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What Is Body Checking?

By Zana Van Der Smissen, MA, LPC, NCC

(TW: Eating Disorders. This article does contain content that might be triggering for some. If you find yourself feeling uncomfortable, please step away from the article and take time for yourself or reach out for help at Symmetry Counseling)

Body Checking is the act of compulsively looking into a reflective surface or mirror to scrutinize parts of your body or all of your body. It has become a normative practice in society; however, how do you know if body checking might be a negative habit?

Body Checking: What Does It Mean and When Should You Talk to Someone? 

The act of checking your body is related to body image. If you are not feeling satisfied with your body size or shape, you might be acting on other behaviors such as using clothes to see if your size has changed, comparing yourself to others and/or seeking reassurance from friends or family. Body checking becomes an increased activity when one is anxious or focused on a certain area of the body. When an individual passes a mirror and looks at that certain area again in the mirror, that identified “imperfection” in their mind becomes magnified. This can lead to obsessively checking one’s body to have some control over their anxiety/distress. 

Now how do you know if this body checking is a negative habit? While there is no definitive answer regarding whether or not body checking can be considered ‘normal’, we can look towards behaviors that might be co-occurring with body checking, as well as the reasons behind it. A good example of a body check that is common for most people is looking at yourself in the mirror or looking in the reflection of a window before going into a job interview. It isn’t necessarily a focus on one’s body and more about presenting oneself in a professional manner. Therefore, here are some signs to look out for that you may want to investigate further with a mental health professional: 

  • Comparing yourself to others who are of a specific body type
  • Using a lot of time in the day to body check
  • It is getting in the way of obligations or responsibilities
  • The act of doing it is making you feel symptoms of depression or high anxiety
  • It is leading to disruptions in your eating style/ exercise routine

These are some of the few signs where body checking might become dangerous. For every person, body checking will look different and so monitoring how you are feeling before, during and after is always helpful. Having that awareness of your emotions beforehand can aid you in trying to find out what might be causing the anxiety or need for control in the first place. This might take some getting used to so feel free to write down notes in your phone or in a journal about when you notice yourself body checking. 

If you do find yourself becoming concerned about your body checking, reach out to someone and try to find accessible ways to decrease your anxiety. Whether that is listening to a podcast, reading a book, meditation or going for a walk, it is best to step away from social media and avoid areas where mirrors or comparisons occur most often (gym, shopping malls, restaurants, etc.). Find the best activities that work for you and allow yourself to start reflecting on those emotions and behaviors that might be coming up. 

Stanborough, R. & White, M. (2020). What’s Body Checking and How Can You Control It?. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/body-checking

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