Body image refers to how people see themselves and think others perceive them. It may also refer to how one’s perspective of their body’s appearance compares to societal beauty standards. Distortions with body image, also called a Negative Body Image, is an unrealistic self-view of one’s body. A negative body image may create unrealistic expectations of how one’s body is “supposed” to look. The perception of one’s physical traits and body depends on the relationship one has with their body. Suppose someone has a healthy relationship with their body. They may put less of an emphasis on criticizing one’s physical traits and be more likely to feel satisfied with their body and practice self-love and acceptance. Alternatively, one with a painful or unhealthy relationship with their body may cause unhealthy cognitions and behaviors.
Body insecurity is an almost universal experience for most people throughout their lives. Our body image formations are rooted in what we believe are societal beauty standards, and body insecurity is created from a perceived inability to meet such standards. The process of forming our body image begins at a young age. During childhood, the messages children receive are internalized and shape their view of the world and themselves. This causes us to compare ourselves to others and become hyper-fixated on physical traits that may not “fit the norm” we ultimately strive for. Suppose your family members ever commented about others’ appearances or one of your physical traits, such as body type. In that case, it may be that you internalized such messages and believe there is a good or bad, right or wrong type of appearance. Messages may be directly communicated through early childhood experiences, trauma, abuse, and comments about one’s appearance made by family or peers. Alternatively, messages may be implied indirectly, as subliminal messages in the media may reinforce beauty standards. For example, in a movie where all of the “popular” kids may have had a specific body type, this may communicate to young viewers that having a particular body type is more admirable.
Mental health issues and conditions may arise if body image difficulties are serious enough. Some individuals may develop a form of an eating disorder or body dysmorphia. Unhealthy preoccupations with one’s body weight or eating habits may lead to further difficulties with self-esteem, well-being, and lifestyle choices. If preoccupations persist and are severe enough, significant health problems may arise. Most body image issues that begin at a young age can persist throughout one’s life. People that struggle with their body image are more likely to experience symptoms of depression and loneliness and may develop symptoms of eating disorders.
Initial body image concerns may look like is:
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Dr. Easton Gaines is a licensed Psychologist practicing at MindCare Psychology in Manhattan. She’s passionate about integrating mindfulness, neuroscience, and wellness approaches to help build a meaningful life. You can contact Dr.Gaines from her MyWellbeing profile or directly through her website here.