Weight Loss

What Is Body Image?

Weight is such an integral part of who we are and how we see ourselves. But remembering that it’s not all we are, is imperative.

Body image is how we see our own specific physique and sexuality. It’s a compilation of memories, experiences, assumptions, attitudes towards height, shape and weight and comparisons to others. It’s the mental image we create even though it may not bear any close relationship to reality or how others really see us. It’s subject to all types of distortions from our emotions, moods, early experience, parental attitudes, society, and cultural norms.

Society has always placed value on the perceived beauty of the human body, but the definition of beauty is always changing. In the Renaissance era voluptuous, full figured women were considered beautiful and revered in the most acclaimed artwork of the day. These larger women were deemed both powerful and beautiful. It was fashionable to be on the heavier side. In fact, some saw being skinny as unattractive. Looking at Titian’s, “Woman In A Mirror,” we see a heavier set gal.


It’s likely this piece later inspired Rubens to paint, “Venus Before A Mirror” (see the image here: http://www.liechtensteincollections.at/en/pages/artbase_main.asp?module=browse&action=m_work&sid=87294&oid=W-147200412195)

In this case, Rubens has shown a girl with love handles and rosy cheeks. Each culture defines beauty differently. In today’s society we need a better balance.

Body image is either positive or negative. What do you see when you look in the mirror? Is it an intelligent, capable, breathtaking individual? Or just a physical outer shell without its character and self worth? A negative body image presents a disoriented view of one’s shape; often leading to feelings of self-consciousness or shame and assuming others are more attractive. This leads to low self-esteem that typically encourages fixating on altering physical appearances. Positive body image on the other hand, is described as a clear true perception of one’s figure. In addition to celebrating and appreciating the body, there’s an understanding that appearance does not reflect character or self-worth.

All too often, this is affected, altered, or even manipulated by everything around us- the media, cultural and social ideals, peer pressure, and now the internet. In the past, exposure to photos or articles were primarily found in traditional media; however, the accessibility of the internet today has resulted in an infinite array online. The world we inhabit is being translated into a dizzying amount of images that overwhelm and bombard us with posts, photos and ads. Social media has allowed incredible volumes of pictures depicting only the “best face” to be portrayed regardless of their reality. The message is loud and clear: this is what we could, should, or would be, if we only purchased certain products, made certain choices, or engaged in certain behaviors.

The ultimate purpose is to appeal to insecurities in the hopes of selling solutions. Marketers fueling negative body imagery understand you’re more likely to purchase their products if you feel inadequate. For that reason, advertisements regularly advocate the ability to achieve a particular look through retouched images, sexual objectification, and products accompanied with explicit messages. Even children exposed to action figures, Barbie dolls and animated movies are shown human physiques that can’t exist in real life. These perfect advertised men and women put pressure on everyone to live up to impossible standards. A size 8 used to be considered small to average and is now nearly plus size! Idealized media images are routinely subjected to computer manipulation techniques, such as airbrushing (e.g. slimming thighs and increasing muscle tone). The resulting images present an unobtainable ‘perfection’ that has no basis in biological reality. Actress/comedian, Amy Schumer, spoke out on the issue of size when she was featured in Glamour Magazine as a “Plus Size Woman”. Upon the magazines publication, Schumer posted a tweet saying, “I think there’s nothing wrong with being plus size. Beautiful healthy women. Plus size is considered size 16 in America. I go between a size 6 and a 8.”

The idea she had to defend herself is appalling! By today’s standards even  Marilyn Monroe would be considered a plus size woman.

According to Psychology Today, body image has several factors:

Perceptual body image: how you see your body.

Affective body image: how you feel about your body.

Cognitive body image: how you think about your body.

Behavioral body image: the way you behave as a result of the previous three.

One way to address body dissatisfaction is to change the way we think about our bodies, shifting the focus from evaluation and critique to care and appreciation.

1) Remind yourself that true beauty is not just skin deep.

2) Appreciate all your body can do. See how precious and unique you are. No one in the world is like you.

3)See yourself as a whole person, not just parts.

4)Keep positive feelings. Surround yourself with people who are positive and see and appreciate who you are

5) Stop the negative. Listen to the positive voices and overpower the ones that tear you down. Think affirmatively.

6) Look critically at social and media information. Recognize when they want you to feel less then you are, and refuse to acquiesce.

7) Keep a list of affirmations. Read and add to it often.

8) Stay in tune with your physical state. Focus on feelings, heartbeat, and breathing, which helps keep the focus off how you look.

Another option according to a new Northwestern University study, taking just 15 minutes to complete writing exercises about self compassion can increase women’s body image. The three-part study tested the effects of writing exercises on the body satisfaction of college women: 151 college-age women were asked to write a compassionate letter to themselves; 242 were asked to write a similar letter, but from the perspective of a close friend; and 1,158 sorority women wrote letters directed at their own bodies, showing gratitude for what their bodies can do.

“We found that spending just 15 minutes writing and reviewing one of three specific types of letters to oneself can significantly increase women’s body satisfaction- at least short-term,” Northwestern Professor Renee Engeln, author of Beauty Sick said in her report.

Regardless of what works for you, choose to see who you really are, and can be- an incredible human being. See all your sides. Yes, there may be areas that could be improved, but that doesn’t alter who we are. Keep in mind, we are our own worst judges.

I remember traveling with my sister a few years ago. During the day I felt confident and attractive, but that night I felt dowdy and plain. Maybe it was the change of clothes or venue. Possibly the fact my 5’10” sister continued to look amazing and I suddenly felt less so. Clearly this wasn’t her fault, but my own reflections causing me issues. I finally shared my insecurities at dinner and the uncomfortable transformation I was experiencing. She then volunteered it had been the exact opposite for her! Beautiful now and anything but earlier. In some ways I think we were feeling the other’s confidence growing or waning and it had an effect. After a good laugh we realized how “off” our perceptions really were. We hadn’t changed in 8 hours , only how we felt about ourselves changed. I realized then, I can choose my attitude. It isn’t dependent on the validation of anybody but myself. It’s hard to overcome all the forces at play that say differently. But, with each success I became empowered and that made the next time easier to push through.

Like the saying goes:

Fake it till you make it.

Eventually you’ll believe.

The better we feel about ourselves, the more we can achieve. It breeds a can-do attitude. Then, there’s no stopping us.

    -Dr. Courtney

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