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What Is Body Image and How Can It Affect a Person's Health?

The way people see themselves influences their mental state. And vice versa, the mental state affects the body image. Find out more in this Habio article how body image can affect a person's health and what you need to do to have a healthy perception of your body.

Are you attractive? Is there something you don't like about your appearance? Do you ever wish you were born in a different body because yours doesn't look like an Instagram model?
These questions may sound trivial, but they can reveal a lot about your body image and how it influences your physical and mental well-being. Yes, body image can affect a person's health dramatically!
a boy looking in the mirror and thinking what is body image

Definition of body image

What is body image? Your body image is essentially how you view your body, whether you consider yourself to be attractive, and how you compare your body to other people's bodies.

A positive body image means that you love, appreciate, and respect your body. You don't focus on your real or imaginary flaws and you know that you're at least as attractive as everyone else around you. If you decide to change your appearance (lose weight, for example), you do it in a way that doesn't harm your health.

By contrast, a negative body image means having a distorted vision of yourself. Someone with a negative body image is always judging and criticizing their body. They're also envious of other people's body sizes and shapes. In some cases, they're ready to "fix" their bodies by using potentially harmful methods.
a girl with a measure tape around her waist thinking what is body image

What are body image disorders?

Body image disorders are also known as body dysmorphia. It's a mental health condition where a person spends a lot of time contemplating flaws in their appearance. In most cases, these flaws are unnoticeable or unimportant to others.

Someone with body dysmorphia can spend a lot of time picking out clothes that hide their body's natural shape, obsessively trying to cover their "flaws" with makeup, or simply worrying excessively about their appearance. If left untreated, body dysmorphia can lead to depression and self-harm.

Body image and eating disorders

Body dysmorphia is a serious health condition in itself, but it can also trigger a range of eating disorders.

For example, someone who has a highly distorted perception of their body can develop anorexia, an intense fear of gaining weight.

Anorexia can then develop into bulimia, a mental health condition that makes the affected person binge on food and then take laxatives or force themselves to vomit.

In short, a distorted body image and eating disorders often go hand-in-hand. These disorders can cause serious damage to the body and take many years to treat. If you suspect that you or someone close to you might have an eating disorder, ask a professional for help.
unhappy girl looking in the mirror and thinking what is body image

Why do people have body image issues?

What influences body image? Several factors can lead to a negative body image and possibly severe eating disorders.

Negative past events in childhood

Children who are bullied or criticized because of their appearance or weight can carry these traumas over into adulthood.

Body shaming can happen in families, at school, and in many other situations. For example, if a girl is constantly bullied about her weight and given unsolicited dieting advice, she may never accept her body when she grows up - no matter what she looks like. A boy who is teased for being small may grow into an insecure man who thinks his height makes him unattractive.

Previous dieting or strict weight control behaviors

If someone goes on a very strict diet and finds that restricting their food intake feels like regaining control over their life, they can develop anorexia. Anorexia, in turn, can lead to bulimia (overeating and then vomiting).

Strict weight control behaviors like cutting out entire food groups, forcing yourself to vomit, or engaging in excessive exercise to "punish yourself for eating" do not lead to healthy weight loss. Instead, they undermine your physical and mental health.

If you'd like to lose weight, opt for scientifically backed methods like developing healthy eating habits, and enjoying moderate physical activity.

Promotion of specific appearance ideals in your environment

The social media and the magazines you read are probably full of people who fit a specific, largely unattainable body ideal. At the same time, people who look very different from this ideal are often treated with scorn.

This makes it easy to develop an association between your body shape or weight and your self-esteem. If everyone around you is praising skinny bodies, you may end up thinking that every pound of weight you put on somehow diminishes your value as a person.

And even though it's not a logical or productive thought, it can become deeply ingrained in your mind, leading to body dysmorphia and eventually eating disorders.
a man holding his head in a gym and thinking what is body image

7 reliable tips for a better body image

Fortunately, your body image is not carved in stone. These tips can help you improve it.

1. Say goodbye to strict diets

Restrictive diets that cut out entire food groups or limit your calories to just a few hundred are dangerous in two ways.

Firstly, they don't work in the long run - any weight you lose usually comes back with a vengeance.

Secondly, they force you to live up to unrealistic expectations invented by clever marketers. Lose one pound a day! Go down a dress size in a week! Trying to achieve these unattainable goals only leads to frustration and possible body image issues.

2. Accept your body

Accepting your body is all about embracing it as it is - complete with wrinkles, stretch marks, scars, and anything else someone might find unattractive.

It's also about treating it with love and respect - fueling it with nutritious food, taking care of your physical health, and accepting the inevitable changes that come with aging.

3. Know what makes you uniquely beautiful

Every body (and every face) has unique features that make it outstanding. You may have beautiful eyes, a flawless complexion, a rare hair color, athletic legs, or well-proportioned shoulders - identify the body parts that you like and don't be afraid to flaunt them!

If you're not sure what your best features are, ask a close friend or a loved one, or book a photo session with a professional photographer who will find the best angles, poses, and lighting that truly emphasizes your unique beauty.

4. Don't think that Instagram models are perfect

Did you know that the perfect bodies of Instagram models are the results of careful posing, professional lighting, and, quite often, using photoshop? If you saw them in the street, they'd look like normal people.

5. Think positively about your body

It's hard to think positively about your body when you've been taught to focus on its flaws. However, there are some rituals that can help you cultivate a more positive mindset.

  • Every day, thank your body for the hard work it does and promise to take care of it.
  • When practicing sports or any physical activity that you like, focus on the joy of movement and the amazing things your body can do.
  • Compliment yourself whenever you see yourself in a mirror or a shop window.
a happy girl in a blue t-shirt looking in the mirror and thinking what is body image

6. Don't weigh yourself too often

Weighing yourself can be a useful tool in monitoring your weight loss. However, don't overdo it. Your weight fluctuates randomly due to the amount of water you drink, the foods you eat, the phase of your menstrual cycle if you are female, and other factors.

If you weigh yourself too often, you may start worrying about these random fluctuations. You can weigh yourself once a week — or not at all.

7. Know that health is more important than weight and measurements

Unless you're an athlete and your sport has weight classes, your weight doesn't really matter as long as it is within a healthy range.

Instead of worrying about how much you weigh or how big or small your body is, focus on what your body can do. Choose a sport you like and train to get better at it. This will make you genuinely proud of your body.

Summary

A positive body image can help you maintain good physical and mental health, whereas a distorted body image can lead to serious problems. To improve your body image, focus on maintaining healthy habits rather than trying to achieve an unattainable ideal.

References

  1. https://nedc.com.au/eating-disorders/eating-disorders-explained/body-image/
  2. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/body-dysmorphia/
  3. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/body-image-eating-disorders
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30326368/
  5. https://www.health.com/weight-loss/crash-diets
  6. https://www.healthline.com/health/weight-fluctuation

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