By Georgiana DesRosiers, MA, LPC
What is it?
Body image is often defined as one’s perceptions, feelings, and thoughts about his or her body, and it usually incorporates body size estimation, evaluation of body attractiveness, and emotions associated with body shape and size.
Someone with a negative body image struggles with a distorted perception of his or her shape- perceiving parts of the body or the whole body unlike they really are. Often these individuals feel ashamed, self-conscious, and anxious about their bodies. They may feel awkward and uncomfortable in their bodies, often viewing their shape and or size as a sign of personal failure. On the contrary, individuals with a positive body image would have a true perception of their shape and would not base their value, character, or worth as a person on their physical appearance.
Development of Negative Body Image
Individuals begin the formation of their perceptions of body attractiveness, functionality, health, and acceptance in their early childhood. As they age, these perceptions are influenced by friends, family members, sports participation, and role models (i.e. coaches, teachers, movies, and music stars). As children engage in increasing amounts of media use (social media, internet, television, games, etc.) they take in image after image of what the media is selling. This has become one of the most influential contexts for people to learn about body ideals and the importance and value that society places on being “attractive”. Personality traits including perfectionism, self-criticism, or a “need” for control can also influence the development of a negative body image. These personality traits, in addition to the aforementioned influencers, can (and often do!) increase body dissatisfaction, disordered eating patterns, and other unhealthy thoughts and behaviors.
Signs and Symptoms of a Negative Body Image
Some common signs and symptoms of an individual struggling with negative body image include:
- Frequent comparison of shape and size to others “His abs are so much better than mine.”
- Feeling ashamed, self-conscious, uncomfortable, awkward, and anxious about your body.
- Negative thinking or making disparaging comments about your body (and associated feelings of envy or jealousy and making judgments about others’ bodies) “Ugh, my stomach is enormous.”
- Difficulty accepting compliments.
- Obsessive self-scrutiny in mirrors or sometimes avoiding mirrors in fear of feeling disappointed.
- Poking and prodding parts of your body and consistent feelings of dissatisfaction
- Frequently weighing yourself.
- Avoiding certain articles of clothing due to your own perception of body or due to fear of being scrutinized or avoiding events because you don’t think you look “good enough.”
- Preoccupation with body shape or size “getting skinny” or “bulking up.”
- Disordered eating and exercise patterns (these patterns can include-binging, purging, restricting food, excessively counting calories, use of diet pills, diuretics, laxatives, use of steroids, exercising excessively to either bulk up or to “make up” for caloric intake)
The above list is not exhaustive. If you notice these signs in yourself or in someone you love, they can be indicative of poor body image. If these are left unchecked, can lead to even more struggles. Some of these struggles are mentioned in Part 2.