Why does body image matter?

Body image effects the way you feel about yourself.

It effects the way you feel about your natural body shape, your height, your weight, or say, the lack of volume in your lips. However, you are probably pretty conscious of this already, for the way you feel about your body is tested frequently in our culture.

 For example, it happens when you have that all-to-often peek at your Instagram feed and a #fitspiration type photo pops up. You have that instantaneous, uneasy gut-feeling because you haven’t worked out today, or yesterday for that matter.

Yeah, that feeling. Those negative feelings expose themselves in countless situations. 

For instance, they show up when you’re talking to your family or a friend over a casual meal. When you’re barely listening to their conversation, worrying that you should have instead ordered the ‘healthy’ (maybe bland) chicken and vegetable dish rather than the meal your body and mind was actually craving.

Saying this, you may have ordered the ‘healthy’ dish and maybe you enjoyed it, or maybe you didn’t. Maybe you ate what your body really wanted all along, but felt semi-guilty for it. 

Yeah, that guilt feeling is not partial to people struggling with eating disorders.

And although through my own eating disorder recovery- my eyes have been opened wider than I could have ever imagined to the impact body image has had on my simple everyday interactions.

For myself, I recognize the effect my past body image has had on my perception of others, the comfort I felt around strangers, the poor energy I put into other vital areas of my life, like the engagement I expressed in the conversations I had with my loved ones.

My poor body image would show up in the lack of pleasure I felt when my friends and I hung out at a rowdy restaurant, or when we tried to go out and dance our week’s worries away. 

If I was uncomfortable (and if I could), I would try and gain some sort of control and avoid future similar situations.

It’s okay if you recognize some of these types of behaviours in yourself.

 

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It is important to me my little sister grows up having a healthy body image.

So therefore, body image really does matter if it negatively effects the way you live your life.

Your body image lies in your beliefs, the ones you possess about yourself; from the roots of your memories, to your self-talk, to your opinions of others. In fact, body image probably affects your daily interactions with yourself and others more than you are aware of.

And its true- some days we may feel awkward or uncomfortable in our bodies. However overall, we need to internally recognize, respect and accept our bodies, for it is the only vehicle we possess that helps us achieve the things we love.

Body image and well-being?

As I have confessed above; the itch you feel when you think you need to step foot in the gym and do some high intensity exercise for an hour a day, or worrying you need to eat more clean or go on a cleanse. All these common feelings do not mean you are persuading yourself to better your overall well-being. In fact, wellness is far more multifaceted than that- for it includes both your mental and physical wellbeing.

Someone who understands this well, is Dr. Emma Johnston, a clinical psychologist who specializes in body image issues.

 “dieting and intensive exercising are not part of a wellbeing or wellness picture, as the dieting traps and subsequent weight cycling, food restriction and guilt, and wearing our bodies down with excessive exercise are so very far removed from any definition of mental health, or mental wellbeing.

Well then, what is wellbeing?

The four components of well-being described in Dr. Emma Johnston’s ‘Body Lovin Guide’ is emphasized as:

  1. Emotional Health

Characterized by the ability to cope with life’s demands without becoming overwhelmed

  1. Mindful Living

Having the ability to be present in the moment at any given time

  1. Healthy Sleep

Waking feeling refreshed and rested most days, and

  1. The Nurturing of our Physicality

Appreciating and being aware of our physical selves.

Body image also matters because in our culture, each one of us are deemed potential consumers. Therefore we are bombarded with diet and exercise advertisements (especially in social media), with excessive unrealistic body ideals to pitch us never-ending products, to somehow sell us happiness…

And the theory goes, if we feel self-conscious enough or ashamed of our bodies and ourselves then this will provide us with motivation to desire to change ourselves enough to diet and exercise. However:

“guilt, or embarrassment about our own physical selves is not a motivator. It is instead a powerful tool that takes us away from mindful existence, and leads us into a place of emotional ill health.” – Dr. Emma Johnston

And as the ‘Body Lovin Guide’ reiterates: your body is not a reflection of your full potential as a human being. You have so much more potential than that. 

You are a much more complex being than just your aesthetics. Body image matters because we can distinguish well-being as simply more than a beauty obsession. And by recognizing our false perception of needing to attain a certain body ideal- it allows us to focus on our overall well-being, to focus on both the internal and the external parts of ourself.

Another thing to acknowledge is overexposure to idealized and unrealistic bodies in our culture are causing more harm than good. Another, is learning to adopt a new perspective on wellness in terms of what works for you. It’s important to learn to embrace your natural curves as an acceptance of who you are- because you are just that, unique. And it’s okay if your curves and scars don’t share the same story as someone else’s. 

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