Did you know that up to 80% of young women experience concerns relating to their body and have a desire to lose weight? Were you aware that nearly 22% of young men engage in muscle-enhancing behaviours to change the way they look?
So, what is body image?
In its most basic form, body image is how a person thinks, feels, and behaves in relation to their body and the way they look. Body image can change over time, meaning you could feel positive about your body one day, but feel negative the next. Body image is subjective and incorporates both functions and appearance.
What causes negative body image?
One of the largest impacts on body image is comparing our appearance with others. This is automatic and we often do it without realising it! We also engage in ‘body talk’, which is any comment about appearance that reinforce appearance ideals. Even complimenting someone about their appearance (“You look great! Have you lost weight?!”) can be harmful, as it inadvertently reinforces the importance of appearance, and in this case, perpetuates weight stigma. All forms of media, including social media, are hugely responsible for transmitting and reinforcing narrow and unrealistic appearance ideals.
So, what is positive body image?
Positive body image is understood as acceptance and appreciation for one’s body. This is the ability to feel comfortable in your body regardless of what you actually look like. This is not the absence or opposite of negative body image, nor simply feeling great about your body 24/7. Many people can experience both positive and negative body image.
Hints and tips for building positive body image
1. Focus on what your body can do, rather than how it looks
This is not just about movement, but also about how our bodies keep us alive and can create life. Our bodies allow us to be creative and express ourselves, through our senses (like hugging loved ones) and undertaking fun activities, such as singing, painting and cooking. Try making a list of all the things, big or small, your body has allowed you to do today or across your life!
2. Engage in self-care
Self-care is essential to fostering positive body image and self-care routines must be adaptive to our needs at different times in our lives. This means responding appropriately with the right balance of exercise, fun, rest, and sleep. To encourage time for self-care, try writing down two self-care activities you could plan for yourself each week. How about reading a book in the bath or going for a walk with a friend?
3. Diversify your social media feed
Protect yourself from narrow appearance ideals on social media! Try ensuring that your daily scroll includes diverse images, including people in all shapes and sizes who look different to unrealistic appearance ideals. You may also want to avoid following images of bodies altogether, and instead, find value in following accounts related to your interests (or just more dogs!).
4. Engage in movement for fun
Our society unhelpfully tells us that we should exercise to “compensate”. Instead of viewing exercise as a punishment, focus on engaging in physical activity that stimulates your mind and body. Adjust your expectations about exercise and engage in movement that you enjoy. How about kicking a ball around with friends or going dancing?
5. Build resilience to appearance pressures
Develop resilience to body image threats, like unrealistic images in the media and appearance conversations with friends and family. Resilience can be developed through practising gratitude for your body and recognising its positive influence on your life. You might also engage in your own activism, such as speaking out against appearance ideals with family and friends.
If you have more questions, feel free to contact the Centre for Appearance Research at email@example.com, and to learn more about body image and related topics, listen to their podcast series Appearance Matters.
by Georgina Pegram, Helena Lewis-Smith, and Grace Biddulph