Mirror Mirror on the Wall: Body Image

The unfortunate reality is that, particularly given the rising presence of social media and societal pressures, many women – and also many men – struggle to find even one thing they like about themselves in the mirror’s reflection.

Body image is the perception you have of your own body – what you think you look like, not necessarily what you do look like. Your body image can easily become negative and distorted if you compare yourself to images of the “perfect person”, or are forever striving to achieve the “ideal body”. This negativity fuels self-hatred, depression and anxiety, and can prevent you from achieving your weight loss goals, or from simply enjoying your own body.

So how do you overcome it?

Beautiful illusions

Women have always been attentive to beauty, but over the past two centuries the association between self-worth and appearance has become out of control in Australian culture.

It’s almost impossible to pick up a magazine, watch TV, or go to a movie these days without being exposed to messages communicating that ideal beauty comes in the form of a skinny, successful, energetic, young, white, wealthy, physically flawless female. And it’s not so different for males, either! This airbrushed illusion of perfection has become a false reality, and the cultural pressure to conform to this illusion has created within many people a deep dissatisfaction with your body. As a result, you feel relentlessly driven to change your body at any cost.

In the attempt to alter your size or change your body shape, many people go to extremes including unhealthy dieting, obsessive exercising, starvation, self-induced vomiting, laxative and diuretic abuse, and even plastic surgery. And yet, you’re still likely to be dissatisfied!

There are no quick fixes for this dilemma; there are no pills or herbs that will change how you feel about your body and yourself. You can, however, challenge your own beliefs, attitudes and feelings, and in this way change how you feel about your appearance. You can choose to see through the “beautiful illusion” to aspire to a more real and satisfying vision of attractiveness.

Why young girls and women?

Surveys on body image show that at least 80% of adolescent girls “feel bad” about their bodies. In fact, some of these girls (and women too) admit they won’t even look at their bodies because of the shame, embarrassment and outright disgust they feel towards themselves. Men experience this self-loathing less than women for many reasons.

Girls are socialised to develop a preoccupation with body image from the time they are very young. Parents consistently describe their infant daughters as beautiful, soft and cute, yet describe their sons in terms of their ability, strength and even misbehaviour, rather than appearance. Through socialisation, children of both sexes learn that girls’ bodies are to be made more beautiful while boys’ bodies are to be developed and strengthened.

The media perpetuates this early socialisation by upholding the ideal woman as someone who is always beautiful and slim. Whereas in the media, the ideal man is valued more for his physical abilities and his strength of character than his appearance.

Whether you’ve been aware of it or not, you’ve undoubtedly received numerous negative messages about body image throughout your lifetime from your parents, the media, and even yourself. And guess what? YOU can determine how you perceive and receive these messages!

How to put your body image into proper perspective

To put your body image into healthy perspective, you first need to face up to any unrealistic ideals you have about your own body and stop trying to achieve them. You need to “reprogram”, replacing the messages society has fed you with more realistic goals.

Start “reprogramming” by reminding yourself a person is far more than the sum of their body parts. We all have immense value and worth and contribute to the world in many ways, which are much more important than how we look.

Do you honestly believe your thighs or stomach define who you are and determine your value?

Here are some ideas to help you put things into perspective:

  • Get real. Question the images of perfection surrounding you, and stop accepting them as the norm. Research how pictures are airbrushed to remove all visible flaws. Next time you see a picture of a model and wish you looked like them, consider if what you’re seeing is real, or fabricated. Don’t blindly accept the false realities you’re fed from every direction!
  • Get appreciative. Instead of disparaging your body, how about appreciating it? It takes you for walks, allows you to watch the sunset and hear beautiful music. Without your body, you couldn’t swim in the ocean or taste fresh strawberries. You couldn’t have children. You couldn’t laugh or cry. You couldn’t hug someone. Maybe you’re not a size 8 – but in the grand scheme of life, how important is that really?
  • Get age-wise. As you move through different stages of your life, developing and nurturing a positive body image and a healthy mental attitude is crucial to your happiness and emotional health. Expect to change as you age, and try to foster a healthy attitude: “I look forward to being older, when your appearance becomes less and less important and what you are is the point.” – Susan Sarandon
  • Get sensible. Take stock of how often you criticise your own shape or size: Is it some of the time, most of the time, or all of the time? It’s the rare person who doesn’t occasionally take a backward glance in the mirror, and find some imperfection. But when a two-second glance can ruin your day, it’s time to take a much longer look at your perceptions of yourself.
  • Get affirmative.  Replace negative self-talk with positive affirmations. Make a list of your positive qualities (aim for at least 15). For example, “I like my eyes,” or  “I’m a valuable, loveable person and deserve the best in life.” Practice repeating one or two affirmations to yourself every day, multiple times throughout the day. Rehearse them in your mind, say them out loud, write them down, even record them and play them back as you go to sleep! Do whatever it takes to replace your negative self-talk with positive thoughts. As you internalise more and more positive affirmations, your self-perceptions will begin to change.

The choice is yours

Beauty is subjective and multi-faceted, and should be enjoyed. But an inability to see beauty in yourself can be destructive. It can also make weight control far more challenging.

If you need help overcoming issues with body image, there are many support groups as well as a variety of professional treatment plans and programs available.

Visit The Butterfly Foundation for support and further guidance.

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