What is body image?
Body image is your attitude towards your body - how you see yourself, how you think and feel about the way you look and how you think others perceive you. Your body image can be influenced by your own beliefs and attitudes as well as those of society, the media and peer groups.
An unhealthy body image is thinking your body is bigger or smaller that it is in reality, believing that you aren’t perfect on the outside, and thinking that how you look on the outside is your entirety. You are more than just your skin!
A healthy body image is being comfortable in your own skin, being happy with the way you look, and feeling good within yourself.
For more info on body image issues specific to guys check out the Body image + blokes fact sheet.
How do people get unhealthy body image?
It is likely that you come across images of other people from all over the place on a daily basis. These images probably include a large proportion of images of super-slim or buff male and female models in magazines, super-skinny celebrities on TV, and slender mannequins in stores, and it is possible that being bombarded by all these images might make you feel bad about yourself and the way your body looks, and you may feel like it is important to be like them.
In truth, over the course of history, the ideal body shape has changed. It has always been the opposite of the social climate. During the potato famine in Ireland, it was very stylish to be plump, as it showed style and wealth. These days, some reasons why it is fashionable to be slim and well toned might be that it shows you have the money for a gym membership or a personal trainer.
Body image: did you know?
- Only about 5 to 10% of women are in the height and weight range of models.
- Males are also unlikely to the height and weight range of models.
- The images of models (male and female) portrayed in magazines are altered with airbrushing and fancy lighting.
- The images in magazines don’t reflect different shapes, cultures, and sizes. They have a “one size fits all” policy to our multicultural and diverse world.
- Dress models (for girls) in stores are an average size 8, yet the average women is between a 12 and 16, and the guy models are super toned, size 30s. Have you noticed the only size of men’s pants you can ever find at the shops are 30s?
- When it comes to weight, genetics may be more important than the environment or learned behaviour.
Unhealthy body image can damage your self-esteem
An unhealthy body image can damage your self-esteem. Once you feel bad about the way you look, you may be inclined to think that you, as a person, are not as worthy. No matter what you look like, you are special. A person with a healthy body image will, most likely, have clear boundaries between body image and self image.
If you are feeling inadequate about your body or yourself in general, it may be worth talking to someone about it. This may be a family member, friend, teacher or counsellor.
Check out the Who can help you section for more information about how these people might be able to help. A happier and more confident you may also translate to others reacting more positively towards you.
How to get a more positive body image
Instead of passively receiving unrealistic images, why don’t you:
Question messages in the media - Every time you see a magazine article telling you to become thinner/wear a particular type of clothing/buy a certain kind of shampoo, ask yourself why the article is doing so. Is it to sell more copies or to encourage the purchase of a particular item? What will happen to you if you don’t listen to the article? What would you think if you hadn’t read the article at all?
Are the images you see in the media showing strong, respectable, smart people or are they showing somebody solely focused on how pretty or handsome they are?
Stand up for your rights - You don’t have to listen to what other people say about how you look. You have the right to be happy with who you are. Don’t let anybody take that away from you.
Choose your media - Does reading magazines actually improve your life? Do you want to be a girl or guy out there only to impress a potential boyfriend or girlfriend, or do you want to be somebody out there to live life to the fullest?
Find your own style - Wear what you want to wear and not what is in fashion. Fashion comes and goes but we’ll outlast the trends!
Describe yourself - Without a single word to your physique, say good things about yourself. Try to describe your friends without how they look. Think of the good parts of them. When you come up with something, tell them! It will make their day all the better and we can never underestimate the power of our words.