengths and their flaws, positives and negatives. Self-acceptance stems from a deep belief in personal capacity that shields the mind from exterior comparisons and even direct affronts. Without this mental barrier, the mind and emotions are at the mercy of the exterior world full of harsh options.

Self-acceptance has a profound and beneficial effect on both the mind and body. When the mind is besieged by negativity, the emotion control centers of the brain have their efficacy reduced. This leaves the mind open to emotional upset. Those with higher-level of self-acceptance also have a greater resilience to moodiness and emotional response. 10

Studies suggest that negative thinking can result in a reduction in grey matter. This occurs primarily in the regions that regulate emotions and the stress response. So, negativity throws the emotional response off kilter by damaging emotional centers and increasing the potential for stress and anxieties. 11

Self-Worth Founded on the Inside

Self-worth is a valuable asset but must be sourced properly to be effective. According to the experts, self-worth must be founded on a person’s inherent worth to themselves rather than the quantity or quality of their external actions, contributions, and accomplishments. In other words, the focus must be taken off external results, rewards, and opinions and placed a little closer to home. 12

One study from the Institute of Social Research at the University of Michigan studied the value and effects of self-worth from external or internal sources. It was found that those students who derived their value from appearance, academic performance, or the approval of others were more inclined to develop relationship issues, become enraged easily as well as fall victim to eating disorders and substance abuse.

The same study followed the progress of students who derived their self-worth from interiors sources. These students were found less likely to fall into social problems like drugs and alcohol and also performed better on average than their peers. 13

young woman smiling on white background Teaches Self-Compassion

One of the greatest gifts the individual can bestow on him/herself is a sense of self-compassion. Self-compassion is an essential ballast that maintains stability when adversity threatens to rock the emotions out of control. Body positivity promotes a mindful, kind, and nurturing approach to the body that creates a powerful protective ward against mental and external threats.

Self-compassion begins with the understanding that to be human, one is also imperfect. But this allows the body to harness a powerful tool called “appearance contingent self-worth.” As its name implies, appearance contingent on self-worth means that humans feel better as we put effort into looking better.

But this is a double-edged implement, without self-compassion or body positivity, it can be easy to lose sight of our own innate beauty and positive feelings about our appearance. After this, appearance contingent self-worth will have the opposite effect, increasing anxieties and lowering self-esteem. 14

Thus, cultivating self-compassion makes for a better relationship with oneself, where self-worth and confidence can be found in the habits and activities that support good health and an optimal appearance.

Final Notes on Body Positivity

Cultivating body positivity is not an easy task while consumerism, pop culture, and media channels are promoting something else. But don’t forget that body positivity is not about competing with this confusion, it’s about ignoring the superficiality so you can focus on something far more intimate and rewarding.

In the end, body positivity leads to all the right reasons for better health, fitness, nutrition, and quality of life. Placing yourself at the center of your goals for physical improvement is the best way to ensure lasting results and enjoy the life and body you have.

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