Having a positive body image is something of a hot topic at the moment. Your body image is the mental representation that you have of your body. In most cases, it’s quite close to how others see you. If your body image is disconnected from your real body, then that may mean that you have body dysmorphic disorder.1
Some people with body dysmorphic disorder worry a lot about how they look and spend a lot of time trying to hide perceived flaws or change their body. They may become depressed or anxious because of their concerns. Some people with negative body image may develop anorexia nervosa or even go in the opposite direction and develop binge eating disorder.2,3 It’s important to understand that these issues are not caused by something as simplistic as “a young person sees a thin person on TV and wants to be like that”. Rather, eating disorders are frequently caused by anxiety, trauma or a need for control.
Building your Self Esteem
Body image and self-esteem are often closely linked. There is a lot of pressure on women (and men also) to look a certain way. Women may worry if they have the wrong curves, are too tall, too muscular, or too fat. Men may worry if they are too short, not muscular enough, are balding at a young age, or lack abs. It is not realistic for every single person to look like a runway model or a bodybuilder.
There was, until relatively recently, a body type theory known as “somatotypes”, which said that people could be divided up into endo-, ecto- and mesomorph body types. These body types would dictate your shape and body fat composition. More recent research suggests that the idea that people are, and will always be, one specific body type is a myth. However, the categories of somatotypes are still used in research, and there is evidence to suggest that your somatotype and your diet/lifestyle are linked.4
If you want to have a good body image, it’s important to treat your body kindly. That means staying active and eating a healthy diet, as well as avoiding stress as much as possible. There is no need to punish yourself in the gym if you detest lifting weights and running on a treadmill, but there is probably something that you enjoy – whether that is dancing, running, playing tennis or doing martial arts. Even if the only exercise you get is walking for about five miles a week, that will help to protect your health.5
Develop Faith in Your Body
The more you use your body and develop faith in it, the more you will be able to reframe your mental conversations about your body. Once you see your body as a tool that allows you to do things, rather than as just an ornament, it gets easier to appreciate it. This is something that many athletes talk about. Exercise allows them to appreciate their thick legs for the strength and power they produce, or to see their long arms as fast and precise throwing instruments. Rather than worrying about blemishes, they appreciate the story that each bruise or blister may tell. Because their body is a finely honed machine, they feed it better and they even rest better. This means that their mental health is protected, just like their physical health.
Stress Changes Your Viewpoint
Chronic stress can change the way that you view your body, and can also change your body. When you are stressed, you are more likely to make bad decisions about the foods that you eat. You are also more likely to think poorly of yourself. This can create a vicious cycle, where you’re stressed about work or studies, eat comfort food to cope, dislike your body, feel tired and sluggish, and make more bad decisions because of how you feel.6
There is no easy solution to this conundrum. Learning self-care strategies such as how to meditate or to relax with essential oils can be a useful idea. Some research into the body image of women going through the menopause found that using essential oils including grapefruit and cypress oil as a massage product could help to improve their body image.7 Even just using lavender oil to reduce stress could be beneficial in terms of helping people to take better care of themselves on a day to day basis.
Focus on Yourself
Body image issues are starting to affect people from all walks of life. Increased exposure to the media and the increased ease by which anyone, including young teens, can share images of themselves and “selfies” is something that is contributing to body image woes. It is important to foster a good body image in young people, in order to allow them to live a normal and carefree life, instead of worrying about how their day to day activities may be perceived when shared on the internet.8
We cannot simply stop young people from going online. Fears of cyberbullying or of a young person falling into the wrong crowd and looking at pro-eating disorder ‘inspiration’ on social media should not be governing our lives. What we need to do instead is find ways to educate young people, and to internalize those lessons as adults as well. The young people around us mirror the behaviors that they see in us, and if we use negative language when talking about our bodies, or engage in destructive behaviors – binging one night then excessively restricting the next, treating some foods as forbidden, or treating exercise as a chore rather than something to enjoy, then we are setting them up to do the same thing. If we hide from the camera out of shame for our bodies, and yet continue the behaviors that gave us the body we dislike, what example are we setting?
It’s time to normalize conversations about our bodies and put our health first.
Photo credits: wavebreakmedia/shutterstock.com, Pormezz/shutterstock.com,