Body image can be simply described as your attitude towards your body. This includes how you view yourself, how you feel about the way you look and how you believe other people view you. It also means how important you think your body, and the way it looks, is.
Ask a friend how they feel about their body, and they will probably have a list of things they would change. It’s normal to like some parts of our bodies more than others. Some people care hugely about their appearance, some very little – this is a very personal thing that is unique to each person, and can also change throughout our lives, or even from day to day! It is normal to have an interest in how you look, but it becomes a problem if you are spending a lot of time stressing or obsessing about how you look, if it affects your mental or physical health or if it interferes with your feeling of self-worth, self-esteem and self-love!
Body image is important because it is linked to our sense of self-esteem. Self-esteem describes how we feel about ourselves. It involves having a positive or negative attitude (it can be a mixture of both!) towards yourself.
If we have a lot of negative feelings towards our bodies, it is likely that we will not feel good about ourselves in general. Negative body image may mean that one has an inaccurate, distorted view of what they look like, and may feel shame, awkwardness and anxiety about their appearance. Often people with negative body image feel that their appearance takes away from their worth as a person. Poor body image has been linked to low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, sexual dysfunction, dieting and eating disorders.
Having a positive body image means that one has a realistic perception of how one’s body looks, and enjoys it as it is. This means that we understand that healthy bodies come in all fabulous shapes and sizes!
It also means that we understand that the way we look does not reflect everything about who we are as a person and our self-worth. It means that we learn to keep our sense of self-esteem separate from what we think about our bodies. This allows us to spend more time feeling good about ourselves, rather than stressing out over how we look. As a famous saying goes; our bodies are instruments, not ornaments!
Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a psychological disorder which is a more harmful form of negative body image. People with BDD can become obsessed with parts of their bodies that they do not like, even if these perceived ‘flaws’ aren’t actually there. This is NOT the same as thinking you don’t look your best on a particular day, in a particular outfit, in a particular photo, etc.! BDD is when these perceived ‘flaws’ consume your thought processes and your world begins to revolve around this ‘flaw’ and how you can ‘fix’ it. BDD can affect a person’s life dramatically – their relationships, work, school and their feelings about themselves. A person with BDD is can experience anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. Fortunately, BDD is very treatable, usually with a combination of medication and therapy.
Many factors can affect your sense of body image. Here are a few examples;
Research has shown links between poor body image and sexual anxiety, resulting in being less satisfied with your sex life. How you feel about your body and how you feel about having sex often go hand in hand, as you are sharing your body with someone else, and this can make you feel worried and a little paranoid. We all know how difficult it is to relax and enjoy yourself if you are feeling self-conscious. Millions of people around the world experience this problem, and their sex lives can suffer as a result.
Here are some signs that your body image may be affecting your sex life:
If any of these ring a bell, don’t worry It is essential that people feel comfortable and respected during sex – for instance, you never ever have to have sex fully naked if you don’t want to. Putting pressure on ourselves to be confident may just compound the problem and make us feel more anxious! Confidence in any area of life takes time and experience. Also, you may be not sexually active yet, but the thought of someone getting up close and personal to your body in the future may make you feel quite anxious. The bottom of this page will suggest ways of learning to love the skin you’re in, or simply just care less about it! This may help you have confident, comfortable sex, now or in the future. Because you ARE worth it!
YES! Poor body image is not an issue exclusive to girls.
In fact, research has shown that body image has become a more and more serious issue among young men in recent years. While ladies are often trying to achieve a super-slim figure, or more recently the Kardashian-esque exaggerated hourglass figure, boys are looking to bulk up to achieve a chiselled, muscled, athletic body (these gender norms are getting old now, aren’t they?!). Young men are putting more and more pressure on themselves to build this toned and strong body, which we see all the time in the media. One only needs to look at a cologne or aftershave ad to know that this body shape the media favours at the moment – the bigger and musclier, the better.
Eating disorders are also becoming more common among young men. So, if you’re a lad and you feel like you’re having issues with your body image, you have nothing to be ashamed of. ‘Muscle dysmorphia’ or ‘bigorexia’ is a relatively new and worrying problem, which is particularly common among young men. People who experience this type of eating disorder typically obsess over their physique, worry that they are underdeveloped and underweight, and become addicted to lifting weights, strict diets, food supplements and sometimes other substances, such as steroids. So, as you can see, body image difficulties and eating disorders do not discriminate – they can affect anyone regardless of their gender or what body parts they have.
Your body is your home for life. Your relationship with yourself is the most important relationship you will ever have. Your relationship with your body specifically might change a little or a lot. Hopefully it will be an ongoing relationship of acceptance, love and respect, even if you two have bad days too! Here are some ideas that you can try to guide you towards a healthier attitude towards your bod…