30 October 2020 16:37
"Body image" usually refers to the perception we have of our own body. Specifically, how we see ourselves and what we assume others see.
This includes the way you feel about your appearance; your height and weight; and how you feel about yourself. Furthermore, the way you behave as a result of your thoughts is also very important; whether you accept your features or whether you feel bad or ashamed of them.
People can have positive or negative body image. You begin forming your perceptions of your attractiveness, acceptability and functionality in early childhood. Personality traits such as perfectionism and self-criticism can also influence the development of a negative internalised image of yourself.
So, why is a healthy body image so important? People with a positive self-image are more likely to have good physical and mental health. Girls and women with negative thoughts and feelings about their bodies are more likely to develop certain mental health conditions, such as eating disorders and depression. Some studies argue that women’s dissatisfaction with their bodies may be part of the reason more women than men have depression. A negative body image may also lead to low self-esteem, which can affect many areas of your life. You may not want to be around other people because of constant thoughts about what you eat or how much you exercise. Becoming very conscious about your own body image can be damaging.
It is not uncommon to see people expressing dissatisfaction with a specific body part. This is very natural for many people across the globe; however, it has been increasing over the last few years. Nowadays, we are surrounded with messages that define attractiveness and suggest the way we should look from the first years of our lives.
As a society we are obsessed with body image and there is no immunity from this. Women and men are both driven by impossible standards of beauty, femininity, and masculinity that are propagated in the media. People are expected to look certain ways and are rewarded for working to achieve that standard. Media - in particular social media - focuses on showing women who are thin, attractive, and young. People often blindly follow these unrealistic goals without realising that these models in magazines are often photo edited. As a result, girls and young women often try to reach beauty and body ideals that do not even exist in the real world. As a culture, we are entrenched with the faulty ideas of body perfection, living in a society that continually reminds us that we are not good enough.
In the current world, we are surrounded by social media influences; we are constantly watching the luxurious lives of celebrities. Throughout the years, TV shows such as Kardashians have gained popularity and become one of the most influential celebrities across all social media platforms. Their strong social media presence has allowed them to express their beliefs and shape societal perfection. Furthermore, this serves an unrealistic standard of beauty and encourages self-obsession. They create a social stigma prioritising appearance over personality. Setting unrealistic standards of beauty, women feel they have to replicate this look to be successful or liked.
Because these celebrities have become so successful, partly due to their beauty, many women will associate their body image with success. This can be detrimental to women’s body image and lead to the development of body dissatisfaction. People being critical towards their own body image is common for society. However, a desire to look more like praised celebrities is now an increasing problem for young people. In particular, people try to replicate the specific body shape that is propagated by celebrities. Many social media users are not aware of how misleading such platforms can be. Pictures that are visible on social media are retouched by professionals; natural features such as cellulite or stretch marks are edited which is not a reflection of true reality. What we see on Instagram accounts is a simple form of false consciousness. This, therefore, promotes a figure which is completely edited and unnatural and realistically unachievable.
Society’s fascination with celebrity has narrowed our definition of beauty and attractiveness. We are exposed to many images and messages which emphasise physical ‘perfection’. These unachievable ideals make us compare ourselves to others and usually decreases our wellbeing. Research shows that exposure to media images of the ‘ideal body’ can lead to unhelpful appearance comparisons which can affect our self-esteem and confidence.
The media, in particular, has increasingly become a platform that reinforces strong views on how we should look, meaning that we as individuals tend to believe others’ opinions and thoughts on our appearance. The more we indulge in others' lives, looking for perfect images of others, we tend to feel worse about ourselves, questioning our self-worth. Due to these negative social impacts, we start to engage with unhealthy habits mentally and physically. The more negative our body image, the greater risk for extreme weight concerns and body control behaviours. This includes: extreme dieting, exercise compulsion, eating disorders, unnecessary plastic surgeries, medication for weight loss. The images of perfection we see in the media, in print, film and television projects an unrealistic version of reality.
First of all, work on accepting your body. Looking at yourself as a whole person can make a big difference; see yourself as you want others to see you. Appreciate your personality and qualities because they are much more valuable than the way you look. Many people are getting into the social media trap and constantly comparing themselves to what they see there. Bring conscious awareness to the way you look at other people’s pictures.
For example, try to pay attention to your feelings of jealousy and reflect on it. Think of how this could inspire you and motivate you to work on your personal development; instead of trying to be someone else. Don’t body-shame yourself. If you are being negative about your own body, it hurts your self-esteem. Be kind to yourself, because societal trends have no power in defining who you are. You can overpower those negative thoughts with positive ones. The bad thoughts about ourselves that we may sometimes experience don’t define us, unless we choose to give them the power to control us.
The next time you start to tear yourself down, build yourself back up with a few quick affirmations that work for you: Your body is your temple; it is the only one you have. Build better habits to protect it and to take care of it.
Being constantly active on social media can be overwhelming and taking a step back is a good way to decrease your stress. Recognise what triggers your negative body image and free yourself from social media accounts that make you feel bad about it. There are many accounts that promote body positivity and profiles that can make you feel empowered and confident. Following body-positive accounts can inspire you to feel better in your own body.
Being realistic is another important aspect of using social media. Despite what society propagates as the trend or a body ideal; the fact is that we can’t all look the same. Setting unachievable goals may contribute to the stress increase and it may lead to demotivation over the long term. Embracing self-acceptance, self-care and development of healthy habits that can help you to improve your relationship with your body. After all, giving up social media completely may be probably too extreme for most people – especially while the long term effects of using it are still unclear. But thinking about social media as a tool and using it in a way that boosts your mood, self-esteem and confidence can turn it into something beneficial. Following inspiring people, delicious food, creative work and cute dogs might just help you remember there’s more to life than what you look like.