Our body image describes the shape of the body we see when we look at ourselves in the mirror. Interestingly, many people, and women in particular, have a negative body image. This means that what we see is actually distorted and not a true reflection of what we look like. It is a condition that is on the same spectrum as eating disorders. Over time, we start to judge our own body as to how attractive it is, how healthy it looks and how acceptable and functional it is. This starts in early childhood and it then continues to shape itself as we get older. A lot of this development comes from how other people say we look, such as friends, coaches and members of our family. Finally, an individual’s personality also plays a role. Those who have high levels of self-criticism or those who are perfectionists are more likely to develop a negative internalized image when looking at their own body.
The results indicated negative correlations between certain personality characteristics and negative body and self image, positive correlations between negative body image and problematic eating behaviors, and negative correlations between certain personality characteristics and problematic eating behaviors.
Signs and Symptoms of Distorted Body Image
People who have a distorted body image spend inordinate amounts of time looking in the mirror. They also think very badly of the way they look and often compare themselves in shape and size to others. Finally, they frequently envy a specific other body, often that of a celebrity or other person in the media.
What Leads to a Distorted Body Image?
In some cases, a negative life event has led to the development of a negative body image. For instance, if an athlete finds herself chided by her coach while other people on the team are able to lose a few pounds, it is possible that the criticism becomes deeply ingrained, leading to her developing a dissatisfaction with how her body looks, even if she is as thin as she is able to get.
There are a few clear pointers that could show you are developing a negative image of yourself. Firstly, you need to be honest and ask yourself how much of your self-image comes from you being influenced by the media. You probably know that images in the media are airbrushed or otherwise unrealistic and unachievable. Additionally, if you find that you frequently criticize what you look like to yourself, this would be a strong warning sign.
The Relationship Between Your Body Image and Your Weight
Someone who has a distorted body image can see themselves as significantly overweight even if they are within a healthy weight range. A woman with anorexia, for instance, may actually see a larger woman looking back at her when she looks in the mirror. Interestingly, this same issue exists in people who are overweight. In many cases, if someone looks at images of themselves when they were heavier after they have lost weight, they will often say they never realized just how big they actually were. There is a very strong link between distorted body image and actual weight.
Body image is a widespread preoccupation. In one study of college students, 74.4% of the normal-weight women stated that they thought about their weight or appearance “all the time” or “frequently.”
The Relationship Between Your Body Image and Eating Disorders
The majority of women who have a distorted body image also suffer from some sort of eating disorder. Very often, they believe that losing weight will change their appearance for the better. Every time they do lose weight, they feel slightly better about themselves, even if it is just for a short period of time. To renew this feeling, they start to restrict how much they eat and they begin to exercise too much. Over time, this becomes an obsessive behavior which can easily lead to bulimia, anorexia, compulsive overeating, orthorexia or binge eating disorders.
Relationship Between An Eating Disorder & Body Image
Body image concerns and eating disorders go hand in hand. Often, it is the early dissatisfaction with a young person’s appearance that leads them to conclude that losing weight would enhance their appearance, and make them feel better about themselves and their bodies. Thus, restrictive eating and over exercising are often next, frequently leading to patterns of disordered eating and weight obsession that can develop into anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, compulsive overeating or binge eating disorder.
Once the eating disorder had “kicked in” in full, people described how things quickly “spiralled out of control”. Soon they realised they had become engrossed in an obsessive routine of behaviours that “took on a life of its own”.
Treatment and Help for Those with Negative Body Image
It is incredibly important to get help if you suffer from a distorted body image. Help is out there and it is critical in making sure that the problem will go away. Unfortunately, a negative body image will never simply go away by itself. This is why it is so important to be able to acknowledge and recognize your feelings, even if it is just to yourself. Feel what your body sensations are when you look and think about your own body and be honest about that, even if the feelings are uncomfortable. Writing these feelings and sensations down is a good place to start.
Most of those with a distorted body image find help through cognitive behavior therapy (CBT).
Cognitive Behavior Therapy for body image has been proven an effective way to improve body dissatisfaction. It has been applied to persons with eating disorders, obesity, body dysmorphic disorder, and normal weight, all of whom harbor negative feelings toward their bodies. It is critically important to target body image for specific treatment, as negative feelings about one’s body are often a major precipitous to eating disorders.
With CBT, irrational thoughts are first recognized, after which you learn how to analyze them and then change them into rational thoughts. Interestingly, other types of therapy have proven to be very successful as well, one of these being movement and dance therapy. This allows you to build a greater appreciation of your own body, as well as learning how to trust it. Through this type of treatment, you will create positive internal experiences, rather than only looking at the outside of your body and judging yourself based on that.
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