Dr. Elena Duong
Updated: Mar 10
How do you feel about your body? If you are like most people, you feel negatively about your body. This often causes significant distress. There is a connection between depression/anxiety and negative body image. So why do we dislike our own bodies so much?
What is Body Image?
Many assume their body image is an objective view of their body. In reality, body image is not about how you physically look. It is about your own relationship to your physical body, which includes your beliefs, feelings, perceptions, thoughts, and more as it relates to your own body.
When you experience negative body image, it is a distorted view of your physical appearance and likely believe other bodies are more attractive than your own. This can happen to the point of seeing your body as a personal failure and feeling awkward, self-conscious, and/or shame in your body. There is a desire of wanting your body to be different and to look like other bodies.
Positive body image involves a true perception of your physical appearance. This does not mean loving or even liking all of your body. It actually may mean liking your face and liking your legs a bit less. Having a positive body image means accepting and appreciating your body. At the end of the day, it is important to realize your physical appearance does not mean much about your overall value as a person. It also means refusing to spend an inordinate amount of time being concerned about eating and/or weight. All in all, it is having body acceptance and developing comfort in your physical body.
Why Do We Feel Negatively About Our Bodies or Experience Body Shame?
Our body image develops as we move through the world, including seeing how our bodies are treated by others. This can be through comments or remarks from people around us, such as peers, friends, family, doctors, and even strangers. You come to believe those remarks since they are what you've always heard.
We also live in societies, Eastern and Western, that idealizes the thin figure for female-identified individuals. Everywhere, there is messaging about the thin ideal from commercials, billboards, and other media. If we don’t have a thin appearance, we usually get unsolicited comments from people around us. This is oftentimes negative, which further perpetuates our internalized negative thoughts about our own body image.
When we experience sudden changes to our bodies, body shame may develop then. This can include puberty, especially if our bodies developed earlier than our peers. Puberty is often reported as the onset or trigger for body image issues. Body image issues can also arise when we experience a significant weight change that may be brought on by life stressors/hormonal changes. Abuse also contributes to body shame. When people are abused, they hold negative beliefs about their bodies to the point of intentionally hurting their own bodies. For instance, this can be seen in folks who have been sexually abused and may view their own bodies as having betrayed them, therefore harming their own bodies as a result.
How to Start Challenging Those Negative Body Beliefs
The good news is body image can be changed. This is a difficult and long journey of unlearning messages over the years, but it is possible. If you want to start this journey now, feel free to try some of the suggestions below:
Become aware of where you are getting the negative messages about your body
Filter out those sources
This could be unfollowing certain social media accounts or having difficult conversations with loved ones about not saying hurtful remarks
Be aware of your own body self-talk. Are you criticizing your body or treating your body negatively?
Try to reframe it. What has your body allowed you to do?
For instance,"my legs carried my body from my car into work today."
Move around. Make it something you enjoy…maybe it is dancing or hiking. This can help develop further appreciation for our bodies
Be around people who believe in body appreciation
www.TheBodyIsNotAnApology.com can be a great starting place
Educate yourself. The following videos and books can be helpful:
The Danger of Poodle Science
Eve Ensler (Vagina Monologues): Love Your Tree in "America the Beautiful"
The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor
All bodies are beautiful, but we are indoctrinated to believe differently through comments from others and messages from the media. There is a much-needed shift for our physical appearance-oriented society to something more substantial, such as appreciating people themselves and their inherent worth. Society’s focus on physical appearance has no inherent value and does more damage than good.
If you are struggling your body image, you are definitely not alone. If you want therapeutic support in the process of unlearning society's toxic ideals, feel free to reach out to us through our site.
“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in history. A quietly mad population is a tractable one.” By Naomi Wolfe, author of The Beauty Myth
“We are saddled with body shame because it is an age-old system whose roots and pockets run deep. Body shame flourishes in our world because profit and power depend on it.” By Sonya Renee Taylor, author of The Body is Not an Apology
Stay tuned. The next topic is "Self-Compassion."
Written by Elena Duong, Psy.D.
Edited by Susanna La, Ph.D.