Beating Body Image Issues
How many times in the last 30 days have you assessed yourself in the mirror and made a long list of flaws in your body and appearance?
How often do you obsess over a flab of fat or the tiny dot of acne or the bristles of your facial hair or the shape of your nose?
These episodes are quite normal for most of us, isn't it? Especially among adolescents, who are just coming to terms with the many changes happening in their bodies. When these instances become so frequent and severe that it starts affecting our mental health and lifestyle, we become vulnerable to developing body image issues.
Our perception of ourselves - our height, weight, appearance, skin tone, and the way we think or feel about it is called Body Image. When the ideal notion we have of beauty/body size does not fit into reality, we tend to enlist the ‘imperfections’ we have in ourselves and spend hours brooding over them leading to a negative and distorted perception of our body and establishing the foundation of body image issues.
Living in a world where beauty is a stencil everyone wants to fit in to be accepted and admired, it's crucial to ask ourselves ‘Who set these unrealistic beauty standards?’, and ‘Why must we alter our individuality and disregard the fact that like chocolates, beauty too comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors and yet all are just as wonderful!’
Whenever Zara looks in the mirror, a flood of disappointments surrounds her. Obsessing over her blemishes, scars, birthmarks, or pimples, she develops a very distorted image of herself and her body, and when her therapist asks her, she admits having these symptoms:
Distorted perception of how your body looks to you and others.
Struggling to appreciate and love one's natural look.
Engaging in frequent comparisons of one's appearance to friends and social influencers.
Engaging in body-hiding behaviors or withdrawing socially due to body image concerns.
Decreased self-confidence and heightened insecurities related to body image.
Distorted evaluation of individual body parts and overall body size.
A strong influence of culturally driven beliefs about ideal body appearance.
Engaging in behaviors to constantly evaluate and monitor one's body.
Interference of negative body image feelings with relationships, work, or daily activities.
Engaging in extreme measures to avoid seeing one's body or obsessive checking of body parts.
Excessive use of makeup or clothing to cover up perceived flaws.
Compulsive hair removal or excessive plastic surgery to alter one's appearance.
Using harsh or unkind language to describe one's body.
Intentionally causing damage to the skin due to body dissatisfaction.
Experiencing intense negative emotions when thinking about one's body.
With the desire to sculpt ourselves into the narrow stereotype of beauty, we become victims of other damaging consequences like:
Anxiety and/or Depression
Extreme dietary changes leading to Eating Disorders
Deteriorating relationships with family and friends
Engaging in substance abuse
Zara, who views herself only in terms of her imperfections and inadequacies, fosters a distorted and negative body image of herself. She keeps having thoughts of being overweight and constantly checks her arms, stomach, legs, or double-chin in the mirror.
Swamped by the force of these feelings, she engages herself in a process of body modification, just to fit into the ideal body stencil she has created in her mind. This ideal body image that she envisages, has been influenced by the media, the influencers, celebrities, her friends, and her family.
She makes an uncompromising diet plan for herself and starts following a rigid and rigorous exercise regime. This extreme dieting and over-exercising takes an immense toll on Zara’s body. She starts suffering from nutrition deficiency and eating disorders which leads to an unhealthy relationship with food.
On the other side of the spectrum, a virtuous cycle flows when a positive body image is considered. Celebrating and accepting our body just as it is can boost our self-esteem and shows the way toward a healthy and harmonious lifestyle.
How to develop a Positive Body Image?
Make a checklist of all the things you love and admire about yourself, celebrate your positive qualities, and remind yourself about them whenever insecurities attack.
Looking up body positivity quotes and repeating phrases like ‘My body deserves love’ or ‘Food is not my enemy’ or ‘My worth cannot be measured in numbers’.
Engaging in positive and enlightening conversations with people who have similar experiences like you, sharing stories, and together finding the confidence to conquer issues.
Indulging in self-care, being grateful for your body, sleeping well, and taking care of yourself.
By exercising to stay fit, fresh, and happy rather than compelling yourself to work out to reach an ideal weight goal or figure.
Detoxing and taking a gap from social media for a while to distance yourself from the flawless perceptions of beauty seen on the screens and unfollowing any unrealistic account that makes you question the way you look.
Supporting media posts that nurture body positivity and make you feel good about the way you look.
Including well-balanced and nutritious meals in your diet and forming a healthy bond with all categories of food.
Talking to a psychologist/dietician, who are expert in dealing with such concerns, can enhance your understanding and steer your perceptions in an enriching and growing path so that instead of cursing your body, you end up celebrating it!
The world is full of all colors, shapes, and sizes. Accept your individuality and make the world a unique and lovely place with your presence!
Written by: Aqsa Merchant (BA Psychology, SY, The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda)
Proofread & edited by: Rubal Prajapati (Counseling Psychologist and Ph.D. Scholar at Bharathiar University)