DISCLAIMER: this content talks about body image issues. I have not gotten into details of serious disorders since those problems should be addressed by a therapist who is well versed in the field. The knowledge I’ve shared is a combination of research and experience and my knowledge as an OT student.
If you think you might be triggered by it, refrain from reading it. This talks about the common problems faced by most of us during our lifetime and how we can bring about change in the smallest ways.v
- Mental picture of one’s physical body, that is how you SEE/PERCEIVE your body (including size, shape, and appearance),
- The way you FEEL about your body is your affective body image. This relates to the amount of satisfaction or dissatisfaction you feel about your shape, weight, and individual body parts.
- THINK about your body is your cognitive body image. This can lead to preoccupation (meaning constantly thinking about or analysing body shape and weight, or other features)
- BEHAVIOURS in which you engage as a result of your body image encompass your behavioural body image. When a person is dissatisfied with the way he/she looks, they may isolate themselves, dress to hide their body, refuse to look at their own body because they feel bad about their appearance.  On the other hand if a person is satisfied with their body they would dress well, carry themselves confidently and not self loathe.
|POSITIVE BODY IMAGE||NEGATIVE BODY IMAGE|
|Clear perception of your own appearance (Seeing your body as is without accentuating your flaws)||Distorted perception of your appearence |
(accentuating your flaws, not seeing yourself as a whole but only focusing on imperfections)
|Acceptance of own body as it is||Obsessively self-scrutinizing your own body|
|Understanding that everyone is unique and body charaacteristics are based on genetic and hereditary factors.||Frequently comparing yourself to other people( friends, public figures,family memebers) and envying their physical features.|
Excessively thinking or pre-occupation with physical appearences.
|Feelings of self-confidence, pride, attractiveness and comfort in your own body||Feelings of shame, embarrasement, self consciousness and anxiety about body to an extent that it affects your day to day functioning|
|Engaging in self-nurturing and self-care behaviours( Balanced lifestyle habits, dressing well, carrying yourself confidently )||Engaging in self-loathing or self-punishing behaviours (excessive binging, extreme dieting, extreme physical activity, dressing to hide your body)|
Body image is not typically something neatly categorized into one of these two boxes. Body image is generally experienced along a continuum. Most individuals experience different degrees of positive and negative feelings about their bodies at different times. Meaning you could have felt negative thoughts previously but don’t anymore, or someone’s criticism makes you have these negative feelings
Our mental image and attitudes are shaped and influenced by our culture, social media and our interactions and experiences with family and peers.
It develops right from childhood and is most vulnerable to be affected during adolescence. This is the reason why more and more teenagers are susceptible to disorders such as:1) Eating disorders 2) Body dysmorphic disorders 3) Body image distortions.
Most of us get through life, luckily, without having a disorder, but we are scarred, metaphorically and actually, throughout our life by the comments and judgements we receive. I think that as a society, especially Indian society we can bring about these changes by doing little things that unknowingly go a long way :
EDUCATE, DON’T BLAME
Now I know how horrifying it must have felt at all those family gatherings or weddings when all the aunties came and told you, “beta, weight put on kar liya? ,”hayy, waxing nahi kiya kya?”, “itne kale kaise ho gaye”.
Like I already said ,we have been wounded and scarred by these comments for the rest of our lives.
Now, hear me out, it’s obviously going to be easy to blame them and yes, some people are extremely crude and ignorant.
But, if you think about it from their perspective, they too have probably been shamed their whole life for the same things and they don’t know any other way of complimenting another person. Take your own mother for example and ask her if she has received mean comments about her body, I can bet you she has. So for her to say things like, ‘lose some weight’, ‘dress better’, stop eating junk’, ‘sit like a girl’, ‘be active, you are a boy’ etc, is her way of protecting you from all the negativity that she knows you would be subjected to.
So you need to take the initiative of educating/explaining to them what you think the problem is:
Start with your parents, talk to them about their misconceptions about skin colour, weight, height, acne and how physical characteristics are hereditary and genetic to a large extent.
Explain to them the concept of normalizing and inclusivity of all body types.
Tell them other ways of complimenting people and not making others feel bad about their physical characteristics.
Thinking patterns of people who have lived their whole life believing one concept cannot be changed overnight or even over years, but as long as your parents are open to discussing these misconceptions and understanding them, that’s where change can start.
(You can talk to other close family members as well if you feel comfortable doing so. Some people will be open not to the idea and make you feel like you are being extremely sensitive and unreasonable or even taunt you! You can go ahead and pity those people; it’s too late for them.)
BE A ROLE MODEL
The concept of body image and attitudes towards your body develops right from childhood. Children are very impressionable and teenagers are very vulnerable to criticism. Something that you consider as a joke could really hit someone else’s self-esteem and years later they might end up in therapy talking about you!
As a parent, an older sibling/cousin, or friend take responsibility for the younger generation. It’s not too late for them. They can be saved from these scars and grow up living a more secure life.(Imagine what that must feel like, no insecurities and being content with the way they look)
You can be a role model to someone by consciously doing these things:
- Instead of complimenting people based on physical characteristics say things like,’ you’re really funny’,’ you have a great vibe’, ‘you seem so confident’, ‘you’re really nice’.
- Modelling means that someone younger than you or a friend copies you and based on the consequences of your actions they decide whether what you did is acceptable or not. So you talking about yourself in a negative way saying,’ I’m so fat’, ‘I have so much acne, I feel like shit’, makes them feel like it’s a bad thing. If these are the discussions in your friend circle all the time then this idea will be reinforced in your brain everyday till you believe it 100%.So change the way you refer to yourself or talk about yourself, make it positive so others can feel good about themselves too.
