Body Image and Mental Well being

Body Image and Mental Well being
Written By: Counselling Psychologist
M.Sc. Psychology - Swansea University, UK.
Reviewed By: Counselling Psychologist
MA Psychology Pennsylvania State University, USA
Last Updated: 07-03-2023

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Body Image and Mental Well-Being

The concept of "body" encompasses a wide range of physical attributes, including weight, facial features, and skin condition. Therefore, body image is not solely determined by weight; it can also involve concerns about other body parts, such as the nose. Body image can be understood through four key aspects:

  • Perceptual: This aspect refers to how you perceive your own body image. However, perception may not always align with reality. For instance, you might view yourself as overweight when, in fact, you are thin.

  • Affective: The affective aspect deals with the emotions and feelings you have towards your body image. You may experience happiness regarding certain aspects of your body while feeling dissatisfied with others.

  • Cognitive: The cognitive aspect relates to the thoughts and beliefs you hold about your body. This aspect often leads to constant self-criticism and preoccupation. For example, you might believe that being thinner or having more muscularity would make you more popular or improve your dating life.

  • Behavioural: The behavioural aspect focuses on your actions and behaviours in response to your body image. Individuals dissatisfied with their bodies may engage in behaviours such as increased exercise, restrictive diets, or even considering cosmetic procedures.

Issues surrounding body image

Body image is not a straightforward matter there exists a spectrum between acceptance and dissatisfaction. Individuals typically fall into either the category of body acceptance or body dissatisfaction, with distinct characteristics and perspectives.

Body acceptance involves learning to embrace and appreciate one s body as it is. Acceptance entails respecting and understanding the body and acknowledging both the struggles and moments of celebration that come with it.

There are three main types of body acceptance:

  • Body positivity: Individuals practising body positivity have an unwavering love for their bodies, regardless of appearance or how they feel. Feeling comfortable and confident in their own skin is a fundamental aspect of this mindset.

  • Body neutrality: This viewpoint adopts a neutral stance toward the body, neither excessively emphasizing positivity nor focusing on judgment. It strives for a balanced and nonjudgmental perspective.

  • Body liberation: Instead of promoting constant positivity, body liberation emphasizes autonomy and diversity when it comes to different body shapes and sizes. It encourages freedom from societal standards and embraces individuality.

In contrast, body dissatisfaction, also known as negative body image, involves negative thoughts and emotions associated with one's body. Often, this dissatisfaction stems from a distorted view that does not align with one's true feelings or appearance. It is worth noting that women tend to experience negative body image more frequently than men, largely due to societal norms and pressures.

The impact of body image on mental well-being:

  • Concerns about one's physical appearance extend beyond the surface: The psychological dimension of having a negative body image can foster a harmful environment. It is not solely about feeling overweight or lacking muscularity; more problems arise when individuals begin to question their own value. For instance, if you dislike your physical appearance, you may allow negative thoughts to permeate your mind, leading you to believe that you are not adequate or attractive enough. Engaging in negative thoughts regarding body image can give rise to various difficulties, encompassing challenging emotions and behaviours such as anxiety, eating disorders (such as anorexia and bulimia), feelings of shame or guilt, financial strain, or obsession with weight and body type.

  • Poor body image has an increased risk of depression and anxiety: A negative body image can give rise to feelings of shame or unhappiness. Continually focusing on perceived flaws amplifies anxious thoughts and depressive feelings. The relationship between body image and anxiety/depression is cyclical. Those with a negative body image may suffer from depression, just as individuals with depression may struggle with body image issues. It is often challenging to discern which problem arose first.

Strengthening healthy body image-

  • Focus on eating nutritious meals and engaging in exercise to enhance your well-being and strength, rather than using them as tools to control your body.

  • Become aware of any instances where you judge yourself or others based on weight, shape, or size, and consider alternative qualities to appreciate when such thoughts arise.

  • Dress in a manner that boosts your self-confidence, wearing clothes that fit you well at present.

  • Create positive affirmations that inspire self-acceptance and place them on mirrors throughout your home, serving as reminders to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.

  • Surround yourself with supportive friends and family members who value your individuality and appreciate you just as you are.

  • Pay attention to the way you discuss your body with others. Do you frequently seek validation or reassurance from them in order to feel good about yourself? Do you tend to solely focus on physical appearances?

Remember that everyone experiences challenges with body image from time to time. Conversations with friends might reveal that someone else admires a feature you consider undesirable. Compile a list of the positive aspects and advantages of the body part or feature you struggle to accept. When negative thoughts about your body and appearance arise, take a moment to reflect on your current life circumstances. Are you feeling stressed, anxious, or down? Are there other challenges you are facing? Consider what advice you would give a friend in a similar situation and apply it to yourself.

Stay mindful of the messages conveyed by the media regarding appearance and actively challenge and question those stereotypes.
Reach out to a  HopeQure therapist as they can help you with building a healthier body image while catering to your unique needs. Therapists offer a safe and non-judgmental space where you can explore your feelings, enhance self-acceptance, and cultivate a more positive and empowering relationship with your body. They can equip you with valuable tools, coping mechanisms, and techniques to promote a healthier body image and overall well-being.

How therapy can help?

Online therapists play a crucial role in helping individuals with body image issues by providing a safe and supportive environment to explore and address underlying factors contributing to negative body image. Various therapeutic approaches such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), can help individuals challenge and re-frame distorted thoughts and beliefs about their bodies. Therapists can also assist in exploring the emotional and psychological roots of body image concerns, facilitating self-acceptance and promoting healthier attitudes towards one s body. Additionally, therapists may incorporate techniques such as mindfulness and self-compassion to foster a more positive and compassionate relationship with the body, ultimately empowering individuals to cultivate a healthier body image and overall well-being.

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