The Counselling Centre
Body image is the mental picture you have of your body - what it looks like, what you believe about it, and how you feel about your body. Self-esteem is the "real" opinion you have of yourself, how you value and respect yourself as a person. Your self-esteem has a direct effect on how you take care of yourself, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Self-esteem and body image also exert influences on each other - it is hard to feel good about yourself if you hate your body!
How do you feel about your body? How do you see yourself when you look in the mirror? If you respond negatively to either of these questions, you are not alone.
Many people in our culture have a distorted perception of their physical appearance and worry obsessively about how to change the shape and appearance of their bodies. We are socialized to believe that the presence of fat on our bodies is an indication of weakness and that we can achieve happiness or perfection by changing our bodies. Since body-esteem and self-esteem are very closely linked, worries about body inadequacy can interfere with relationships and distort our sense of self.
Messages from the media and even from family and peers can create insecurities about our appearance and drive a desire for a “perfect” (and always unattainable) body. Exposure to body imagery in advertising, TV, film and other visual media has affected men and women alike. In our society, the premium placed on physical attractiveness makes all of us more self-conscious and vulnerable to depression, low self-esteem, and obsessions with weight loss for women or building muscle for men.
Body Image Advice
While we may all have days we feel dissatisfied or uncomfortable in our bodies, it is important to appreciate and respect our bodies and disconnect body image from self-worth. Here are some suggestions to help you to experience your body in a more positive and accepting way:
- Stop criticizing yourself in the mirror. The body you see in the mirror maintains and nourishes your life. Treat it with the respect and love it deserves. Recognize that our bodies come in many different shapes and sizes and focus on the things you love about your body.
- Think about all of the things you are missing out on with the time and energy spent on worrying about your body. Don’t let your body shape concerns prevent you from participating in activities you love.
- Refuse to accept criticism from anyone about your body—including yourself! Challenge any negative thoughts you may have about your body with positive affirmations.
- Find friends who are not overly concerned or critical about weight or appearances. Surround yourself with positive people who appreciate you and your inner strengths.
- View social and media messages about appearance critically. Question assumptions made by marketing ads and TV shows and films that imply that one has to be “attractive” to be happy and successful. Challenge the truthfulness of images that depict men and women without any physical flaws. Seek out and show support for media images that promote positive messages about differences in body shape.
- Wear clothes that make you feel good about your body and reflect your personal style. Learn to appreciate the way your favourite clothes feel and look on you.
- Find a method of exercise that you enjoy and do it regularly. Learn to see exercise as a great way to improve your health and strength instead of a way to “control” or “fight” your body. Take time to appreciate the positive changes in your emotional and physical well-being when you exercise (i.e., feeling happier, more energetic).
Understand that your body is your own, no matter what shape or size it comes in. Try to focus on becoming strong and healthy, not the imperfections of your body (really, we all have them) or what you want to change about it. If you're worried about your weight or health, it doesn't hurt to meet with your doctor to make sure that things are OK. But ultimately, it's no one's business but your own what your body looks like—you have to be happy with yourself.
By learning to have a positive body image, you can accept yourself the way you are, even if you don't fit the media ideal of "perfection". Such an approach to body image allows you to explore other aspects of your personality, developing healthy friendships, becoming more independent and confident, and challenging yourself physically and mentally. Giving the necessary attention to these parts of yourself can be very helpful in boosting your self-esteem.
The Counselling Centre offers individual and couples counselling to help with these issues.
For more information, call The Counselling Centre at 902-420-5615 or drop by our office on the 4th floor of the Student Centre.