With Eating Disorder Awareness Week (EDAW) just around the corner (don’t pretend it’s not marked on your calendars), I thought it would be helpful to talk about something topical that affects us all*: Body Image!
*Unless you don’t have a body, in which case: 1) I’m sorry, and 2) please explain.
What is Body Image?
Body Image is composed of two things:
1) The mental representation of our own physical body (e.g., size, shape, appearance), and
2) Our attitude towards our physical selves (e.g., thoughts, feelings, beliefs).
Body image is fluid and changes over time, based on things like culture, mood, societal norms, and interactions with family and friends.
Sometimes the concepts of body image and self-esteem can get confused, which is fair because they are closely related, but distinct ideas.
For the record:
Body image focuses on our attitude about single aspect of ourselves (a.k.a our physical body), while self-esteem relates to our evaluation of our overall worth (a.k.a our whole damn self).
Why is body image important?
Well, the way we think about our physical selves affects how we exist in the world. Poor body image can contribute to a whole host of issues, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, relationship issues, and substance abuse.
Not surprisingly, poor body image often leads to lower self-esteem, which can cause problems in any area of life that requires confidence (e.g., work, school, relationships, performing ukulele songs in public, etc.), and usually equals not liking ourselves very much (which is the opposite of a good time).
So, should I start eating more kale then, or…?
Okay, brace yourselves:
You can have the body of a supermodel, and have terrible body image. You can look like Gollum, and have great body image. Body image is not dictated by physical measurements, it’s dictated by how we feel about our physical measurements.
Body image is composed of attitudes, not tangible measurements or sizes. So even if our attitude is momentarily improved because we altered our body in some physically recognizable way, it is probably not going to last because we still haven’t addressed the underlying attitudes and beliefs about why we feel the way we feel about ourselves.
Which is why going on a diet or working out to improve your body image is not effective.
Plus, doing so can lead to a really exhausting cycle of believing that if we just change our body x amount more, then we will feel happy with ourselves. The problem is we quickly discover that once we’ve achieved our initial goal, the aforementioned happiness doesn’t arrive, and so we begin the cycle over again of “just a little bit more.”
In other words, body image programs that focus solely on exercise and diet are missing 90% of the body image pie, and in some cases are downright dangerous.
Plus, who only wants 10% of a pie?
So, what can we do?
1) Media Consumption!
Does the media effect our body image? Yes. Are we going to get into the intricacies of all of my feelings on this right now? No. It’s complicated, and reserved for a whole other blog post.
But! One thing we can do is to be mindful about consuming diverse media. Are you only following Gisele Bundchen look-a-likes on Instagram? Then, you are doing your body image a disservice (spoiler alert: even if you are a Gisele Bundchen look-a-like).
Why? Because we internalize the images around us (a.k.a internalization of the appearance ideal), whether we like to or not.
Which means, if we are only used to seeing emaciated airbrushed goddesses, giant muscular hulks (also airbrushed), or insert other unrealistic socially-perpetuated imagery here, in our media our reflections become a lot more difficult to feel good about (because airbrushing in life is not a thing).
In other words, the unrealistic images that we are constantly bombarded by become the new norm, creating impossible expectations that human beings will never be able to physically meet.
Even Kate Moss doesn’t look like Kate Moss in real life.
Which means: it has never been more important to consume diverse media. Consume media that is created by and representative of people of all colours, sizes, creeds, abilities, and genders.
2) Accept Yo Self! (Can we make this a hashtag?)
There are all kinds of archaic beliefs floating around that suggest that fat-shaming ourselves or others will somehow motivate us to change our bodies in a way that brings us closer to the socially-determined appearance-ideal. This is a lie.
Research shows that commenting negatively about others’ (or our own) bodies actually increases the incidence of binge eating, depression, anxiety, and low-self-esteem. You can read more about that here.
A general rule of thumb here is: don’t be a jerk. To yourself or anyone else.
One way to start moving towards body acceptance is to start saying nice things to your body every day. This can be as serious or silly as you want, but every sincere effort makes a difference. Some of my favourites include:
“Hey feet! Thanks for giving me the ability to tap dance. It makes me laugh and is a great party trick.”
“Hey legs! Thanks for helping me run, walk, and cartwheel my way through life. You da real MVP!”
“Hey body! Thanks for waking up today. I am really glad that we get to be alive.”
Rather than beating your body up for all the things it’s not, start thanking it for all of the things it does for you every day (because it’s a lot).
For those in the Calgary area: I would be remiss if I did not mention at this point that I will be facilitating an awesome body image group called The Body Project starting Feb 3rd, 2018. If you want to change the relationship you have with your body alongside a bunch of other rad ladies, click here.
3) Start talking!
Talking about how we feel about our bodies and ourselves can be an important starting place to improve things.
Talk to your friends. Talk to your Family. Talk to a mental health professional (ahem). Talk to your cat. Just talk to someone who is ready and willing to listen and support you on the road to accepting yourself.
For those in the Calgary area interested in engaging in a larger discussion about body image, I am so excited to announce that the documentary Straight/Curve will be screening as a part of Eating Disorders Awareness Week this year at Fort Calgary on February 2nd 2018.
The film is incredible and starts at 6:30 pm, followed by a panel discussion, moderated by yours truly. So, come hang out, watch a great film, and let’s talk about it! Click here to get your tickets.
If you or anyone you know in the Calgary area is experiencing a mental health crisis call the 24-hour Distress Centre line at 403-266-4357 or 911.