How do you feel about your body? How do you see yourself when you look in the mirror? If you responded 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 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” (usually unattainable) body. Exposure to bodily 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 or building muscle,.
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 on this planet. 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.Tell others that body criticism has a very negative effect on self esteem, and that it poisons the trust and security in your relationship.
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 favorite 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).
Read or watch something other than the popular media. Some suggestions:
- Adios, Barbie! by Ophira Edut & Rebecca Walker
- The Adonis Complex: The secret crisis of male body obsession by Pope, Philips, & Olivardia*
- The Beauty Myth: How images of beauty are used against women by Naomi Wolf*
- The Body Project: An intimate history of American girls by Joan Jacobs Brumberg*
- Body Traps: Breaking the binds that keep you from feeling good about your body by Judith Rodin
- Hijas Americanas: Beauty, body image, and growing up Latina by Rosie Molinary*
- Looking Queer: Body image & identity in Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, and Transgender Communities by Dawn Atkins
- Our Bodies, Ourselves for the New Century by The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective Transforming Body Image: Love the body you have by Marcia Germaine Hutchinson
- Making Weight: Healing men’s conflicts with food, weight, and shape by Andersen, Cohn, & Holbrook
— (*) Available in University of Tennessee Hodges Library Stacks
- Lovely & Amazing (2001)
- Real Women Have Curves (2002)*
- Killing Us Softly (series of 3 films) (1979, 1987, 1999)*
— (*) Available in University of Tennessee Hodges Media Center (DVD)
Body Image was originally developed by the University of Texas at Dallas Counseling Center. It is published here with their permission.