Body dissatisfaction and building body image resilience
One in five adults feel shame, and one third feel low because of their body image in 20194.
Distorted body image and body dissatisfaction seems to be on the increase, but how can you recognise the signs of distorted body image and how to overcome it? This article will outline some of these signs and signpost you to some methods to overcome distorted body image.
What is a distorted body image?
Body image refers to how individuals picture their body, regardless of how it looks. It is comprised of a complex network of factors including thoughts, feelings, evaluations and behaviours relating to your body1.
Body image is a dynamic concept which can change daily due to our mood, stress levels, or any external cues of the day, such as how clothes feel on your body.
Your body image can alter your behaviours, either concealing or revealing your body, or even pursuing a diet to try and change the body.
You may see articles online using the terms body image distortion, negative body image, body dissatisfaction and many more similar terms – these all refer to the same phenomenon.
However, body dissatisfaction is when there is a difference between your perceived body image and your idealised image of what your body should look like1.
What causes distorted body image?
There appears to be a range of factors that contribute to our relationship with our bodies including socialisation, physical changes within the body, and our environment and family systems.
In fact, self-recognition is assumed to have developed by the time we reach the age of two1. In your toddler years you are exposed to social norms and begin to internalise these, especially in relation to gender stereotypes and expectations.
It has been reported that 40-50% of children aged 6-12 years reported being dissatisfied with their body size / shape5. Children may start to manipulate their appearance to get approval from adults and peers – therefore some researchers claim body image is a learned behaviour and not something humans naturally do1.
How do I know if my body image is distorted?
We are all exposed to the same messaging in the media, yet we don’t all have distorted body image.
Body image is a social phenomenon, with one in five adults reporting images used in advertising had caused them to worry about their body image4, with those experiencing any form of teasing about their body as a child more likely to have distorted body image1.
There may also be a link between body image and self-esteem, with high self-esteem protecting us from negative thoughts about our body and reducing any anxiety that others will judge our body negatively1.
What are the key signs you may be suffering from a distorted body image?
- Feeling unhappy with your appearance
- Losing interest in activities that once made you happy
- Experiencing low self-esteem
- You have trouble eating in front of others
- Constantly comparing yourself to other people
- Avoiding mirrors
- Avoiding social situations because you’re worried about what you look like
- Hyper fixating on specific body parts and engaging in body checking behaviours such as grabbing or poking different body areas
- You feel guilty when eating or drinking because of how you look
We all may experience some of the above from time to time but a key sign you’re suffering from distorted body image is a preoccupation with any of the above.
If you constantly compare your body to what it used to look like or what you think it should be, you are experiencing body image distortion – and if you then act on this through activities such as dieting, cosmetics and products, or even to the extent of surgery, then you may be experiencing this distortion6.
How to overcome distorted body image?
Firstly, know that you are not alone in your experience. Many people are experience bad body image.
As we aim to overcome distorted body image, we should focus on building a positive body image, or even body acceptance. Researcher, Catherine Cook-Cottone2, says cultivating a positive body image plays a powerful role in recovery from an eating disorder.
Body acceptance involves agreement between the inner aspect of yourself such as thoughts and feelings with a concept of the body that accepts all shapes, sizes and unique qualities – as well as the emotional protection of kindness toward the body2.
In a study asking those with high body satisfaction about their body’s, they commented on their ‘flaws’ but were not troubled by them, rather accepting them as part of themselves2.
We are here to support you on your body acceptance journey with our top tips to cultivate better body image!
- Prioritise your mental health
There is an established link between negative body image and mental health problems. Over one third of UK adults have felt depressed or anxious because of their body image4. By working on taking actions that will improve your mental health, you will, in turn, improve your body image.
- Notice how you talk to yourself
Your thoughts create your reality and journaling is an effective tool to begin observing your inner dialogue. When you have a negative thought about your body, write it down and then challenge yourself to write three neutral statements. It may feel challenging at first but the more your practice the easier it becomes.
- Detox your social media
Find what works for you as stepping back completely from social media may be most beneficial if it contributes to a negative body image. However, if you use it for social connection, prioritise cultivating your feed, setting daily limits and seek out body positive accounts that add to your life, rather than take away.
- Set goals to improve body function
Changing our goals from appearance-focused to function-focused is more sustainable when we are healing our relationship with our body. Focus on what your body allows you to do every single day such as run, walk, play, dance, swim! You may choose to set goals such as improving your cardiovascular fitness, getting stronger or improving your flexibility.
- Engage in embodiment practices
The aim of embodiment is to come back home to our body where we feel a deep sense of connection, appreciation, and attunement with our body. Many individuals we work with at EHL are disembodied, meaning they are out of touch with many sensations and emotions that arise in their body. You can start to practice embodiment through many practices such as mindfulness, meditation, yoga or dance.
- Cultivate an environment to support a positive body image2.
Surround yourself with other humans who don’t hyperfocus on their body. If you know someone who is struggling with their body image, we have a post on supporting them in a way that is most helpful.
If you want more support, we are here to help you every step of the way!
Contact us at email@example.com.
To learn more about our group coaching programme head to THRIVE to join a safe and supportive community of like-minded women on their journey towards body confidence, food freedom and self-love.
Team EHL x
Hosseini and Padhy 2019 https://europepmc.org/article/nbk/nbk546582
Cook-Cottone 2015 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1740144515000285
Smolak L. Body image development in childhood. In: Cash TF, Smolak L, editors. Body image: a handbook of science, practice, and prevention. 2nd ed. New York: The Guildford Press; 2011.
Phillips et al 2001 Surgical and nonpsychiatric medical treatment of patients with body dysmorphic disorder https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11815686/