Body image refers to your personal relationship with your body. This includes all of the beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, feelings, and perceptions you have about your body. It does not refer to what your body actually looks like. Our body is one of many aspects of who we are, but for many of us it is the dominating source of our sense of self.
If we compare ourselves to what we are supposed to look like, we may come up short. This could bring up negative feelings about who we are. We forget that our inner or essential self has many wonderful attributes. We do not have to harbor negative feelings about ourselves because our external appearance may not conform to current social norms. Perhaps we are a few pounds overweight, but that does not mean that people are going to reject us if we show our special inner qualities to other people – like our warmth, our caring, our social skills, and our intelligence. These latter qualities are what matter most in our relationships with others.
Many people would rather change their bodies than change their body image. They prefer to undergo plastic surgery, starvation diets, and extreme workouts rather than focus on learning to like their bodies. Your body image has little to do with your body’s outward appearance. It is much more meaningful to learn to appreciate your uniqueness – you are unlike any other person in the world and this is a cause for celebration.
Body image problems generate other problems in our lives. People with negative body images, for example, have problems with self-esteem. Poor self-esteem means feeling personally inadequate, and this influences how to we relate to the world – our families, friends, and jobs. Body image problems are also linked to our gender identity, or how we feel about our masculinity or femininity. They are linked to depression and feelings of despair about our lives. They are correlated with anxiety in social situations so that we may limit our interactions with other people and fail to try new experiences. Body image issues can have a strong negative impact on healthy sexual behavior. And they provide the ground from which eating disorders develop.
Addressing Body Image Problems
Working on body image issues entails changing our definition of our body from negative to positive. In order to do this, we need to understand that societal standards are ever-changing and that few people can live up to them. It is not helpful to compare ourselves to social ideals that are unattainable – and besides, even if we could achieve them, that would be no guarantee of a happy life. Our inner qualities are much more important for achieving happiness. Furthermore, we tend to judge ourselves much more harshly than other people do. Most people are more concerned about their own self-presentation rather than how someone else looks. Click to read the Body Image Newsletter.