Essentially, body image is how you feel about yourself and your appearance. This includes how you see yourself when you look in the mirror, how you picture yourself in your mind, how you think other people view you and how you feel about your body.
Everyone's relationship with their body and their body image is unique! Below are some common feelings, emotions, and behaviors of people with both negative and positive body image. You may identify with some items on both lists, and that is okay! Body positivity is a journey and working towards it is a different process for everyone.
Having negative body image can mean:
- Having a distorted perception of your shape means you might perceive parts of your body unlike they really are. For example, you might perceive yourself as being much larger or smaller than you actually are which can lead to negative emotions.
- You might be convinced that only other people are attractive and that your body size or shape is a sign of personal failure.
- You might spend a lot of time focusing on other people's bodies and become frustrated.
- You might feel ashamed, self-conscious, and anxious about your body. For example, you might not wear clothes you like or do physical activities you enjoy because you are worried about how you will look.
- You feel uncomfortable and awkward in your body.
- You might make self-deprecating comments to family and friends about your body on a regular basis.
- You might spend a lot of time each day thinking about how you look in a way that distracts you from other things or makes it hard for you to feel joy.
Having a positive body image can mean:
- Having a clear, true perception of your shape; you see the various parts of your body as they really are and can identify and are okay with your feelings about them.
- You celebrate and appreciate your body for all it does and you understand that a person's physical appearance does not determine or reflect their character or value as a person.
- You feel proud and accepting of your unique body and refuse to spend an unreasonable amount of time worrying about food, weight, calories, or other body altering/perfecting techniques.
- If you exercise or follow a particular diet, it is because it makes you feel good and is not solely to lose weight or change your body.
- Although each day is different, you generally feel comfortable and confident in your body.
10 Steps to Positive Body Image
- Practice body acceptance, and love will follow.
- Appreciate your body for all it can do.
- Wear clothes that feel comfortable on your body and make you feel good! Donate clothing that doesn't fit, keeping it in your closet can be trigger.
- Stop weighing yourself frequently. If scales make you feel bad, get rid of them!
- Learn to accept compliments from others / give compliments that are not focused on appearance.
- Know that it is okay to feel insecure, body positivity is an ongoing process.
- Stop comparing yourself to others or your past self.
- Surround yourself with positivity, check fat-shaming when you see/hear it. Don't tolerate body negativity from others.
- Don't tell that friend to un-tag you, striving for a perfect online presence isn't going to actually make you perfect.
- Know that happiness is a present state, you deserve to have it now.
Eating disorders are characterized by certain emotions, attitudes and behaviors surrounding food and weight. People who have disordered eating or compulsive exercising habits have a wide range of experiences. People who have these experiences often do not seek help because they don't think their experience is "serious" enough because eating disorders are typically associated with more extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors. If you or a friend are experiencing any of the emotions, attitudes, or behaviors listed below, we encourage you to consider seeking help from the recourses below.
Signs of Disordered Eating
- Obsessive or serious calorie counting (either mentally, through apps, or on paper).
- Setting strict calorie limits and feeling upset or helpless if they are exceeded.
- Compulsive exercising (feeling the need to go to the gym or workout everyday or multiple times a day in order to work off what was eaten).
- Patterns of purposefully skipping meals.
- Feeling very guilty after eating more than one wanted and purging or contemplating purging (exercise, laxatives, vomiting) because of those negative feelings.
- Feeling an overwhelming sense of joy or control when calorie or weight goals are met and consistently setting the bar higher once they are.
- Thinking about calories, food, weight, or one's body so much that it impacts daily life.
- Cutting out entire food groups or severely restricting the types of food eaten to the point where one is able to get the calories they need everyday.
- Being obsessive about eating clean, healthy, or "right" to the point where one is not able to meet their calorie needs.
- Compulsively weighing one's self and fixating on weight in numbers instead of how one feels.
- Insistently talking about food or weight and being unwilling to take any sort of compliment or accept anything less than perfection.
If you or a friend are experiencing disordered eating you might notice symptoms including but not limited to being tired, hungry, dizzy, weak, missing periods or not menstruating at all, dehydration, brittle nails and hair, anxiety, weight gain or loss, or feeling cold. These symptoms can occur whether or not you believe your eating or exercise habits are extreme. It is important to acknowledge your experience and seek help if you need it.
Eating disorders include orthorexia, anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, muscle dysmorphia, eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS) and others. Eating disorders can have serious life-threatening consequences but recovery is possible. If you suspect you or a friend has an eating disorder, there are resources available here.