Mirror Mirror on the Wall: Body image and you

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When Snow White’s wicked stepmother asked her mirror who was the fairest of them all, she expected to be told it was herself. We don’t have the same sense of arrogance  when we look in the mirror – more the opposite problem in fact! Many women, and some 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 be negative and distorted because you compare yourself to the  images of the “perfect person”. This negativity fuels self-hatred, depression and anxiety, and can prevent you from achieving weight-loss goals, or from just simply enjoying your own body.

So how do you overcome it? Read on to find out.

Beautiful illusions

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Women have always been attentive to beauty, but over the past two centuries the association between self-worth and appearance has gotten 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 getting the message that ideal beauty comes in the form of a skinny, successful, energetic, young, white, wealthy, and 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 of us a deep dissatisfaction with our bodies. As a result we feel relentlessly driven to change them at any cost.

In the attempt to alter your size or change your body shape, you can go to many 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 how you look. You can choose to see through the “beautiful illusion” to a more real and satisfying vision of attractiveness.

Why young girls and women?

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

One reason is that preoccupation with body image is socialised in girls from the time they are very young. Parents consistently describe their infant daughters as beautiful, soft, and cute and describe their sons in terms of 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 have been aware of them or not, you have undoubtedly received numerous negative messages about body image throughout your lifetime from your parents, the media, and even yourself. Maybe you can never erase these messages, but you can alter the way you perceive them.

How to get your body image in proper perspective

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To get your body image in 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 also need to “reprogram”, replacing the messages that society has so far given you with more realistic ones.

A good place to start “reprogramming” is by reminding yourself that a person is more than the sum of their body parts. We all have immense value and worth and contribute to the world in many ways more important than how we look. Do you honestly believe that your thighs or stomach define who you are and determine your value in society?

Here are some ideas to help you get things in perspective:

  • Get real. Question the images of perfection that surround you and stop accepting them as the norm. Find out how pictures are airbrushed to remove all visible flaws. The next time you see a picture of a model and think you should look like that, take a picture of yourself and have someone airbrush it to perfection!
  • Get appreciative. Instead of disparaging your body, how about appreciating it? It takes you for walks, lets you see the sunset and hear beautiful music. Without it you couldn’t swim in the ocean or taste fresh strawberries. You couldn’t have children. You wouldn’t laugh or cry. You wouldn’t be able to hug someone. So maybe you are not a size 8 – in the grand scheme of life, how important is that really?
  • Get age-wise. As we move through the different stages of our lives, developing and nurturing a positive body image and a healthy mental attitude is crucial to our happiness and emotional health. Expect to change as you age, and try this on for a healthy attitude: “I look forward to being older, when what you look like becomes less and less an issue and what you are is the point.” – Susan Sarandon
  • Get sensible. Take stock of how often you criticise yourself because of your shape or size: Is it some of the time, most of the time, or all of the time? It is the rare person who doesn’t occasionally take a backward glance in the mirror, and find some imperfections. But when a two-second glance can ruin your day, it is time to take a much longer look at your perception of yourself.
  • Get affirmative.  Replace negative self-talk with positive affirmation. Make a list of some of your positive qualities (at least fifteen). For example, “I like my hair,” or  “I am a valuable, lovable person and deserve the best in life.” Practice repeating one or two affirmations to yourself every day, 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 the negative self-talk. As you internalise more and more positive affirmations, your self-perceptions will begin to change.

The choice is yours

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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 a much tougher challenge.

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.

 

Calorie King
CalorieKing's mission is to provide the best information, tools and education to Australians to help them conquer their weight.

CalorieKing is the brainchild of Allan Borushek, registered dietitian, co-found here at food.com.au and author of "Allan Borushek's Pocket Calorie & Fat Counter", Australia's best-selling calorie counter for over 30 years.

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