Body Image and Body Shaming – Nutrition by Oyinkansola Sogbesan
Body image really has to do with how comfortable or uncomfortable you are with you in your own skin. It is how you see yourself when you look in the mirror or when you picture yourself in your mind. Body Image encompasses: What you believe about your own appearance; How you feel about your body, including your height, shape, and weight; How you physically experience or feel in your body. Many of us internalize messages starting at a young age and this can either lead to either positive or negative body image. Having a healthy body image is a very important part of mental well-being and eating disorders prevention.[i]
What do you see when you look in the mirror? Do you see your body in a positive or negative way? Are you happy or sad with the way you look? Ugh, my hair looks horrible! I think I need to lose a little weight. My figure looks fabulous! All these are comments that we, as individuals, have said to ourselves at one point or another, and they all relate to body image.
There are many contributors that help to control the way people feel about their bodies, especially when it comes to a negative body image. How people feel about their body image is mostly always dependent on how they feel about themselves, how physical they are throughout the day, and how people, including family members, speak to them about how they look.
Of course, the fact that the advertisement world displays a perfect body image, while the media constantly exhibits individuals who are fit and in shape, just adds to the confusion of just what a normal body is to look like.
People can have either positive or a negative body image which can also be referred to as a healthy and unhealthy body image respectively. [ii]
A positive body image is when people accept themselves regardless of body weight or shape even if it does not match what the media, family, or friends suggest is desirable. Part of having a positive body image is the ability to separate how we value ourselves from how we look. People who realize that self-worth is not linked to appearance tend to feel good about how they look.
A negative body image is when people feel that they need to improve their bodies because they are unhappy with the way their bodies look. It can arise when a person feels that their looks do not measure up to what society, family, friends, and the media expect. They may frequently compare themselves with others, and they may feel inadequate when doing so. They may feel ashamed, embarrassed, and lacking in confidence. They often feel uncomfortable and awkward in their body. A woman with a normal body mass index (BMI) for example, may persistently see herself as fat.
Some people develop a disorder known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). A person with BDD sees their body, or part of their body, in a negative way. They may ask for cosmetic surgery to “correct” their nose size, for example, when to everyone else, it appears normal. This can be dangerous if it leads to mental health problems, such as depression. The person may pursue unnecessary surgery, unsafe weight-loss habits, such as a crash diet. A man might engage in an inappropriate use of hormones to build muscles.[iii]
Every Body is Different!
There are different body shapes and body types and it is important to know that everybody is different. Everyone different genetic and cultural traits and even if everyone eats the same things and did the same amount of exercise for a whole year, we would not all look the same at the end of the year. This is because each person’s genetic inheritance influences their bone structure, body size, shape, and weight differently. We should learn to appreciate those differences, encourage healthy behaviors, and treat every body with respect. Your “ideal” body weight is the weight that allows you to feel strong and energetic and lets you lead a healthy, normal life. Your body can be healthy across a wide range of weights. It is important to understand our body types.
Body Image and Self Esteem
Do you ever wish you could change something about your body? If so, you’re not alone. Lots of people feel unhappy with some part of their looks. But when you get stuck on what you don’t like, it can really bring down your self-esteem.[iv]
Self-esteem is your overall sense of self-worth. It is simply how much you appreciate and like yourself. People who have low self-esteem may not always feel confident about themselves or how they look. Body image is a major factor in self-esteem; which is the way you think and feel about yourself as a person. Body image and self-esteem start in the mind. Body image and self-esteem directly influence each other. It affects your feelings, thoughts, and behaviours. If you don’t like your body (or a part of your body), it’s hard to feel good about your whole self. The reverse is also true: if you don’t value yourself, it’s hard to notice the good things and give your body the respect it deserves.[v]
Building a healthy body image and self-esteem can be hard work because it takes time to become confident. As you work to improve your body image, you will experience self-acceptance and learn to recognize the qualities, skills, and talents that make you special.
