Definition of Body Image

Body image refers to an individual’s emotional attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions of their own body. Body image can change over time and is influenced by a number of factors including social media, friends and family, culture, and societal expectations. A negative body image can lead to low self-esteem and other mental health issues if the proper help and guidance is not obtained.

Positive vs. Negative Body Image

Most people have something about their bodies that they don’t like or would like to change. They may say their nose that is “too big”, their hair is “too curly”, or cover up freckles with makeup. In most cases, these perceived imperfections do not create anxiety or affect one’s own sense of self. Those who have a positive, or healthy, body image acknowledge their perceived imperfections and accept and love their bodies regardless. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and there are many people who struggle with a negative body image. Below are a few of these characteristics.

  • Preoccupied with their flaws
  • Distorted perception of physical features
  • Uncomfortable in their own bodies
  • Feel shame or disgust in relation to their appearance
  • Compare themselves to others constantly
  • Low self-esteem

Please note that body image does lie on a continuum and an individual can lean more towards positive or negative and have some of these characteristics. It is important to seek help if you feel your body image has impacted your quality of life.

Negative Body Image Linked to Other Disorders

Not only is having a negative body image difficult, but if not attended to, individuals can develop Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). Those with BDD struggle with similar concerns such as preoccupation with flaws and a distorted perception of their features, but they also engage in compulsive behaviors and avoid social situations due to shame and disgust. They have such a distorted view of their body that is considered extreme by others. Examples include getting a nose job to fix their nose that wasn’t “too big” in the eyes of others or having a healthy (or even below healthy) Body Mass Index (BMI) and considering themselves to be fat.

Holding a negative body image can quickly begin to affect one’s mental health. Body image issues have been linked to anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, and eating disorders. It is crucial to seek professional help if you are experiencing any of these mental health concerns in addition to body image issues.

How Body Image Counseling Can Help

Therapy is a great place to begin to explore and challenge thoughts, feelings, and behaviors tied to the body image concerns at hand. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has proven to be an effective treatment modality to use with those struggling with body image issues. The main goal of therapy would be to tackle the preoccupation with the perceived imperfections and develop a more realistic and positive perception of the body. Below are a few goals and strategies typically associated with CBT and body image counseling.

  • Challenge negative thinking and self-talk
  • Make thinking and self-talk more kind and positive
  • Self-monitoring (journaling)
  • Improve self-awareness
  • Cognitive restructuring (modify unhealthy thoughts, feelings, and behaviors)
  • Combat avoidance and compulsive behaviors
  • Self-care routines
  • Receive and empathic, supportive, and non-judgemental environment
  • Address and attend to other mental health concerns

While some of these strategies sound simple, it takes a lot of time and dedication to achieve healthy and positive body image. It takes practice and patience to change one’s mindset and automatic way of thinking. If you are currently struggling with body image issues and would like some guidance, it may be useful to connect with a therapist. To learn more about body image counseling, contact Symmetry Counseling today!