What is body image?
Body image refers to the way we perceive, feel and think about our bodies. Body image can either be positive or negative, and is shaped through our own individual experiences and the society we live in.
Positive body image can include:
- Accepting and appreciating your body
- Respecting your body by properly nurturing it
- Feeling comfortable within your body
- Not basing your entire self-worth solely on physical appearances
Negative body image can include:
- Feeling dissatisfied with your body in terms of weight, shape, size, etc.
- Obsessively critiquing your body
- Frequently comparing your body to other people’s
- Basing your entire self-worth on physical appearance
- Allowing body dissatisfaction to impair social relations, social activities or one’s job
A negative body image can have detrimental effects on one’s mental health.
The Effects of Body Image on Mental Health
Negative body image has been linked to low self esteem, eating disorders, social withdrawal and symptoms of depression and anxiety. Other harmful consequences of negative body image can include suicidal thoughts, low self-esteem, interpersonal problems, and alcohol and drug use.
Behaviours and attitudes associated with negative body image include:
- Body dissatisfaction
Negative feelings and beliefs a person has about their weight or body shape
- Overvaluation of weight or shape
Basing self-worth on weight or body shape
- Body preoccupation
Obsessive thinking about weight or shape
- Body checking
Constantly checking weight e.g. repeatedly pinching body parts to assess fat and comparing it with others
- Body image avoidance
Actively avoiding situations where weight or appearance can be seen
- Body dysmorphia
Obsessive thoughts that an aspect of the body is flawed and needs to be changed or hidden
Culture and Body Image
Beauty standards and ideals are significantly influenced by culture and many individuals feel immense pressure to meet these expectations.
Significant sociocultural influences include:
- The media: The ability to manipulate and select particular body types can create unrealistic ideals and reinforce stereotypes.
- One’s social circle: Parents and peers can enforce unrealistic ideals by discussing ways to adhere to these ideals or frequently commenting on one’s body.
Gender and Body Image
Research has revealed beauty standards for women in East Asia include:
- An hourglass figure
- Being thin and tall
- Having fair skin
Body image among Asian men remains under-reported, however, some studies suggest a greater desire for toned, muscular and lean bodies. Consequently, males are more likely to express body dissatisfaction through excessive weight lifting and ingestion of steroids and protein supplements.
Challenging Unrealistic Standards
The following steps can help to challenge unrealistic beauty standards:
- Make an effort to appreciate the things your body does for you
- Identify unrealistic messages about the body within the media and your culture
- Practice self-care through exercise, eating a balanced diet, rest and relaxation
- Define beauty according to your own appearance, not through comparisons
- Surround yourself with positive people who empower you
Challenging unrealistic expectations can also include going makeup-free, not using filters on photos and refusing to Photoshop.
If you think you or a friend are displaying any of the symptoms mentioned in this article, or are feeling significantly distressed by your appearance, we encourage you to chat with your local mental health professional or General Practitioner.