Body image is what we perceive about our bodies when we look in a mirror as well as how we picture ourselves in our mind. This mental view of ourselves may or may not represent the way we actually look. Body image varies based on emotions, mood, or experience and may greatly impact a person’s mental health, positively or negatively.
Who is affected by body image?
Although body image related issues have gained media recognition in recent years, many students still have a difficult time developing a positive body image. The majority of college students stated they thought about their appearance frequently (Brown University). Any person regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or background may struggle with their body image.
Factors that influence body image
- Comments from family, friends and others about people’s bodies, both positive and negative
- The frequency in which people compare themselves to others
- Exposure to images of idealized versus normal bodies (most commonly by media exposure)
- History of abuse (including sexual, physical, and emotional abuse)
- Experiencing prejudice and discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, ability, sexual orientation or gender identity
How to promote positive body image
- De-emphasize numbers. Neither weight nor Body Mass Index indicate anything substantial about body composition and health. Eating habits, activity patterns, and other self-care choices are much more important.
- Stay off of the scale. It’s difficult to cultivate an attitude of body acceptance and trust when you are looking for validation from a number. It is ALWAYS OK to feel good about yourself – don’t let a scale tell you any differently.
- Embrace your body type. Lightly muscled, bulky, or rounded, you need to appreciate your body and appreciate your genetic inheritance.
- Stop comparing yourself to others. Everybody is unique to you; you can’t get a sense of your body’s needs and abilities with someone else’s body as a reference point. Comparing tends to increase negative body image.
- Limit the “body checking”. Researchers have also found that negative body image is reinforced by lots of time in front of the mirror, or frequent checks of (perceived) body flaws. Consider giving away or getting rid of mirrors.
- Move and enjoy your body. Exercise because it makes you feel strong, energized, and peaceful, not because you have to. Try walking, swimming, biking, dancing, or Ultimate Frisbee – there are many activities that emphasize enjoying yourself rather than aesthetic improvements.
- Surround yourself with positivity. Spend time with people who have a healthy relationship with food, activity, and their bodies. It will make a difference in how you feel about these issues.
- Think positive thoughts. Replace negative thoughts about yourself with positive ones. Distract yourself, refuse to get into the comments, and focus on what you like about yourself instead.
- Nurture your inner self. Body image is linked to self-esteem for men and women both, so engaging in pastimes that leave you feeling good can actually help you feel comfortable in your own skin. Particularly helpful are activities that are relaxing, soothing, spiritual, or that allow us to connect to others.
- See value beyond appearance. Question the degree to which self-esteem depends on appearance. Basing happiness on appearance alone is likely to lead to failure and frustration, and may prevent you from exploring ways to truly enhance your life.
- Broaden your perspective about health and beauty. Read books about body image, cultural pressures, or media literacy. Find images of fine art. Fine art collections show that a variety of bodies have been celebrated throughout the ages and in different cultures.
- Recognize size prejudice as a form of discrimination. Size prejudice is similar to other forms of discrimination. Assumptions that shape and size are indicators of character, morality, intelligence, or success are incorrect and unjust. Celebrate people you know who fly in the face of these generalizations.