One of the best ways to feel good about your body is to work on having a healthy one! Exercising and eating nutritious food are key to developing a strong and fit body, and a positive attitude towards yourself.[vi]
Is being fat or thin the worst thing that a human can be? Is being fat worse than being vindictive, jealous, shallow, vain, cruel, or evil? Not to me and it should be the same for you.
Body shaming is known as the action or practice of expressing humiliation about another individual’s body shape or size. Body shaming is a form of bullying that can result in severe emotional trauma, especially at a young age. Body shaming is done by parents, siblings, friends, enemies, and schoolmates and is often portrayed in the media. “Why is she wearing that? It is not flattering at all.” Or “I am so ugly compared to her I will never find a date” are common thoughts and phrases used that are examples of body shaming. Negatively commenting about the size or shape of anyone’s body can be extremely damaging to them potentially leading to low-self-esteem, anger, self-harm and even mental health disorders, specifically body dysmorphic disorder. Negative comments and provoking images can drive young girls to engage in unhealthy behaviors in order to change their body type to conform to the norms of society. This may lead to self-injury or cutting, binging and purging behaviors or even full-fledged eating disorders. Individuals with a history of trauma, depression, self-harm, low self-esteem, or borderline personality disorder are more likely to be affected by body shaming and potentially develop an eating disorder or engage in self-harm behavior.
We often think that it is ok to body shame because we believe it will encourage people to lose or gain weight, and improve their health and quality of life. But there are some major problems with these assumptions. Firstly, the relationship between weight and health is nowhere near as clear cut as popular media and even many well intentioned health professionals would have us believe. In fact, research shows that health does not deteriorate with weight gain or weight loss unless it is very extreme and the person becomes ‘morbidly obese’ or under nourished. Secondly, research also shows that body shaming does not motivate change and only makes people feel worse and more isolated. Thirdly, the assumption that someone changing their weight will improve their life is completely flawed and based entirely on myths and stereotypes created from body shaming in the first place. So when we have family or friends with health problems, we should not automatically assume that weight loss is the solution and have an open mind to explore what other things could be considered to improve their health.
Like with any other form of bullying, body shaming will always be present unless you stand up for yourself in a positive and healthy way. It is important to practice self-love and try to not let negative comments bother you. Furthermore, if you witness body shaming on social media you can report it and flag it for inappropriate content. Additionally, you can create a petition against body shaming, write a body positive post or blog post to create more awareness.
It takes courage to make the decision to stop participating in body shaming, and by doing so forge a better future for us all. My final question to you is: do you have the courage? And my final request: please search for it and use it every day.[vii]
Focus on your health and not your body
Researchers found that a Health at Every Size (HAES) approach, this has to do with accepting and respecting diversity of body shapes and sizes, eating for well-being, and life-enhancing movement — decreases weight stigma, improves relations with health care providers, leads to healthy behavior change and improves health outcomes.
Here are some suggestive tips to help you make healthy changes;
Build body trust. Listen to your body’s physical hunger and fullness cues (i.e., mindful eating). This leads to eating an amount of food that’s best for you.
Slow down. Become aware of other influencers of eating like boredom, stress or emotions. This brings opportunity to redirect eating that’s not driven by physical need.
Choose foods that enhance body function. Rather than eating fruits and vegetables to cut calories and lose weight, become aware of the nurturing value of plant-based foods — such as decreased inflammation and improved cardiovascular health.
Move your body in ways that feel good. Rather than exercising for weight loss, choose activities that build strength, stamina and flexibility while improving blood circulation, joint mobility and body confidence.
“It’s time we respect the body we have, no matter what size, and treat ourselves well,” says Ridens. “Instead of making changes to your eating from a place of self-loathing, let go of obsessive restrictive diets, and improve health from a place of self-acceptance.”[viii]
A healthy lifestyle, with a balanced diet and exercise is all you need to have a positive body image.
[iv] o you ever wish you could change something about your body? If so, you’re not alone. Lots of people feel unhappy with some part of their looks. But when you get stuck on what you don’t like, it can really bring down your self-esteem.
[v] https://wIs ww.heretohelp.bc.ca/infosheet/body-image-self-esteem-and-mental-health