This body image is so much more than how you feel about the number on your scale or the size of your clothes. Body image is the mental picture a person has of their own body – as well as their thoughts, feelings, judgments, sensations, awareness, and behaviors surrounding their feelings about their body. Body image influences a person’s behavior, self-esteem, and psychological well-being. A healthy body image is when a person has a true and clear perception of their body’s shape/size and when they are able to celebrate and appreciate their body as it is. Healthy body image results in a person understanding that their physical appearance says nothing about their character or value as a person and a person with a healthy body image feels comfortable and confident in their own body, as it is. If a person has an unhealthy body image their perception of their body is distorted. They are convinced that only other people are attractive and that their body shape and size is a sign of personal failure . Unhealthy body image impedes a person’s happiness and while being by damaging their self esteem, Interfering in their ability to engage in meaningful life and develop a sense of belonging and acceptance.
Why does it matter? Self-esteem is critical for a person’s psychological well being. Self-esteem is the immune system of your mental health and results in resistance against mental illness, while providing strength and persistence with problem solving. Healthy self-esteem allows you to be willing to take risks because you know you can handle it! It allows you to learn new skills, be creative, accept feedback of all type, to be productive in what you do, to be assertive, and to fair to both others and yourself. Self-esteem is a consequence. Let me say that again: self-esteem is a consequence. It is a product of continual practice of practice of living mindfully, purposefully, and with integrity. A person who practices self-love, gratitude, self-validation, meditation, and mindfulness on a regular basis can sharpen their skills and grow a healthier self-esteem.
Body image develops over time as a result of the messages we receive:
- From society
- From our families
- From our friends and peer group
- From the images we take in through the media
- From prejudices and discrimination you may have experienced based on race, ethnicity, religion, ability, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity
- From the frequency that we compare ourselves with others
- From our exposure to images of idealized versus normal bodies
- From experiences of abuse
The current beauty ideal in the American culture for a woman is to be young, tall (with long legs), to have an hourglass figure (with a very small waist and large breasts), smooth skin (with no cellulite, scars, body hair, or stretch marks). For people of color it is idealized to be light-skinned and if you are white, you should be a golden tan. The beauty ideal is very Eurocentric and goes so far as to pressure those of Asian descent to get eyelid surgery and for those of the BIPOC community to bleach their skin and chemically straighten their hair. THIS IS SO UNREALISTIC! The consequences of unrealistic beauty standards are dire. If a person develops an unhealthy body image (and how could they not) they will likely have lower self-esteem and self-worth, trouble in relationships, disordered eating, depression, anxiety, suicidal thinking.
So what can we do about it? For one we can expose ourselves to diversity. We need to expose ourselves to bodies of all types, skin of all shades, hair of all textures, features of all shapes. We need to see the reality of diversity, not the cookie-cutter celebrity influencers on our social media feeds.
- When is the last time you went to a grocery store in a different part of town?
- When is the last time you took your family to but your family to a social event or festival celebrating a culture different than your own?
- When is the last time you purchased an item featuring featuring persons who did not look like yourself it yourself?
- From the books on your bookshelf to the art on the walls of your home and office, what body types are you seeing? What shows do you watch? Who do you follow on social media?
You have a choice! You can can set a better example for yourself and the other people in your life (especially the children)!