While most research focuses on the effects that body image has on females, males are also affected. Some of the effects have been vaguely mentioned in the signs and symptoms section in Part 1, but they will receive additional attention here. These effects include:
- emotional distress
- low self-esteem
- unhealthy dieting habits
- eating disorders (anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, muscle dysmorphic disorder, body dysmorphic disorder)
- Increase in drug use (i.e. steroids)
- social withdrawal or isolation
- taking risks with sexual health
- self-harming behaviors
- ceasing healthy behaviors and activities that require one to expose their body (i.e. going to the doctor, going swimming, exercising, engaging in healthy emotional or intimate relationships)
This list is not exhaustive and there are many more effects of negative perceptions of one’s own body image. While a negative body image doesn’t always lead to the concerns mentioned above, it can certainly be a contributing factor and should not be ignored.
So what can you do? The good news is that this is not a hopeless endeavor. There are steps that can be taken and ways to improve the perception of one’s body. We’ll highlight a few of the steps below. These are not exhaustive and certainly should not be utilized as a substitute for additional professional assistance that often is necessary with some of the issues previously mentioned.
Cultivating a Positive Body Image
After years of comparing yourself, putting yourself down, scrutinizing every inch of your body, engaging in negative thinking patterns about yourself, and generally feeling unsatisfied, changing perspectives can seem like a major, if not impossible, challenge. Thankfully, change is possible and can even be fun. Consider taking some of the steps below:
- Appreciate your body’s ability.
If you can look in the mirror and find at least one thing that you like about your body that would be a great start. Many individuals have scrutinized their bodies for so long that they find it very difficult to find even one positive characteristic. If this is you, try to focus on the function of what the different body parts do. Your body is an amazing vehicle and it does quite a bit for you (i.e. walking/running, writing, smiling, and communicating). Be mindful and become aware of what your body can do on a daily basis.
- Become a critic of social and media messages.
Pay attention to images, slogans, and attitudes that make you feel bad about yourself. Remember that ads and commercials are meant to sell you something and the images contained in the media often contribute to thoughts including “I wish I had that,” “I need that,” “I want to look like that.” The images portrayed are often unrealistic and sexualized in nature and such standards of “beauty” are almost completely unattainable for most individuals, e.g., models portrayed are often unhealthy body weight and likely airbrushed. This sends the message that in order to be “beautiful”, you must be unhealthy.
- Create a life values list and consistently work on harmonizing your actions to your values.
Use the time and energy that you may have spent on scrutinizing yourself, weighing yourself, worrying about counting calories, worrying about the food going into your body, doing something that is important to you, and that you truly value. Remind yourself that you deserve to do the things that you enjoy. Work on getting out of your own way to do the things you enjoy doing.