Body Image

Body image is the perception that a person has of their physical self and the thoughts and feelings that result from that perception.

 

BODY DISSATISFACTIONFeet on bathroom scale with hand drawn sad cute faces, reflecting body dissatisfaction and fear  about body image.

What is body dissatisfaction?

When a person has negative thoughts and feelings about their own body, body dissatisfaction can develop. Body dissatisfaction occurs internally, in our mind, but can be influenced by several external factors. These factors include family, friends, classmates, and the media

 

What factors make people more likely to have body dissatisfaction?

Age– during your teenage years, your body image is being shaped. At this age you are more likely to focus on your body image. This is mainly because your body is changing quickly and you are more vulnerable to peer pressure.

Gender– Adolescent girls are more prone to body dissatisfaction than adolescent boys.

Low self-esteem and/or depression– Constant self-criticism and having negative feelings about yourself can lead to persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, anger, shame, guilt and body dissatisfaction.

Teasing and bullying – people who are teased or bullied about appearance or weight have an increased risk of becoming dissatisfied with their body.

Personality traits – we all have lots of different personality traits. Some traits, like people with perfectionist tendencies and high achievers, are at higher risk.

Friends and family who diet and express body image concerns – if the role models in our lives are constantly concerned with weight loss and dieting, it can increase our risk of developing a negative body image, regardless of our body type.

Body Size– People with larger body sizes have an increased risk of body dissatisfaction because of society pressure.

 

EATING DISORDERS 

What is an eating disorder? 

Belly of young female with anorexia, and negative body image. Her ribs and hip bones are protruding. An eating disorder is characterised by obsessive thoughts about food and body weight. The three most common eating disorders are:

  • Anorexia Nervosa – people who limit the amount of food they eat
  • Bulimia – eat lots of food in a very small time and then purge
  • Compulsive Overeating or Binge Eating – overeat often.

 

What are the symptoms of an eating disorder?

Obsessive thoughts about food and body weight can change eating patterns, mood, daily activities, and appearance. This may include dieting, making excuses not to eat, avoidance of social situations, feeling depressed or anxious, and gaining or losing weight.

 

What causes an eating disorder?

There is no single cause for eating disorders. It is thought that a number of factors are involved to varying degrees in different people, including: genetic inheritance, personal and psychological factors related to adolescence or family issues for example, and social factors such as media representation of body image.

 

POSITIVE BODY IMAGE

Why is a positive body image important?

Positive body image occurs when a person is able to accept, appreciate and respect their body. Positive body image is important because it is one of the protective factors that can make a person more resilient to eating disorders. Having a positive image will improve your self-esteem, self-acceptance, and provide you with a healthy outlook.

Happy young woman in undies and a t-shirt, with hair in piggy-tails, laying on the ground. She is smiling and appears to be happy with her body and have a positive body image.

Be happy with you!

How can you improve your body image?

While some aspects of your appearance can be changed, others, like your height, muscle composition and bone structure are genetically fixed. It is important to understand that there is no right or wrong when it comes to weight, shape, size and appearance. Challenging beauty ideals and learning to accept your body and its natural shape is a crucial step towards positive body image.

Sometimes, young women with a disability feel frustrated or ashamed with their body. They can sometimes feel like their body has failed them. Focusing on thoughts like these can lead you into a negative spiral. Trying to focus on all the positive things you and your body have to offer is really helpful.

Other helpful hints include:Young woman with bright coloured hair smiling. She is surrounded with colourful positive phrases reflecting her positive body image and self-esteem. The phrases are, "I am awesome", "I am brave", "I am a strong WWDA youth", "I have beautiful eyes", "I am talented", "I am funny", "I love my unique, beautiful body".

  • Focus on your positive qualities, skills and talents.
  • Say positive things to yourself every day. For example “I am strong. I am smart. I have a lovely smile.”
  • Avoid negative or harsh self-talk. Don’t put yourself down.
  • Focus on appreciating and respecting what your body can do. This will help you feel more positive about it.
  • Set positive, health focused goals rather than weight loss goals.
  • Appreciate your own beauty, and try not to compare yourself with others. Accept yourself as a whole. Remember that everyone is unique, everyone has good and bad qualities, and everyone has differences that make us special.
  • Remember that many images in the media are not realistic.

 

Getting help

If you feel dissatisfied with your body or are developing unhealthy eating or exercise habits seek professional help. It is important to ask your doctor about any concerns you have. Some counsellors and psychologists have specialised knowledge in body image and eating disorders. Professional support can help guide you to change negative beliefs and behaviours.

 

References:

The National Eating Disorders Collaboration (NEDC), NEDC Fact Sheet – Body Image, 2015.

SANE Australia, Eating Disorders, SANE Factsheet 19, 2014

 

 

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