Each one of us has a particular opinion about how we look. This opinion reflects the way we see ourselves and particularly our physical features. We often see people saying, ‘oh I’ve got to lose some pounds’ or ‘Oh my God she’s so pretty, I wish I was like he’, or ‘I’m too skinny, nothing looks good on me’, and so on. These statements are aimed at self by self, and usually come after comparing our own body with someone else’s.
It is okay to be a critic when it comes to our health and monitoring ourselves for genuine reasons. But it is certainly wrong and rather hurting to hate the way we look. Having a negative body image leads a person to make and believe such self-sabotaging comments.
Body image is a part of self-concept and self-image, and refers to the way one perceives his own bodily features. Bodily features include one’s appearance, structure, posture, looks, complexion or height and weight.
Negative body image can be a comorbid factor for a lot of mental issues like social anxiety, depression, paranoia, body dysmorphia, obsessive compulsive disorder, eating disorders, mood disorder, poor interpersonal relationships, and behavioural issues as well.
Body image in general is formed through a lot of sources like opinions of others, cultural factors, genetic inheritance, societal influences, and most importantly expectations of self. The etiology of negative body image formation too, traces back to these factors. Let us go through these causes elaborately.
Causes of negative body image:
- History of bullying / childhood trauma – If an individual has faced a childhood trauma like getting bullied for being obese, skinny, pale, dark, short, or so, it has a severe impact on his/her perception of self. Such individuals feel the constant need to be in shape or to be presentable enough, so as to not experience the trauma again. This trauma occurs during an important age of development and has a deep rooted fear of being teased or humiliated for that. They eventually and indirectly start believing that they really are what they are called by the bullies. Children are in a very young stage and believe what their parents or relatives tell them. Being called short, dark or fat by their own family members make them believe that they are so. It not only hampers their self-image but also generate other negative feelings like jealousy, fear, incompetence, low self-confidence, future anxiety, etc.
- Societal pressure – Many times it so happens one tries to change their look and dressing style just to “fit in” somewhere. May it be a group of friends in college or in a work setting with colleagues. The need for acceptance and the FOMO (fear of missing out) makes one that way to an extent that he/she starts disliking their own styles or looks. The pressure of looking a certain way, wearing a particular type of clothes so as to keep up with fashion or being trendy makes one leave back their original identity.
- Cultural ideologies – The dressing styles, looks, hair or eye color, skin complexion, changes regionally. It usually depends on the geographical elements like climate and food. Different regions are further divided into castes and sub-castes of people. The cultural inheritance of certain customs and rules interfere with the idea of one’s appearance and looks. Although it is important to acknowledge and preserve the hierarchy, it shouldn’t be considered odd to be different from it. These cultural expectancies skip the evolution part and strongly believe that a man or a woman should look and present himself or herself in the predetermined manner respectively. The best example for this can be when the girl is preferred if she is fair and a man if he is a little dark or dusky.
- Social media influence – Social media has a huge influence on the self-perception of an individual. The beauty standards set through movies and advertisements are presented in such attractive ways that it is hard to believe that it is unnatural. It makes one lose the authentic essence of being comfortable in their skin. Losing the natural aspects for something considered socially ideal is the harsh truth and it only aggravates the hatred towards self-image.
- Unrealistic expectations – According to the theory of “Self Concept” given by Aaron Beck, there are 3 types of “self” – The ideal self, the social self and the real self. When there is discrepancy in these three, the awareness one has about himself starts lowering. One might get overpowered with the drive of being in a certain way. But, sometimes it is difficult or a little too extravagant to execute the necessary changes, for example, having a cosmetic surgery for dimples, laser treatment for marks, risky surgeries for bulk removal, etc. Although these measures might work when operated by medical professionals but are necessary only if recommended by experts in the field. The unrealistic and extravagant expectations lead to developing a negative body image.
All of these causes make us think a lot about the way we look at ourselves and why. These causes include beliefs that are not built up overnight but are inculcated in our minds constantly for a large period of time. The consequences of having a poor body image are even more concerning and might include the following.
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Consequences of having a negative body image:
- The person might engage into risky behavior and tend towards suicidal ideations.
- The fear of being left out might force the individual to adapt unhealthy eating habits leading to poor appetite.
- It might lead to frustration and develop depressive symptoms.
- A poor body image directly affects one’s self confidence interfering with professional growth and social relationships as well.
- It aggravates the fear and anxiety in stressful scenarios and tense social circumstances.
- Not accepting oneself as one is, makes one adopt a pessimistic approach in life or on the other hand living in denial.
- Cognitive distortions like denial, projection, and regression are seen in the individuals who find it difficult to accept their own bodies.
- These people choose fashion over comfort and end up feeling disheartened and unsatisfied eventually.
After knowing and understanding the causes and consequences of having a poor body image, it is equally important to know that there is always a solution to it. To ease the process, counselling sessions, along with self-motivation, work the best. Acceptance is the key when it comes to dealing with problems with self and it is very soothing.
Importance of body representation:
Talking about culturally expected body types, we have been bombarded with certain definitions of appropriate bodies through television, other virtual platforms, magazines, toys, illustrations in books, etc. That develops a certain set of unsaid rules in the viewer’s mind about how a body should be respective to the gender type.
When one’s bodies and physical structure does not match with these represented versions it leads to thoughts of discouragement and lower self esteem. Some kind of incompetency develops in the minds of the youths especially.
We should normalize the changes and varieties of the naturally acquired bodies. The children learn from observing adults and sources of entertainment around them. The content included in the cartoons, illustrations, storylines of these sources. Incorporating statements which conclude in acceptance of bodies as they are, not body shaming anyone and having a healthier self image will bring positivity around the topic and build a better picture of self image in the youth.
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