Body image is something many women struggle with, particularly when your body changes and you become dissatisfied with your shape, size, or weight. Body image is complex, with multiple parts.
- Perceiving: It’s how you see and perceive your body.
- Thinking: It’s how you think about your body.
- Feeling: It’s how you feel about your body; It’s also how you feel living in your body- how you experience your body.
- Behaving: It’s how you act towards your body.
These parts are typically connected. For example, if you feel unhappy about what your body looks like, you can wind up thinking badly of it and ‘feeling fat’. This can affect how you behave towards your body, such as trying to change it through diet and exercise; monitoring it to see if these changes are working; and avoiding seeing other people on days when you are particularly unhappy with your body. Body behaviours are also linked to negative thoughts, for example, ‘Who could ever love someone who looks like me?’. Being dissatisfied with your body can be distressing, time-consuming, and negatively affect your life.
Body dissatisfaction and body image problems are thought to come from the western ideal that prizes slimmer bodies (the ‘Thin-Ideal’). You see these bodies in media and social media all the time. There are whole industries built around this, like diet culture and modelling. You hear it in discussion socially, where people comment on other peoples’ bodies (often negatively), your body, what people are eating, or talk about their own plans to lose weight. These experiences teach women that being thin is ideal and something to be strived for. As bodies come in all shapes and sizes, many people will feel that their bodies are not ideal and need to be changed.
And even when you take steps to change your body towards the ‘Thin-Ideal’: is it ever good enough? Why is your body the problem, rather than the unhelpful cultural messages? Maybe taking steps towards accepting or embracing your body might be your freedom, rather than trying to change or berate it. If you want to take steps towards body acceptance, then you need to consider how you work with your body image across the four key areas: Perceiving, Thinking, Feeling, and Behaving. Changing something in each domain will lead to the biggest changes overall. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Perceiving & Thinking:
- It’s taking the time to think about and notice parts of your body that you do like, or that feel more neutral. (Do you dislike your eyes, hands, ears, or other sensory body parts as much as other ones like your stomach?). When you’re thinking about how much you dislike your body, shift your focus to these more neutral or positive parts instead. Cultivate a focus on the parts you like or can tolerate.
- Remember times when you have felt good inside your body, and when you’ve had fun using it.
- Notice moments each day when your body feels good- even if they are just small moments, such as when you stretch or get a foot massage.
- Appreciate what your body can do (rather than what it looks like). You can walk around in it, work, and more.
- Notice parts of your personality and social relationships that have nothing to do with what you look like. What are some of your traits? Do your friends and family still spend time with you and enjoy your company, regardless of what your body looks like? What do you bring to your friendships?
Thinking & Behaving:
- Try to spend less time focused on hating your body or avoiding it out of fear. Drop the checking and monitoring of your weight. Avoid the comparisons to others (and yes, you’ll likely need to do social media differently or not at all for this). Remind yourself that media images are often heavily edited and photoshopped.
- Take care of your body. Feed it. Get enough sleep. Drop trying to change it- this just maintains your unhappiness with your body.
- Live your life, rather than putting this on hold until your body is thinner. See friends. Go to the beach. Eat out. Explore places and have adventures.
Behaving & Feeling:
- Engage in positive and caring behaviours towards your body, such as taking the time to apply beautiful shower scrubs and lotions on your body. Try doing this mindfully to experience how this feels for your body.
Try to work on something from each area. Of course, you may need some support to really shift dissatisfaction with your body, particularly if you’ve had a longstanding battle with your body. However, it is well worth doing and it can make you happier to be more in your life and less focused on how your body looks.
Dr Emma Black is a Clinical Psychologist and mum of two boys. She is passionate about supporting women and works in private practice in Townsville. You can find more from Dr Emma here:
Online Courses: dr-emma-black.teachable.com