- Stop giving tips and suggestions: Everyone inherits most of their physical characteristics. You cannot tell a guy, who hasn’t grown taller to drink Complan or hang upside down from a bar to grow taller! It’s not in your control neither is it in his, trust me he must’ve tried already. You saying it might make someone feel worse about it.
If someone asks you how you lost weight, you have to say :this is what I did and it worked for me. Everyone’s body is different and what works for md may not work for you . It is important for them to find their own way and what best works for them!
CREATE A POSITIVE AND SELF NURTURING ENVIRONMENT
This is especially for parents or siblings of adolescents. It is important to create a safe space where they can share their feelings openly. School is a very difficult time for everyone, we go through puberty, explore our sexuality, may start dating or be attracted to someone, develop secondary sexual characteristics(breasts, body hair, acne, growth spurt, weight etc.) Not to mention the amount of peer pressure and academic pressure that is experienced in 9th and 10th grade.
When I was in school I was teased about my body hair. Our uniform required us to wear skirts and I used to be in a constant state of anxiety because I always thought that people were judging me, because of this and the peer pressure created around me I started shaving/waxing.
It is very important to remember that sometimes we may not see anything wrong with ourselves until it is pointed out to us by someone else. I never felt uncomfortable about my body hair until it was pointed out as a flaw.
Creating a nurturing environment means that your social sphere should not have people who keep pointing out your flaws and make you feel insecure and ultimately lower your self-esteem.If you have such people as friends you need to call them out!
Find and suggest some movies, books or TV shows that you can watch together which addresses issues of gender identity, body image, feminism etc , to expose them from an early age to open minded concepts and ideas.
Poor self-esteem, self doubt, lack of confidence along with internalized anxiety or depression is the starting point of BDD and eating disorders.
Improving their self-esteem can be done by:
- Allowing them to make small decisions about themselves independently, eg: dressing a certain way to express their gender identities. If a girl likes wearing flannel, buttoned up shirts, that is her way of expressing her identity. If I chose to wear t-shirts with funny catchphrases I don’t want to hear someone telling me to wear ‘dresses or blouses’ because it would suit me.
- Asking for their advice or help in certain things that you may not understand, example: technology/ art/ music/makeup/sports.
- Respect their opinions
- Appreciate their qualities as a whole person, not just their physical features, like their personality, sense of humour, kindness, generosity etc
WORK ON YOUR OWN SELF ESTEEM AND PROJECT YOUR POSITIVITY
Did I really say change starts with your parents, oops, no it starts with you; you need to call yourself out too!
- Self-love: In order to have a positive body image the most important thing you have to do is :you need to accept your body as is without exaggerating your flaws, without comparing yourself to EVERYONE, you need to be able to look at your body ( strip down completely if you have to) ,objectively without judgement, without thinking of all the things that you have been told about yourself. You have to discover what you feel about yourself , only you.
- Learn self nurturing behaviours: learn to take care of yourself , to be kind to yourself. If that means eating a junk when you’re feeling depressed then do it! but when you’re feeling good eat a good healthy breakfast in the morning, don’t starve yourself! Establish a skin care routine for yourself to take care of your acne, remind yourself to drink water ( this is something that I had to consciously start doing as well , part of adulting ) . Try any physical activity to work off your stress and feel the endorphins in your body.’Dress to express’ your internal feelings of attractiveness , put makeup or don’t. But do whatever makes you feel good and don’t ever punish /self -loathe or say bad things about yourself. Human beings have a very strong mind , if you keep telling yourself something over and over again eventually your brain believes it to be true and accepts it as a fact (Psychology 101) .
- Treat yourself better , feel better about yourself and only then will you be able to start thinking of your body in a positive way and your body will respond in the same way!
- Body image problems are more deep seated than trying to look a certain ideal way. It is a projection of our scars and insecurities and low self-esteem because of our experiences in life. It is important to self reflect in order to find the reason for your self-loathing or shame/ embarrassment. This is not easy. Some people need help to figure this out, so don’t hesitate to seek help from a friend, your parents or a professional because it can really go a long way.
- Find the right balance :of what works for you, change your lifestyle, and establish some health promoting routines and habits that make you feel good every day( like maybe doing yoga or reducing consumption of alcohol/ weed/ cigarettes, washing your hair twice a week instead of once, changing your meal times according to your work and sleep schedules etc)
Take control of your own body .
- Find your role models: I might ruin your favourite movies and shows for you here, but if you see some of your favourite shows from a perspective of how they depict men and women in terms of attractiveness, its always a certain body type/height/figure/hair length that is shown as best or ideal. Most of us also look up to actors or public figures and make them our role models in terms of how we look and spend so much time comparing ourselves with them.You need to find role models that resonate with your idea of beauty and who are comfortable in their bodies and are advocates for a positive body image.
You need to find books, movies, shows , Instagram pages that promote or realistically address these concepts. (There are tons of them )
- Make sure to take active part in making small changes if you are an advocate for positive body image because the change obviously starts with you
In conclusion, I’d like to say if you are facing problems with negative body image, anxiety related to it or want to bring about change then these are some of the things you can try implementing in your life.(You obviously don’t have to if you are not at the same wavelength or you have different beliefs)
I hope you can find a balance in your life that works best for you and that you spread that positivity around you as well for others.
If you want to talk or share with a stranger I’m here!
If you have some serious problems you can definitely seek professional help, or talk to close friends or family members.
I HOPE WE LEARN TO WEAR OUR METAPHORICAL AND/OR REAL SCARS WITH CONFIDENCE AND PRIDE AND NOT FEEL ANY SHAME OR EMBARRASMENT BECAUSE OF THEM!