What Is Body Image?
Body image refers to how you personally perceive the appearance of your body in terms of size and shape, as well as, how you feel about your body features.
Your body perception evolves throughout the lifespan and it is influenced by societal and cultural factors. If you feel bad about your body, you may experience body dissatisfaction.
This can have a negative impact on your self-esteem and self-worth, causing anxiety and low mood.
On this page, you can find out more about what having poor body image feels like, the factors that might affect your perception of your body, and how psychological treatment can help you improve your relationship with your body.
Factors That Influence Body Image
Body image can be influenced by both internal and external psychological experiences that happen over time. Below you can find out more about different factors and how they may affect your perception of yourself.
BODY IMAGE & CHILDHOOD
For many people their poor body image can be connected back to traumatic events and feelings from their past.
We may have grown up around adults who were preoccupied with their body image themselves. As children, we adopt ways of thinking and feeling about our bodies from the social role models around us, and carry these through into adulthood.
Trauma and abuse can also influence the way we think about our bodies in the present day. This can cause distortions in our self-perception and result in body dissatisfaction.
Beliefs and decisions that were made back then, continue to recycle in the here and now, creating ongoing anxiety and body image distress in social settings and in relationships with others.
Social comparison is an important factor that influences the development of our body image.
We may feel social pressures to meet societal beauty standards, and end up negatively comparing ourselves to people we feel meet this standard.
When we repeatedly compare ourselves to others, we can trigger a critical inner dialogue of judgement towards ourselves.
We may feel that we are not good enough because we cannot look a particular way, and this affects our self-worth, often driving certain behaviours to either avoid a situation or to cover up our perceived imperfections.
Social media often drives and encourages negative social comparison.
Social media is largely image-based, and we may find ourselves constantly viewing images of bodies that meet societal beauty ideals. We may begin to view our worth in terms of ‘likes’, and become hypercritical of our perceived flaws.
Social media users often choose to show off their best selves and often appear very happy. We may begin to associate this ‘happiness’ with meeting beauty and body shape standards, and this can make us struggle with difficult negative emotions, such as guilt, anxiety and low mood.
CONSEQUENCES OF HAVING POOR BODY IMAGE
Having poor body image can lead to serious negative consequences for your psychological and physical well-being.
Our thinking patterns can become hijacked and we may begin to notice exaggerated or imagined flaws in our physical appearance. This is called Body Dysmorphic Disorder, where we may find ourselves constantly checking for flaws, and finding it hard to shut out negative thoughts about our bodies.
We may also develop disordered eating behaviours, in an attempt to reach our idealised body shape ideal. In extreme cases this can trigger Anorexia Nervosa, where there is an intense desire to lose weight by restricting food and overexercising.
Poor body image and eating distress can lead us to isolate ourselves from our friends and families, because we fear others will judge our appearance. Our quality of life shrinks, and our preoccupation with our body can intensify.
There may also be negative consequences for your physical health. Cutting out food groups may result in an unbalanced diet and deficiencies in key minerals and vitamins.
Malnutrition can cause our bodies to crave certain foods for energy. In addition to psychological symptoms, nutritional deficiencies can lead us to feel exhausted, dizzy and unable to concentrate. In serious cases, malnutrition can cause us to develop fragile bones, hair loss and more.
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BODY IMAGE TREATMENT
Improving your body image can improve your quality of life, and help prevent the future development of disordered eating behaviours or other mental health issues.
Our experienced team of therapists can work with you to help you improve your relationship with your body, and as a result increase your confidence and self-esteem.
Therapy for body image might include:
- Exploring situations from your past that have impacted your body image, and understanding how they still affect you today
- Identifying which events and situations trigger negative body image thoughts and emotions
- Improving your emotion regulation skills, by learning how to experience and name your emotions so that you don’t use food and eating to push them away
- Exploring assumptions and distortions in your thinking style and working with you to create new positive thoughts about your body
- Helping you improve your self-confidence and cope with social situations
- Teaching you how to ‘turn down the volume’ on your inner critical voice and show you to experience your body without judgment