The 4 components of body image
Your body image encompasses your perceptions, beliefs, feelings, thoughts, and actions that relate to your physical appearance. Essentially, it’s your personal relationship with your body. This definition is useful because it implies that you have a lot of control over your body image if you use the right coping strategies.
Hopefully, we spend most of our time in a positive or neutral body state. However, we know there’s tremendous societal pressure to look a certain way, so even the best of us will have insecurities that crop up from time to time.
Examples of negative body image
When people have a negative body image, there are many ways it can manifest. We can be avoidant, avoiding buying new clothes or looking in mirrors. How many of you refuse to wear crop tops? Or hide your legs under long pants because you have thicker thighs? All of this just sends the message that your body is bad. The first time I wore a two-piece bathing suit, I weighed almost 400 pounds. I was inspired by Gabifresh, who had stumbled onto the scene as a fashion blogger and eventually launched her own swimwear line. It was liberating to let it all hang out. We are four dimensional beings and it doesn’t matter if our curves reflect that.
Source: Photo Volcano/Shutterstocki
Another style of negative body image is confrontational. Are you constantly fighting with your body and telling it it has to be something it is not? Do you think if you were a little taller or stronger, that woman you’re crushing on would notice you? Do you have curly hair and wish it were straight? Are you more on the thin slide and wish you were thicker?
Embrace yourself instead of trying to replace everything that makes you uniquely human. Fun fact: I was born with seven birthmarks, one of which covers almost a third of my torso. I remember being in college and wishing I had unblemished skin like all the other girls I saw. Those birthmarks are still there, but my perception has changed over time, which is a key aspect of body image.
Another type of negative body image is abusive. Do you have an abusive relationship with your body? Do you call each other names, or starve yourself, or exercise to exhaustion? These are all examples of how we can abuse ourselves. I would never tolerate anyone being abusive, including self-abuse.
Let’s talk about the four aspects of body image:
Perceived body image is how you see yourself. How you view your body isn’t always an accurate representation of what you actually look like – it’s a perception, not the objective truth. For example, a person may perceive themselves to be overweight and bulky when in reality they are extremely thin. You might have a little mole on your nose and think of yourself as a naughty witch when no one else notices.
Perception is a tricky beast. If you want your perception to match reality, mindfulness is your friend. The judgmental statements we make about ourselves keep our perceptual lens distorted. If I sit down and have bulges in my stomach and take that to mean “I’m fat”, then I will see myself as fat. However, if I acknowledge their presence and the fact that it’s completely normal – everyone has rolls! – I can change my experience over time.
Your feelings about your body, especially how happy or dissatisfied you feel with your appearance (e.g. weight, body shape, height, skin tone, aging, etc.) make up your body image. affective. These are all the things you like or dislike about your appearance.
Obviously, these feelings are influenced by our societal consumption: who we see on TV, in movies, in magazines, and, more recently, social networks. It’s important to make a conscious decision about the media you consume and the effect it has on you, both positive and negative. Bring body image diversity into your life.
Sometimes we come from cultures that influence these ideas. For example, I am black and the idealization of big behinds is part of my culture. Guess who doesn’t have a big ass? Me. But that doesn’t make me any less Black or my body image any less positive. I salute the Bulgarian squats my trainer recommends, hoping I’ll get a little rounder glutes, but I know I’ll never be on the same level as Megan Thee Stallion. And that doesn’t change my value as a person.
Hating yourself is not a requirement for change. You can be dissatisfied with something and accept it anyway. If you’re going to compare your body to other people’s, at least find comparisons that make you feel included and not ones that make you feel ostracized. This will help improve your body image over time.
These are the thoughts and beliefs you have about your body.
You might be a guy who thinks, “if I build muscle in my chest and arms, I’ll feel better about myself.” Or maybe you’re a woman in her 30s who is upset with face and body wrinkles and thinks, “If I can just maintain my current appearance, I’ll be happy.” If/then contingencies like this often add up to maybe/never outcomes. If you don’t like yourself by nature, you will move the goal post. You’ll gain 20 pounds of muscle and then say, “I just need to gain 10 more.”
I have seen many people change their bodies and never be mentally satisfied with the progress. There’s always a little more weight to lose, a few more wrinkles to smooth out, and a rolled belly that didn’t exist before. Set positive goals that focus on health, rather than goals based on unrealistic standards.
Be realistic with yourself about your goals and your potential. Instead of trying to avoid aging altogether, maybe you should define for yourself what aging gracefully looks like. Instead of trying to become the next Jason Mamoa, focus instead on bulking up and building healthy muscle.
The final aspect of body image is behavioral. It’s what you do in relation to your body image. When a person does not like the way they look, they may display destructive behaviors. This can range from excessive exercise habits to eating disorders in an attempt to change their appearance. Others might isolate themselves or not attend social events.
One of my favorite tips is to focus on your body function. If you want to do more bike rides but are not in good shape right now, choose easier routes and progress to more difficult routes. It’s focus on function.
Our body allows us to be connected to this world. If our bodies are damaged by the weather and the sun, let’s taste foods from all cultures and countries, run marathons, dance and play, and have sex. All of these things can be done by any body type at any age, with some modification, of course.
If you change your mind about your body, you remove the limits of what your current body and self can experience. This way, you can create an existence of self-acceptance and start living the way you want.
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