What Does Body Image Mean?
Although the showers are colder than I like and the coffee is a silly price, I love my gym. I’m privileged enough to get the membership as a gift so the monthly fee doesn’t dampen the feeling I get when I walk in and smell the spa products. I glance ahead and see the white towels piled high (which I do not have the right membership card for!) and it feels comforting, luxurious even.
There is something about the friendly welcome, saying hi to people I exercise alongside and messing about on a tennis court once a year with the kids that I love. A bit like a posh hotel. I’ve been a member at the same gym, on and off since university, but it was only recently when I had my epiphany. I glanced at another person in the mirror and thought how much I appreciate their figure. This is normal, of course but then I did the thing I suggest others don’t do – started to do the sums in my head to work out how I can look the same.
If I could just tone my thighs a little more, probably my back a bit too… Then I went into other realms, I’d obviously need to narrow my shoulders and perhaps grow a bit shorter. If my face were a different shape and my hair a different texture I might get there. In that moment, in my head, I decided that because I felt drawn to the image of the person in the mirror it is preferable to look the same.
If I could…
It dawned on me that I need to create a separation between appreciating the beauty of a specific natural shape and the need to match it. When I look at the trees in the forest I appreciate their differences. My daughter and I took a long walk last week. As we walked we stopped at many trees to see whether they made good climbing trees. One was good for people that haven’t climbed much before. It was low with many strong branches in easy to reach places. Another was great because it had lots of different places to sit. One felt like a throne. There was another that gave scope for a high climb.
Each one different, yet exciting with great qualities. Lumps, bumps and branches all in different places. Some bigger some smaller. Some chunky, some narrow, some tall, some small. At no point did we feel like we wanted them all the same. The one with more bumps felt easier to climb and the one with less gave a positive challenge. I know for sure is that, no matter what we do the trees all remain unique and it is the uniqueness that we appreciate. At no point do we ever hope for one tree to become identical to its neighbour. This is the definition of healthy body image.
What is Body Image?
The best definition of body image is how you think and feel about yourself physically and how you believe others see you. Acceptance is a natural human need. To face rejection from the tribe puts us in imminent danger. There is an innate part of us that seeks acceptance to ensure protection and safety. When I feel drawn to a person because of their figure, my brain decides that I should look the same so others perceive me in the same way. If others feel drawn towards me then I will remain part of the tribe, accepted and safe from harm.
I have a slight problem though, like the bumps on the tree and the lower Vs higher branches. Without taking a scalpel to my body and getting some serious reconstruction I will never look like another person. I will not have the same mannerisms, my bones are a different shape. This is nothing to do with fat … we are simply different. We will always be different. Five hours a day in the gym will strengthen my body but it won’t change it into theirs. It is important that I continue to look at others with admiration. Humans, like the rest of the natural world, are magnificent and I should admire that with my own positive body image.
What is a positive body image?
When you have a positive body image you appreciate all the parts of you. My blog post here will give you some ideas to foster a positive body image. When you have a positive body image you view your body like the trees in the forest. Unique and purposeful. You have an awareness that every human has a different form and all are equally valuable. You feel positive internally and that radiates externally. Any ambition to change parts of your body comes from a positive perspective and does not harm you.
What is negative body image?
When you have a negative body image you feel dissatisfied with your body. This dissatisfaction can range from a dislike of one part of your body to disgust in all of you. There is a big association with weight and body image, unfortunately a preoccupation with what the scales say can override any previous positive feelings about your body.
What does it mean to change your body image?
When you change your body image you create a positive view of your image. There are four aspects of body image. How you see yourself, the way you feel about how you look, the beliefs and thoughts you have about your body and the way you behave in relation to the way you look. Ideally you see yourself with acceptance. Not everyone sees themselves as they really are. It is difficult to know whether you see yourself as you really are or not. It is therefore important to remember that perception is subjective and everyone sees things differently. Most people will view you as a whole, including your person.
A healthy mindset
A desire to improve yourself is a positive thing but it must begin from a healthy mindset. It is positive to recognise your current strengths and develop them to benefit yourself. For example I want to strengthen my lower trap muscles. When I spoke with a massage therapist recently she told me that my aching shoulders happen because I have weak lower trap muscles. So I do spend time in the gym working on this.
There is a difference in wishing to strengthen and change aspects of yourself because you are not good enough (i.e. wanting to lose weight with little reason other than you have decided you weigh too much, originates from a view that your current state is not good enough. Wishing to reinforce or revitalize suggests wanting to improve something that was good enough before but has the potential to be better). When you have a negative body image you have less care for yourself. There is more chance that the behaviours you employ to change your body have more risk. For example, disordered eating to lose weight. When you feel that your body is good enough you will care for it deeply and use kind techniques to reach your potential.
If this resonates with you please read more of my articles on body confidence or book a free initial consultation to chat about your personal situation.