Published: 2 May 2019
Your self-image is all to do with how you feel about how you look. This is something that affects everyone, regardless of who they are or what they look like. Everyone has an image of themselves, whether it’s a good or a bad one. Most people have something they dislike about how they look, and many people have things that they like about how they look.
Image is becoming a bigger issue because of what we see every day on social media, on the TV, in films, and in advertisements as well as the comparisons we make against the people around us. All of these things have an impact on how we feel about our own body image.
What is body image?
Body image is how you feel about yourself when you look in the mirror or think about yourself in your mind. It also includes the way we think other people see us. People usually either have an overall positive body image, when they mostly feel good about themselves, or a negative body image, when they feel less positive about the way they look or feel. Body image is closely linked to our self-esteem and how we feel about ourselves.
What is a positive body image?
Having a positive body image means you accept yourself for who you are and feel comfortable in your own skin. A person with a positive body image is happy with the way they look and feels good about themselves. Usually, people with a good body image place less importance on their looks and more importance on who they are as a person.
Positive body image can be achieved by realising that people come in all shapes and sizes, and that everyone at some stage feels awkward about their body and how they look.
What is a negative body image?
Having a negative body image means you don’t like your body or a specific aspect of it. A person with a negative body image will often have thoughts about the ways they would change their bodies if they could. For example, you might want to be more muscular, or wish you could lose weight. This can become an obsession for some people. They might place all of their value in how they look and believe that a new body shape is the key to happiness and being accepted by others. If you find yourself constantly thinking about needing to lose or gain weight, or if you are always worrying about a certain feature of your body, then you could have a negative body image.
An eating disorder is a health condition that causes a serious and potentially life-threatening change in your normal eating habits. What many people may not realise is that eating disorders aren't necessarily about food - they're often a sign of underlying worries and emotional stress. Having a negative body image can cause some people to develop an eating disorder and they can be experienced by all genders.
Bodywhys is the National Eating Disorders Association of Ireland, offering information and support to people with eating disorders. You can contact their helpline on 1890 200 444 or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to talk to someone.
What impacts your body image?
We are faced with images and ideas about how we should look every day. Social media often presents an ‘ideal’ body type that is impossible to achieve, and attitudes from friends and family might shape the way we look at ourselves. The media we consume and the people we spend time with can all have an impact on our body image.
We are living in a culture that places huge importance on diets, fitness, and obsession with size. This weight-loss culture encourages people to focus on achieving the ideal weight or body type, and makes us feel like we are worthless unless we look a certain way. Fad diets often promise a fast and easy way to lose weight, but most likely have limited or short lived results, and these diets can have a really negative impact on our health. There is an expectation to go to the gym regularly, lift weights, eat a certain way, and put all of your energy into your fitness routine. It can be easy to get caught up in it all, but if we challenge this culture, we might find that a lot of what people are trying to achieve is not actually possible. Many countries have now introduced laws for models to challenge the culture of striving to be thin. In France, Spain & Italy it is against the law to hire underweight models.
Apps like Instagram make it seem nearly impossible to avoid images of “perfect-looking people”. Many influencers become popular because of their carefully crafted posts and pictures. They want you to believe that they look and live a certain way. Many of these pictures are heavily edited and posed, and don’t reflect the true reality of what the person looks like or how they live.
Friends and family
Comments from family or friends can impact on your body image and how you see yourself. If a family member always puts you down for the way you look, this can have really negative consequences for how you feel about yourself. If a friend makes a comment about a celebrity or another person who has a similar body type to you, then it might feel like they are saying it about you.
It can be difficult to hear things like this from people we care about. If someone says something to upset you, let them know. Some people may not realise how their words make you feel.
Every day in the media people are bombarded with images that will challenge how you feel about yourself. Many advertisements both online and offline have images that have been heavily photoshopped, and they feature body shapes that are impossible to achieve in real life. Not even the models used in these photo-shoots look like their photoshopped selves in real life. Some European countries have now made it a law that if an image has been photoshopped that they have to say this on the picture.
What can I do if I have an unhealthy body image?
If you have a negative body image you may not like the way you look in the mirror, or how you feel about yourself, and have a poor self-esteem. In extreme cases, a negative body image can lead someone to be at risk of developing an eating disorder.
Think about who you follow
Think about the people you follow on social media. How do they make you feel? What are their posts like? Do you think they spend a lot of time editing their pictures? If you follow accounts that make you feel bad about yourself, try muting them or unfollowing them for a while to see what difference this makes. Find body-positive social media accounts to follow instead, and focus on what makes you feel good.
Avoid comparing yourself to others
We’re all different, so it’s impossible to look like someone else no matter how hard you try. Try not to compare yourself to your friends, social media influencers, or celebrities. The images you see in the media aren’t real so don’t set yourself unachievable goals you will never be able to meet. Remind yourself that how we look is in many ways down to a genetic lottery and is not something that we can change or control.
Instead of criticising the way you look, give yourself a compliment
We’re all guilty of being a harsh critic when it comes to judging ourselves. But instead of putting yourself down for the way you look, how about you pick out some of your best qualities and remind yourself how great you are. Finding it hard to remember those things? Write them down and keep them somewhere handy for when you need a reminder of what you love about yourself.
Embrace your differences
No two people are the same and accepting our uniqueness and embracing our individuality can help with self-acceptance and improving the way we feel about ourselves.
Be critical of the media
Don't be afraid to question the images and 'ideal body types' put before you by magazines or fitness bloggers. Instead, challenge industries like beauty, diet and fashion that make a profit from the unattainable standards they are setting for people.
Talk to someone
If you are concerned about how much time you spend worrying about your body image, you might want to talk to someone about it. Turn to a parent, guardian, or another trusted adult and tell them how you feel.
Jigsaw is a youth counselling service for people age 12-25 where you can talk to someone about your body image and how you feel about yourself. There are 13 Jigsaw centres around Ireland. Visit Jigsaw.ie for more.