Body Image Basics
While some men may indeed suffer with body image issues, this tip is specifically written for women. Imagine a continuum with extremes at either end:
Women at both ends suffer tremendous pain and heartbreak. ( * If you find yourself at either end of this continuum, please see note at the conclusion of this article.)
This look at body image basics is for the vast majority of women who fall somewhere in the middle of this continuum. You may secretly hate your body, or obsess over every calorie. You may avoid shopping for clothes because it’s just too discouraging. You may make excuses not to have sex just so you don’t have to feel the shame you associate with being naked. Do you need help loving and appreciating the body you have? Take a honest look at the following body image basics questions:
1. I have struggled with my weight for years.
2. I am very concerned about my weight.
3. I am critical of my body.
4. I tend to brush off compliments about my appearance.
5. I worry about certain body parts that I think are flawed.
6. I’m uncomfortable in social situations where I may be watched.
7. I can’t stand wearing a bathing suit.
8. I don’t like my partner to see my naked.
9. I don’t like looking at myself naked.
10. I feel ashamed of my body.
11. I try to stay under the covers (or keep the lights out) during sex.
12. I often compare myself to models or other “ideal” looking women.
13. I postpone events (vacations, class reunions) until I lose some weight.
14. I feel guilty or ashamed when I eat.
15. I’ve tried more than four different methods to lose weight.
16. When my partner says he loves me just the way I am, I wonder what the heck that’s supposed to mean!
If you answered “yes” on 9 or more of these statements, you are not alone! Regardless of size or shape, most women in our society have deep concerns about “not being good enough” when it comes to their body image. You probably struggle with feelings of shame, sadness and hostility towards yourself. If this sounds familiar, keep reading!
If you answered “yes” on 4 or more of the statements, you’re on your way to loving and accepting your body. You probably feel confident about your appearance much of the time, but may have concerns from time to time in certain situations. Keep it up! There is always room to strengthen your body image and enjoy the sensuality your body has to offer.
If you answered “yes” to 3 or fewer of the statements, congratulations! You have overcome the enormous societal pressure of perfectionism and probably enjoy a great sex life. Keep encouraging your female friends to be more gentle and kind to themselves.
Body image basics involve four different components: historical, emotional, visual and movement.
The historical part of body image is the culmination of all the messages you’ve been getting since you were born. (Note – NONE of us were born wanting a “perfect” body.) Did your brother tease you about the freckles on your knees? Did your father suggest you skip dessert and “watch your figure?” Were you referred to as a “chubby kid?” Did your mother warn you that if you were fat, no one would love you? Were you teased in middle school or high school because of some physical attribute? Did you pore over fashion magazines with your girlfriends in an attempt to emulate the models pictured? Did you stuff your bra or wear a “tummy tightener” to alter your shape? Do you feel pangs of jealousy or shame when you see a lingerie model on TV? Unfortunately, there are precious few places in our society where thinness and glamour are not overvalued and realistic bodies are admired.
The visual part of body image is the one you are accustomed to; it is what you see when you stand in front of the mirror or catch a glimpse of yourself in a glass window. It’s difficult to recognize that the lens through which you see yourself is starkly different than the lens through which others see you. Other people are not inspecting every pore on your face or every hair on your head. They generally take an overall visual scan and move on, while you may be obsessing over every flaw.
The emotional part of body image refers to your feelings about your body. Are there some parts of your body that you really like (hair, eyes, hands)? Are there other parts you feel somewhat critical about (breasts, rear, upper arms)? Are there still other parts that you’re downright repulsed by (thighs, abdomen, pubic area)?
The movement part of body image is simply the way you carry yourself – how your body feels in space. Imagine yourself in an aerobics class or dancing at a night club (or walking down the supermarket aisle)! Do you feel agile and light on your feet or does your body feel clumsy and awkward? Are you aware of the different parts of your body working together to carry you through your day?
The journey to love your body is not a short or simple one. The messages with which we are bombarded on a daily basis do not support positive body image or realistic expectations. However, each of us can choose what messages and beliefs we embrace. The first step is awareness. Recognize how absurd most of society’s “ideals” are. Choose a healthier archetype for yourself – one that’s feminine but realistic; one that celebrates the many delicious parts of you rather than one that looks for tiny flaws. Can you imagine how many industries would go out of business if women stopped hating their bodies?
* Please note if you find yourself at either end of the above continuum where you realize that your health and well-being is at serious risk, please seek the support of a medical professional. Individual counseling can definitely be helpful, but is most useful when combined with supervised medical intervention.
For more suggestions to strengthen your body image, see related articles from The Center for Growth. We are also ready and available to support you in your journey. For more information about individual counseling, call 267-324-9564.
“There is nothing more rare, nor more beautiful, than a woman being unapologetically herself; comfortable in her perfect imperfection. To me, that is the true essence of beauty.” -Dr. Steve Maraboli