Why do you struggle with your body image, what are your triggers?
Do you believe that changing how you look will result in feeling happier or more confident?
As women we can be led to believe that we need to change how we look. Whether that’s losing weight, having a flatter stomach, perkier breasts, a smaller nose or longer, leaner legs!
Today I want to explore why changing your physical appearance won’t automatically lead to a positive body image.
Why? because body image is a complex beast, so let’s discuss it…
What is Body Image?
If you really want to improve your body image, then you’re going to need to know what it actually means.
Your Body Image is broken down into 4 parts:
- Perceptual: This is the mental image you have of yourself, and it’s not always reliable. This is why you might find people (and possibly yourself) saying that they are overweight when they aren’t. What you see in the mirror isn’t always a correct representation of what you look like. This is for various reasons, including lighting, your mood and the angle you’re looking at yourself from.
- Affective: This is the emotional component, how you feel about your body. You may like certain parts of yourself but struggle to embrace those less liked parts of yourself. So this covers your level of satisfaction, dissatisfaction and confidence in relation to your physical appearance.
- Cognitive: This refers to the thoughts and beliefs that you hold about your body. This is influenced by many different factors, including social media and social comparison.
- Behavioural: Often an overlooked part of body image. This refers to the behaviours and actions you take as a result of all of the above. If you’re not happy with your body and encounter bad body image days you’re likely to engage in destructive behaviours and struggle to manage days when you feel more negative towards your body. This can include avoiding social situations, disordered eating habits, being less intimate and perhaps even considering cosmetic procedures.
Uncovering the real triggers of your Negative Body Image
If I asked you ‘what are your negative triggers?’ I’m sure a lot of things would pop into your mind.
Perhaps you dislike how you look because of your stomach rolls, weight gain or because your nose is too big. However, most of the time, it goes deep than that.
So what are your negative body image triggers that actually have nothing to do with your body?
Does what you see or how you feel about your body change day to day? Some days you hate the way you look but on other days you can feel more positive about your appearance?
Your mood and how you feel in any given moment significantly influences your body image.
If you’re feeling negative emotions such as anxiety or stress, it can be challenging to feel positively about your appearance. Negative feelings can cause you to fixate on your perceived flaws or imperfections and become more critical of your appearance.
However, if you’re feeling positive emotions like happy and confident, you’re likely to feel more satisfied with your appearance.
Do you sit down for a bit of ‘time out’ and decide to scroll your social media? But in reality, seeing other women living ideal lives, with ideal bodies kicks off your negative body comparisons.
Social media can have a significant impact on your body image. Social media is filled with images of ‘ideal’ bodies that are leading you to feel inadequate and insecure. People are often posting edited and filtered images of themselves, creating unrealistic beauty standards that are nearly impossible to achieve. This gives you a distorted view of what a ‘normal’ body looks like.
To make it harder, the more you engage with this harmful content, the more you see it. The platform will actually continue to show them to you, reinforcing your negative body image.
Research shows that the more time you spend on social media the higher your level of body dissatisfaction will be. In addition it can increase your likelihood of engaging in disordered eating habits, feelings of low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression.
So it’s worth checking in with your social media and perhaps trying out a social media detox?
Your Experiences and Environment
Your experiences in life and current environment can significantly influence your body image.
When growing up how did those around you feel about their bodies?
What beliefs and behaviours did those around you pass on to you while growing up?
Where you bullied about your appearance in school?
Growing up in an environment where appearance is highly valued can lead to negative body focus and pressure to look a certain way. This can also increase the likelihood of experiencing negative comments or attitudes from others, resulting in a negative body image.
If you’ve experienced trauma or abuse, this can also impact your body image. Survivors of trauma or abuse sometimes dissociate from their bodies to cope with their trauma, leading to disassociation and blame. If you have experienced significant trauma or abuse my advice is to always seek professional support.
On the other hand, positive experiences can contribute to a more positive body image. For example, receiving non-physical compliments, feeling valued or participating in activities that make you feel good about your body all contribute to a positive body image.
Cultural and Societal Norms
What messages are society giving you about how you ‘should’ look?
Cultural and societal norms around beauty and body shape can significantly influence your body image. The messages you receive from the culture and society you belong to can create negative beliefs about yourself. For example, in some cultures, being thin is highly valued and considered the ideal body shape. Where as in other cultures, a larger body size is considered more desirable.
How we feel in specific situations can also be influenced by cultural and societal norms. For example, in settings where physical appearance may be given more focus, such as gyms, you might feel increased pressure to conform to specific beauty standards or engage in negative behaviours.
I feel it’s important here to point out that any negative beliefs you have about yourself aren’t your fault. However they are your responsibility to change, if they’re impacting your ability to accept and feel comfortable in your body
For example, if you have a belief that thin equals beautiful you may develop a negative body image, if you don’t meet that ideal. Similarly, if you have a belief that your worth is based on your appearance, you will feel worthless and inadequate if you feel like you don’t ‘measure up’.
You may also have cognitive distortions, such as all-or-nothing thinking, where you believe that you’re either perfect or flawed, there is no in between. Therefore being able to Identifying and understanding your unhelpful thinking habits is a key factor in changing how you feel.
Your Daily Habits
Your daily habits have a significant impact on how you feel about your body.
Engaging in habits that promote self-care and self-acceptance contribute to a positive body image. Whereas habits that reinforce negative beliefs about your body contribute to a negative body image.
Here are some daily habits that might be impacting your body image:
- Disordered eating habits: Engaging in disordered eating habits, such as skipping meals or avoiding certain foods can contribute to a negative body image by reinforcing the belief that your body needs to be controlled or that certain foods are “bad” or “forbidden.”
- Excessive exercise: Engaging in excessive exercise or exercise for the primary purpose of changing your body shape or size can contribute to a negative body image by reinforcing the belief that your body is not good enough as it is.
- Negative self-talk: Engaging in negative self-talk, such as criticising your appearance or engaging in comparisons to others, can contribute to a negative body image by reinforcing the belief that your body is not good enough.
- Social comparisons: Comparing your body to others, especially through social media, can contribute to a negative body image by reinforcing the belief that your body is not as desirable or attractive as others.
- Lack of self-care: When you don’t take time for yourself on a daily basis it reinforces to your the belief that your body is not worth taking care of and that your not important.
So what can you do to create a Positive Body Image?
Everyone has different triggers for how they feel, so I can’t tell you one thing that will automatically lead to a positive body image but hopefully this article has helped you to understand that your body itself isn’t what’s actually making you feel negative towards yourself.
I would love to know after reading this article what you feel your main negative body image triggers are?
Once you know your negative body image triggers you have the power to change them. Part of that change is starting to build Self Acceptance, where you don’t need to be ‘perfect’ to like yourself.
If you’re ready to build Self Acceptance but not sure how then come and join my FREE Self Acceptance Masterclass happening on Thursday 11 May, where I will show you how to finally change how you feel about yourself.
Hey I’m Natalie, Supporting women like you on their road to self-acceptance and building their self-esteem is – as cliche as it sounds – my calling.
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