Body Image Problems Can Be Serious
So I was looking for an app the other day and ran across an app called “How Pretty Am I.” I was intrigued. I downloaded it and used various pictures on my phone to see what this app had to say about how pretty I am as well as others in photos on my phone. Turns out, I’m reasonably pretty (over 80% every time). If you disagree, that’s fine – leave a comment below! But my interest was more about body image than anything else.
As you can see to the right, this beautiful little girl, who happens to be my daughter, is said to be 88.91% pretty. This was according to the app and the image is a screenshot from that app. According to her father (me), she’s 100% beautiful! The creation of an app of this sort highlights the problems many people have with body image. I didn’t use a lot of different photos, but I imagine it wouldn’t rate anything very low and probably throws out random numbers above 80%.
Body image, like many things, can be either positive or negative. At best, this particular app is a self-esteem booster. At worst, it serves as a means of comparing ourselves to others, whether real or not, in an effort to look better than someone else. This constant comparison of outward appearance can lead to body image problems.
Body image problems can be serious. Most of us have an idea of how we want to look. Many people never get there. The “ideal” is always changing and even changes from culture to culture or even subculture to subculture. Greatist.com has developed a decade-by-decade look at how the “ideal” female body has changed over the last 100 years. You can find that here.
For young females, body image problems can lead to eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and a host of other issues. When we compare ourselves to “ideal,” we are making a comparison that hardly anyone could ever match up against. There are others, but here are 4 common signs of body image problems:
- Obsessive self-scrutiny in mirrors
- Frequently thinking negative thoughts about your body
- Frequent comparison of your own shape and size to other people
- Envy or a friend’s body, or just as commonly, the body of a celebrity or someone else in the media.
If you believe you have any of the following problems, you should see a mental health professional as soon as possible:
- Restriction of food intake leading to a significantly low body weight in the context of age, sex, and physical health
- Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though underweight
- Undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation (self-worth is based on weight)
- Denial of the seriousness of the current low body weight
- Recurrent episodes of binge eating
- Recurrent inappropriate behavior in order to prevent weight gain (purging; usually by vomiting or the use of laxatives)
These symptoms may be signs of an eating disorder.
Improving Body Image
Can you improve your body image? Yes! Here are some things to help. I credit Dr. Mary E. Pritchard for the first two suggestions below.
- Enact a media ban. Don’t engage any media. Media representations do impact our perceptions of our own appearance. Ban it!
- Stop saying negative things about your body AND others’ bodies. Your brain believes what your mouth says.
- Separate body image from worth. We really are more than our appearance. Your appearance really has nothing to do with your worth. Really!
- Avoid conversations about appearance. Feel free to talk about style preference. However, avoid conversations about appearance. They’ll only continue your negative self-perception.
- Find a sense of purpose. In reality, people who have a life filled with purpose tend to not worry about how they look. Their body image may be negative at times, but these times are usually brief. They don’t have time to worry about it.
- Finally, see a counselor. A good counselor can help you change your perceptions and even help you get healthy in other ways, if that is needed.
Don’t get sucked into media pressures to look any certain way. Don’t let yours, or anyone else’s, appearance get too much attention. Looks really aren’t that important.
Have you experienced problems with body image? What things helped you overcome it?