Body image: But am I only this body?

Sit in a room of 1000 people, and ask those who love their body to raise their arm? You are likely to see most people gaze downwards, and sit firmly on their hands. You may get the odd brave soul who tentatively waves their hand up, then down, then kind of up, smiling nervously and looking around hoping that a)they aren’t the only one and b) that the other “skinnier” people aren’t judging them.

Today we live in a world where the fashion industry uses young girls to sell clothes to adults. Disordered eating is rife, and photo shop is used to edit just about every image of “beauty” that we see. Sadly body dissatisfaction is the norm. For some this has a mild effect. The odd self-critical thought, changing five times before a special event, and occasionally avoiding the mirror or trying a new diet. For some however body dissatisfaction becomes the key aspect defining how we feel about ourselves. This means that a “fat day” is a day filled with misery, self-consciousness, and a desire to hide from the world.

Too often smart young women, with a multitude of talents and endearing personality traits sit in front of us, and talk of self-loathing. If you could hear the language these ladies use to describe themselves, you may be led to believe that they have done awful things in their lives. Words such as “shame”, “hate” and “disgust”; and not only do they mean it, but they apply these words to their whole selves as if all of their worth is tied to this body they evaluate so harshly. Often poor body image is so dominant that it completely blindsides one’s ability to see oneself as a whole person who has a personality, talents, and interests to bring to the table.

In 2004 Thomas Cash an expert in body imaged referred to the “inside view”, a term he uses to describe how one subjectively perceives their own body. His research has indicated that while objective “beauty” can influence ones experience of the world, that “body image” has a far greater impact on an individual’s life than any objective evaluation of their appearance from others. When this inside view of ones body is negative and dominant, we see people experience themselves as if they are only this body.  Chris Fairburn (2008), a prominent researcher in the area of eating disorders, goes on to say that when poor body image is coupled with an “over-evaluation of shape and weight” (caring a lot about your shape and weight) that the risk of developing an eating disorder greatly increases.

Poor body image can suck the joy out of life. It can result in a constant negative voice running inside your head comparing yourself to others as you move through your day. This often leads to extreme dieting and emotional eating, and at times can lead to eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia. So what can you do? Some basic steps to improve body image include changing what media you attend to, focusing on the great things your body does for you, and only speaking kindly about your own body. It is also important to remember that you are not in fact only your body; you are a complex combination of personality, emotions, skills, relationships, and unique talents. Take time to consider all the wonderful aspects of you. Be kind to your body as it is the vessel that houses the rest of you.

If these strategies don’t make a difference for you, or you find yourself caught in a cycle of eating behaviour that is distressing and unhelpful , it might be time for professional help. Make an appointment with a psychologist or your GP to discuss your concerns.

Tom Morley