Body image is a very important part of being human. When we first meet somebody we form an impression of them straight away, we tend to focus on someone’s face and eyes because they give us so much information about what they are trying to communicate.
What is Body Image?
Body image is a term used to describe our perception of ourselves. Our brains gradually create a mental image of what we look like and how our features come across to others. So, if our body image suddenly changes (for example, we lose a limb) then our brains find it hard to acknowledge the change and act as if nothing is different. People who have anorexia, have an internal map of the size that they think they are, when in actual reality, the size they really are is much smaller than their mental map. Our own mental map is generally quite accurate and is based on the many times we’ve seen ourselves on screens, in photographs, in the mirror and other reflections. If we do have an accident which has changed our body image, it can come as a big shock and it can affect us greatly.
How Does Our Appearance Affect Our Self Esteem?
There are two ways in which our body image can affect our self esteem; the way express ourselves and the way people behave towards us. So, for instance, if we get good feedback from other people, it can make our body image more positive. However, if we get negative feedback, it can make our body image more negative. If our head is always down and avoiding make any eye contact then, other people tend to be more critical towards us. However if we stand confidently and encourage others to speak to us, then people tend to be more positive.
Very small children generally very little awareness about their body image and how they look. They may point out differences but don’t tend to be judgemental and opinionated. From the age of seven, they start to notice the difference between a good image and bad image. Lots of children’s fairy tales reinforce these ideas about differences in body image, for example, beauty and the beast, Cinderella and Snow White all discriminate between ugly and beautiful. When a child gets to adolescence, they become very conscious about their appearance. Facial changes like acne can really upsetting, especially at a time when they feel more self conscious. Any changes in appearance can lead to remarks from other people, teasing or bullying which then affects their self esteem and body image too.
The booming beauty industry supports the idea that body image is hugely important, probably more so than ever. Body image has a number of functions that help us build relationships with others. For example, most of us have a wash everyday, we wear a certain style of clothes so that we’re accepted within a certain group of people and we may or may not wear makeup to create acceptance from others. Another function of body image is to help us find a romantic partner. To many of us, attractiveness is a good thing (even if we are unaware of it). We tend to think of beauty as good, and unattractive as bad. If you have equal attractiveness to a romantic partner, then you tend to be on a level footing with them, but if one of you is more attractive than the other then there is a danger of a lack of fidelity.
Body image is important but the way we express ourselves or come across to others has a bigger effect on our self esteem. At the end of the day our own body image is more important to ourselves than to other people.
How Does Body Image Affect Our Mental Health?
There are a number of ways in which body image can affect our emotional wellbeing. As mentioned above, it can have a huge affect on our self esteem. However, it can also affect our mood levels too and be related to a variety of anxiety disorders. We might feel anxious about being criticised or judged from others and as such, withdraw ourselves from social situations. We might have an extreme preoccupation with a part of our body that causes us great concern but is not noticed by others. On the other-hand we might have a noticeable disfigurement which causes us great shame, worry and maybe other people express their curiosity or bully or tease us about it. Body image can be related to compulsive skin picking or hair pulling, eating disorders and self harm. No matter how it affects our emotional wellbeing, it can have a dramatic effect on our quality of life.
How CBT Can Help.
CBT is recommended for a number of body image problems such as body dysmorphic disorder and is recommended for most anxiety disorders too. As part of therapy, we would work together to discover how your body image problem developed and how it keeps going. We would examine how you manage your anxiety related to your body image and start to redirect your focus onto the things that are important to you and less on your appearance. We would work together to explore your thoughts about your own appearance, challenge those thoughts or the beliefs behind them and start to rebuild your confidence. This just an overview and treatment would adapt to meet the issues raised by your body image issue.
If you are struggling with a body image issue, please get in touch by calling 01618331156 or go to the contact me form on this website