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What is Body Image?

What do we mean by ‘body image’?

‘Body image’ is a term which sums up the way we think, perceive and feel about our body.

For some people the way they look has almost nothing to do with how they feel about their body. For example, someone might  perceive (or think of) their body as being thinner or larger than it actually is. These thoughts may impact negatively upon how they feel about their body. This is known as unhealthy body image.

Some people have a very straight-forward relationship with their body, and are overall positive and realistic about themselves. This is known as healthy body image. With a little practice and knowledge we are all capable of achieving positive body image.

So, what influences our body image?

The world around us can have a big impact on how we feel about our bodies. Things like friends, family and cultural background can all effect our body image, through expectations and pressure to look a certain way. These factors are all important in how we relate to our bodies, but there is something else that has a really big impact on how a lot of people feel about their bodies; the media.

Think about the advertising, TV shows, magazines and blogs you see every day and how women look and behave in them. The representation of women in the media is generally focused on their bodies and looks, not on their accomplishments or intelligence. The media also uses women with similar body types, over and over again, rather than all the different kinds of bodies we see in our everyday lives. This may make us think that our bodies are not normal, but in reality bodies come in all different shapes and sizes, not just the ones we see on TV and online. Negative body image doesn’t only effect women, men can also feel pressure to look a certain way. Whether it is more muscular or less hairy the media also sends out messages to men about what an ideal body looks like.

What about advertising? We are bombarded with messages everyday, from companies trying to sell us their products, telling us that there’s something wrong with our body, hair, skin or teeth. That our bodies need fixing and the only way to do it is to buy this product or to go on that diet. The thing is they are just trying to make money – no one’s body is perfect and often the image they are selling is not a realistic one.

The use of photoshop in the media also influences how we think about our bodies. The majority of images you see online, or in magazines have been edited and retouched. That means what we see isn’t actually real, so we end up comparing ourselves to something that doesn’t exist.

You can watch the Miss Representation trailer below, or buy the film on their website. The film highlights and challenges the limiting depictions of women in the media and our larger culture.

How can I improve my body image?

If you’re having negative thoughts or feelings about your body there are ways you can improve your body image:

  • Think positive – next time you start having negative thoughts about your body, stop and think of all the great things your body can do (run, jump, laugh, sing, think). Our bodies are pretty amazing!
  • Stop the negative self talk – how many times have you said to yourself “I’m too this” or “I wish I was more something”? Try replacing those thoughts with positive ones like “I am really strong” or “I love my hair” by doing this you can actually change how you relate to your body, and grow your confidence too.
  • Think about the media you consume – try to think critically about the media you consume, has it been photo-shopped, what about lighting and makeup? Is it trying to sell you something by making you feel bad about your body? Try looking for media that promotes different body types, you could even try having a break from media for a day to see if you feel better. Check out body positive blogs like the Militant Baker, Fat Girl PHD and weightless.
  • Focus on well-being not weight – forget the scales (seriously throw them out) and diets, focus on what makes you feel good. Exercise for health and fitness, eat food that tastes good and gives you the energy to do everything you need to everyday.
  • Stop body shaming – stop criticizing others for how they look or what they wear and start complimenting people for the achievements. In the end it’s not how you look that matters but what you do.

These are just a few ways you can start loving your body! Reachout also have some great tips on improving your body image.

Where can I get help?

If negative body image is effecting your life talk to someone you trust about it, like a parent, teacher or school counsellor. Talking about it will probably make you feel a whole lot better. You can also speak to a counsellor on the phone or online at eheadspace.

If you think that you or someone you know might be suffering from an eating disorder, it’s important to seek help straight away. Visit the National Eating Disorder Collaboration website for more information on help in your local area.

Click here for a list of Support Services.