How To Improve Body Image
There are many ways to define body image. It is "the three dimensional concept of one's self, recorded in the cortex by perception of everchanging body postures, and constantly changing with them." [Medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com - define body image], "The subjective concept of one's physical appearance based on self-observation and the reaction of others." [answers.com/dictionary], or "The mental representation one has of oneself which gradually develops in each individual." [answers.com/psychoanalysis]. Body image is not a factual reality, rather it is a perception of onself based on outside stimuli. It is more a factor of self-esteem than beauty, more a factor of love of self rather than self criticism. Regardless of how it is described, the bottom line is that body image directly affects how we act, think, feel, and live our lives. Some concern over appearance and how we present ourselves to others is normal, however when the concern borders on obsession, there is a problem. This is defined as Body Dysmorphic Disorder and, if left undiagnosed and untreated, can lead to serious psychological problems, eating disorders, and often suicide.
So what is the difference between negative and positive body image? Negative body image focuses excessive attention on particular aspects of the appearance with which a person is dissatisfied. This can be a broad based criticism such as "I hate how I look, I'm so fat!" or something much more specific, more along the lines of "My nose is too large and my breasts are too small". Either way, the result is the same. Rather than looking at the positive aspects of your appearance you are focusing on the things which you are not happy with. A negative body image causes people to starve themselves to fit into a warped image that is not only unhealthy, but with the capability of computer images to be altered, often completely unrealistic! Then, when the hunger becomes overwhelming excessive consumption of calories and subsequent guilt follow. We are starving, gorging, purging, and abusing our bodies all to rid ourselves of pounds, inches, and the curves that make us inherently female. Eating disorders, particularly Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa, are a very real risk for someone with a negative body image. This results from a society that places excessive emphasis on physical appearance, equating beauty with success and looking down our noses at those who do not fit into that physically perfect mold. It is, however, a huge mistake to believe that being beautiful will solve a negative body image.
Take, for example, the rise in the number of plastic surgeries performed. Approximately 11 million plastic surgeries were done in the United States in 2006. That is up from 2005 by about 7%. Nearly 300,000 patients had liposuction in 2006. Unfortunately, the diagnosis of eating disorders is still rising in spite of this rise in a surgical 'fix' for supposed body flaws. People are taking drastic measures, regardless of cost or risk, to fix their perceived flaws. The consequences of this can be drastic, as there are many reports of surgeries which go drastically wrong, causing deformity and, in some instances, death. Does this mean that all cosmetic surgery is wrong, harmful, and indicative of a negative body image? The answer is a resounding 'NO', however it does bring up the question of why more and more people are turning to cosmetic surgery to change the way they look. If we can effectively improve our body image with or without drastic measures, we will be much better of.
A positive body image, as mentioned, is more about self esteem and positive self worth than actual physical appearance. How then can we improve our body image? Following are some suggestions for improving body image:
- Focus on what your body can do for you, not how it looks. Appreciate the ability you have to run, jump, swim, dance, or play a sport. Focus on the ability to hear music, play an instrument or paint a picture. By focusing on what your body can do rather than the fact that it can't fit into size 4 jeans you will remove the negative emphasis.
- Focus on how your body feels. Treat yourself to a yoga or meditation class. Pamper yourself with a massage or a manicure. Take a bubble bath. Anything that will help you feel connected to your body in a positive and healthful way.
- Wear clothing that compliments your figure. By wearing clothes that fit poorly or are too tight you only emphasize the negative issues you may struggle with. There are beautiful, stylish clothes designed to fit women of all body sizes, shapes, and styles.
- Use positive affirmation to learn to talk positively to yourself. If you catch yourself being critical, immediately remind yourself of something about your body that you like.
- Surround yourself with images of positive, healthy women of all shapes and sizes. Remind yourself that you don't have to buy into all of the advertising gimmicks telling you that you aren't good enough.
- Only read books and magazines that make you feel good about yourself. There are many magazines that are geared toward feeling good and getting the most out of life rather than telling you how to achieve an unrealistic appearance.
- Remember a time when you felt really good about your body. Whether it was noticing that your arms look really good or that you have beautiful eyes. Try to remember that moment and recreate it whenever you start to focus on negative thoughts.
- Treat your body well. Don't engage in harmful habits such as smoking or taking drugs. Eat a large variety of healthy foods. Treat yourself to your favorite dessert occasionally without feeling guilty. The better you treat your body, the better you will feel physically and mentally.
- Focus on others. By removing our focus and emphasis from ourselves and serving others, we are able to realize that our appearance is a relatively unimportant aspect of our contribution to society.
- Have good personal hygiene. It is tempting, when you feel that you are ugly, to make it a self fulfilling prophecy. If you do your hair, apply make-up, wear flattering clothes, you may find that you actually like your appearance regardless of your size. Furthermore, you will find that people will respond to you in a more positive fashion, thereby increasing your positive feelings.
- Always keep in mind that the only opinion that really matters is that of yourself and those who truly love you. Those who care about you for the right reasons will care much more about what you do and who you are than how you look.
- Finally, if you feel that you are suffering from an eating disorder, Body Dysmorphic Disorder or other effects of negative body image, seek the help of a qualified professional. There are sources available to help you live your life happily, healthily and to the fullest.
Sources: Medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com, answers.com, associatedcontent.com