by Ciara Gorby, Therapist
Body image is a word we hear a lot. We hear it on social media, we hear it with our friends, our counselors, our family- but, what does it really mean to have a “negative” body image?
To some, the answer may seem obvious, but I’m willing to bet that it is deeper than you think. When we think of the way we view our body, we are often well aware of the things that society may not deem as “desirable” and for some, that may be no big deal and for others, it may be extremely problematic. The thoughts we have about our bodies can typically be rationalized, for example, no one is really paying attention to my nails and therefore, it is okay if they are a little chipped. But other times, because our society has so deeply engrained an unrealistic beauty standard in us, we are unable to meet these harmful thoughts about our body with a clear mind. A common example of this is when any person with a female reproductive system may become upset about the extra cushion at the bottom of their belly, thinking to themselves that they are fat, and forgetting the fact that that extra cushion is there to protect their uterus and other reproductive organs. In other words, we take what society has told us for face value, ignoring the reality that sometimes those parts of us exist the way they do for a reason.
Negative body image is often ignored and chalked up to having “normal concerns” but in reality this creates serious problems for the person experiencing them and the generations to come, as we may accidentally push these negative thoughts about ourselves, on to them. For those who can identify some of their more difficult thoughts regarding their body, it can be a challenging journey for many individuals to work through. Whether it's due to societal pressure, comparison to others, or personal experiences, negative body image can take a toll on mental health and overall well-being. However, there are steps that can be taken to help navigate these negative thoughts and emotions.
Identify triggers: It can be helpful to identify situations or people that trigger negative body image thoughts. This can include certain social media accounts, friends or family members, or specific situations such as trying on clothes or attending events where there may be pressure to look a certain way.
Practice self-compassion: Negative body image can lead to self-criticism and self-doubt. Practicing self-compassion can help counteract these negative thoughts and emotions. This can include treating yourself with kindness, acknowledging that everyone has flaws and imperfections, and practicing positive self-talk.
Focus on health, not appearance: Instead of focusing on appearance, shift the focus to health and well-being. This can include finding physical activities that you enjoy and that make you feel good, nourishing your body with healthy foods, and getting enough rest and relaxation.
Surround yourself with positivity: Surround yourself with people and environments that promote acceptance and positive self-talk. Seek out individuals and communities that celebrate diversity and body positivity.
Talk to a counselor: If negative body image is significantly impacting your mental health and well-being, seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor can be beneficial. They can provide tools and techniques to help navigate negative thoughts and emotions and develop a more positive body image.
Remember, navigating negative body image is a journey, and it takes time and effort to shift negative thoughts and emotions. However, with patience, self-compassion, and support, it is possible to develop a more positive and accepting relationship with your body. You’ve got this!