It’s safe to say that our culture is obsessed with youthfulness & body image. Fit, healthy, energetic, happy are just some of the characteristics of a young person. They are also adjectives that are often used to describe a youthful person, no matter what their age! What is YOUR body image?
Body image is defined as the way we see our bodies and the comfort level we have with what we see, our perception. Unfortunately, a significant portion of the US population carries extra weight and a corresponding negative body image. According to research by the National Institute of Health:
Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 2013–20142,3,4,5
More than 1 in 3 adults were considered to be overweight.
More than 2 in 3 adults were considered to be overweight or have obesity.
More than 1 in 3 adults were considered to have obesity.
About 1 in 13 adults were considered to have extreme obesity.
About 1 in 6 children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 were considered to have obesity.
The full study can be found here: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/overweight-obesity
Body image affects more than just overall confidence, it often affects relationships, both intimate and general. A 2013 study of 50 women who saw themselves as obese reported it as the barrier to both physical and emotional relationships. In other words, they avoided being in intimate relationships because of their self image. This study may have been comprised of women, but the effects are the same for men. Feelings of discomfort, shame, reluctance to be open to a relationship are all effects of a poor body image and low self esteem.
It is common for feelings associated with low self esteem and body image to create a downward spiral. Taking comfort in food and isolation, energy levels decline further and the cycle repeats itself. Realizing that the very thing; the chips, pizza, ice cream, whatever, that you are grasping for comfort is only furthering your unhappiness is the first step. Learning to reframe what foods and activities feel good to you, is an important first step in breaking this downward cycle.
If you spend a lot of time watching tv or on social media, you are bombarded with images of men & women who seem to have it all. These images are not only enhanced, but they are unrealistic and often portray an unhealthy weight. In other words, these ‘ideals’ are far removed from reality. It’s helpful to note that many people, even those you see that look like they have it all together, experience these same feelings of discomfort, lack, inferiority and low self esteem. Comparing ourselves to photoshopped images can make even the fittest person feel bad about themselves. We all know that ad photos and social media posts are altered, but somehow they still affect us.
At this point you may be thinking, “I already know all this, what can I do about it?”.
Here are some ways to improve your self image:
- Mind your mind. It all starts with your thoughts. No one can think positive 100% of the time, the goal is to learn to recognize negative thoughts as just that, thoughts. They’re not reality. Next time you think, for instance, that your thighs are too fat, stop yourself and think ‘compared to what?’ Then think of a positive step you can take to help you improve the thing that you’re not finding ideal at the moment. For instance, if I’m obsessing about my thighs, I can stop that train of thought and think, instead, I’m grateful for strong legs that work, many people don’t have that. I’m lucky! Hmm, I was thinking my legs are too heavy because I would like to wear my old jeans, but they’re too tight. I will commit, right now, to taking a 20 minute walk on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights. That will help. You’ll find that you feel better as soon as you make a decision to take a step toward correcting the thing you find undesirable. Then take action.
- Open up. If your self image is holding you back from an intimate relationship, increase the amount of time spent in non-sexual relationships. Sex is only a small part of a meaningful relationship, that’s why many people feel so close to a friend or family member. It’s about trust. Opening up to someone you trust can move you forward in relationships overall, when you are willing to be yourself, and are accepted lovingly, by a friend or family member, you will feel better about your self worth. Increased self worth provides the confidence to open yourself up to a romantic relationship because the fear of rejection is diminished. Also, when you feel confident about yourself, the opinions of others become irrelevant.
- Engage in body-positive activities. Notice I didn’t say start working out! Start by finding something that is fun to you and do more of that! This doesn’t have to mean a ‘weight loss’ activity like traditional exercise, but an activity that is brings you joy and helps you connect to your body. Activities like bowling, hiking, yoga, swimming come to mind. You may love flea markets or wineries, perhaps a long walk with your dog or finally joining a theater group. Really anything that creates happiness in your life and allows you to connect with others will help you feel better about yourself. Once you begin to shift from a negative, or lonely, mindset you feel more worthy and desirable. These good feelings make any weight management efforts much easier.
- Talk to a professional. If you have a supportive partner, that is a great place to start. If you aren’t in a relationship or have a close friend you can confide in, seek outside help. Working with a partner always makes things easier, it provides accountability and camaraderie, which greatly increase the likelihood of lasting success. A professional counselor, therapist or weight loss coach can help you identify the root cause of your feelings and create a plan to help you address your self image and health issues.
If you have any questions, comments or would like additional help or information, please contact me. I’m here to help.