Helping you get through tough times

Body image

Ask anyone how they feel about their body and there’s usually a list of complaints a mile long.

One person wants to get their teeth fixed, another wants a smaller bum, another still wants longer hair.

It’s human nature to worry about our imperfections and wish we could “fix” ourselves.

hands in the airTaking pride in your appearance is actually a good thing. When you go for a job interview or meet new people, first impressions are important. Keeping fit will improve your appearance, your health and your self-esteem.

Caring about your appearance does become a problem when it starts stressing you out.

We all have times when we’re embarrassed about things – maybe you wake up with a really bad spot on your chin, or your favourite jeans don’t fit as well as usual.

This can get us down when we’re stressed out about other things, or when we’re being hard on ourselves. Try self-talk for more on thinking positively about yourself.

How you view your body

Body image is your attitude towards your body. It’s how you see yourself, how you feel about the way you look and how you think others see you.

Your body image can be influenced by your own beliefs and attitudes as well as those of society, the media and peer groups.

Unhealthy body image

This is when you feel like your body or your appearance isn’t good enough. You feel like you’re not measuring up to standards – that you’re too tall, too short, too fat, too thin, your nose is too big or too small or a million other possibilities.

People with an unhealthy body image feel like their appearance is what sums them up as members of society.

Healthy body image

This is when you fully realise that you’re so much more than what you look like. Your physical appearance is just a small (and not very important) part of what you offer to the world.

Learning how to love the skin you’re in is about developing a positive body image.

If your appearance is something that’s causing you stress, talk to someone you trust about how you feel, or to someone outside the situation.

Social pressure

It’s easy to start feeling bad about the way you look when you remember we’re surrounded by images of perfection. Celebrities always seem like they’ve perfect make-up, perfect figures and shiny white teeth.

Magazines are full of tall, thin, glamorous models who never seem to have bad hair days.

Trying to live up to those standards is not only stressful, it’s pointless. Many celebrities have full-time personal trainers and hair stylists and the money to devote to improving their appearance.

Also it’s important to read between the lines. Just because celebrities look perfect in a movie or in a magazine doesn’t mean they don’t have their off days, like us mere mortals.

There’s also a lot of pressure to be thin. All the modern-day icons, from Barbie to world-famous supermodels seem to have tiny waists and long, slender limbs.

For those with different body shapes, the pressure to conform to this body shape can become really stressful. In its most extreme, it can be a trigger for eating disorders.

Some facts on the social pressure to be thin:

  • Only about five to 10% of women are within the height and weight range of catwalk models.
  • Images of models (male and female) portrayed in magazines are often altered with airbrushing and lighting equipment.
  • Magazine images tend to have a one size fits all policy that doesn’t reflect different shapes, cultures, and sizes.
  • When it comes to your body shape, genetics is thought to be an important factor. This means that wishing you’re a size eight when you’ve a naturally curvy figure is unrealistic.

Accepting yourself

We might feel better in the short-term to think models we see in magazines don’t really look that good, or we see them in snatched images without their make-up coming out of the gym. But, that’s not what learning to love the skin you’re in is really all about.

That means learning to be happy with your appearance, whatever anyone else looks like. It means accepting yourself, imperfections and all, and learning not to compare yourself with other people. If you truly accept yourself, you won’t need to compare.

Easier said than done right?

Yes, and it won’t happen overnight. There’ll always be times when we look at ourselves in the mirror and wish we could change something about ourselves.

But, having a healthy body image means we can soon forget about it, and move on. People with a healthy body image don’t really need anything about their bodies to change in order to be happy.

Work on your self-esteem

At the root of your body image, is your self-esteem. Believe it or not, this can be worked on. Fully realising that there is more to you than how you look and developing your self-worth and esteem is possible.

Learn to accept the way you look:

  • Question messages in the media – every time you see a magazine article showing tall, thin models, ask yourself why it’s making you feel bad. As long as you stay fit and healthy, you can look good whatever your body shape is. Don’t accept a social rule that says only thin people are beautiful.
  • Stop buying magazines – if what you’re reading or watching is promoting an unrealistic stereotype, why not boycott the magazine or TV show in question? Life is hard enough without being constantly told we’re not good enough.
  • Find your own style – wear what you want and not what’s in fashion. Finding styles that suit your body shape will give you confidence. Don’t feel like you have to wear something just because it’s trendy.
  • Appreciate your other qualities – list the good things about yourself without referring to your appearance. Learning to love yourself for what’s inside is important.
  • Embrace your differences – the world would be a boring place if everyone looked the same. As time goes on, you might find it’s your differences from other people that you appreciate, not your similarities.

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This article was last reviewed on 29 April 2017

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