Self-image is a personal view, perception or understanding of one’s own abilities, appearance and personality. Self-image may create an internal dialogue, with the use of an internal/personal dictionary of words to describe oneself. From the many facets of self-image comes body-image:
As a working definition, “body image refers to the multifaceted psychological experience of embodiment that encompasses one’s body-related self-perceptions and self-attitudes, including thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and behaviors” (Cash, 2004).
There are four aspects of body image:
- Perceptual: how we see our bodies.
- Affective: how we feel about our bodies.
- Cognitive: how we think about our bodies.
- Behavioural: behaviours we partake in as a result of our body image.
From these four aspects emerges something known as body dissatisfaction. Body dissatisfaction is when we have intrusive, constant and persistent thoughts/feelings about our body. This dissatisfaction is both an internal and external experience, i.e., there is an emotional and cognitive process that is correlated to the standards and expectations to meet certain physical ideals. It is important to be able to recognize signs of body dissatisfaction, these can include (but are not limited to):
- Changes in eating behaviours.
- Compulsive behaviours/patterns (eg. Excessive exercising, extreme dieting/eating changes, measuring self, checking or avoiding refection multiple times).
- Physical appearance attached to self-worth.
- Thinking or talking a lot about personal and others physiques.
- Consistent negative talk about appearance.
- Aspirational social comparison (eg. comparing oneself to a celebrity or person they admire or wish to be like).
- Body avoidance.
Body image and body dissatisfaction can lead to feelings of disappointment, shame, guilt, depression, anxiety, dysmorphia and can increase the risk of an individual developing an eating disorder. There is no one particular person who at risk for body dissatisfaction; any individual, at given stage of their life could potentially experience body dissatisfaction. Body image can be affected or triggered by (but is not limited to):
- Social media.
- Social expectations.
- Cultural norms/standards.
- Bullying or teasing.
- Comments made by family and friends.
- Constant comparison to others.
Thus, it is important to talk about body image in a manner where a person feels safe in their experience with their body, and their view on it. Creating a safe space and listening to what a person is saying about themselves plays an important part in healing. Often, we have a need or instinct to protect or defend a person from their own words.
For example, we may say things like: “don’t say that” or “you’re so mean to yourself” or “you’re perfect just the way you are”. While these words are meant well, they can be harmful in their own way; they have the power to invalidate a person’s feelings/experience with their body image. Instead, we want to try to empathize and understand the person’s perspective/experience, we want to listen, ask questions and validate what is being shared.
For the individual who resonates with this article and is currently struggling (or has previously struggled) with body image: Reach out to someone you feel safe with, a friend, a family member, or even a therapist. It’s okay to give yourself that space, and to take that time.
Body Image Counselling Specialists:
More information and resources on body image:
Cash, T. F. (2004). Body image: past, present, and future. Body Image 1, 1–5. doi: 10.1016/S1740-1445(03)00011-1
Grogan, S. (2006). Body image and health contemporary perspectives. J. Health Psychol. 11, 523–530. doi: 10.1177/1359105306065013