What is Body Image?
With summer around the corner it's likely that we have all thought about whether or not our body is ready for the beach and shorts. Maybe this has just been a fleeting thought or maybe this is something that you've spent a good deal of time thinking about and focusing on. At some point in all of our lives we will feel somewhat dissatisfied with a particular aspect of our appearance, whether it is that you aren't tall enough, you have wrinkles around your eyes or you think your legs are too big, there will typically be something that you would like to change. As a result, most people engage in treatments such as facials, or use make up to cover up fine lines and wrinkles or simply check the mirror to see how they look. This is all a normal part of being a human being and in part motivates us to be healthy and take care of ourselves. We know that hydrating properly helps to decrease the fine lines we see on our faces and exercising will help to tone our legs, but there is a difference between brief dissatisfaction with our appearance, which we all have at times, and an actual problem with body image.
It's important to understand exactly what body image means. The term body image does not refer to one's actual appearance, but rather an image is a representation of what we are looking at. Think about a photograph for example, this is a visual image of something. In the photograph people are smaller than they actually are and this is why it is simply a representation of what we are looking at, as we cannot actually determine how tall someone is based on a representation in the image. Therefore, body image is a representation that one has of their physical appearance. We all have a view of how we look and this may be positive, negative or neutral and it may not necessarily be consistent with how other people view us. However, people who have a particularly negative or biased view of how they look may have a problem with body image and this can create distress and worry for the person related to how they view themselves. So as you're preparing for your summer body, it's important to think about whether or not you're experiencing high anxiety and distress about how you view yourself and if so, it may be helpful to speak to a professional.
How does body image develop?
People with negative or biased views of themselves may want to take extreme measures in order to improve or change their appearance, such as by plastic surgery or expensive beauty treatments; however, it is important to note that while this may change someone's appearance it likely will not address the underlying body image.
A negative body image does not just come out of nowhere, but rather is learned or develops over time based on previous experiences. For instance, being around others that experience anxiety related to their body image can teach one that this is something to be worried about. Also, changes in your appearance throughout life, such as during times of adolescence when a number of physical changes are common (i.e. acne, weight gain, growth spurts). Sometimes people are the target of negative comments related to their appearance or experience bullying based on their appearance and this in turn can impact their overall body image. These are just a few of the numerous ways in which a negative body image can develop and it is important to recognize that just in the same way that this view of yourself is learned based on past experiences, this view of yourself can be unlearned with treatment and support from a professional. If the thought of your body image is creating anxiety and distress for you, I encourage you to reach out to see if therapy could be helpful for you.