Positive Body Image - Physical Appearance & Mental Health
In this day and age, it is often hard to avoid being reminded of our outward physical image or appearance. It can be from your culture, social media, and even your closest friends and family. The “ideal physical image” is being projected to us by our society.
In return, we are somewhat triggered to conform, we feel sort of pressured to commit to this requirement and this, more often than not, is where our distorted self-image comes from. To maintain a certain image, one of which is not of our own choosing, one that is dictated by society, can definitely have an effect on one’s mental health and well-being, whether or not that impact lies on a more positive note depends greatly on a handful of factors.
What is getting in the way of a positive body image?
First and foremost, we have to address the reason why our looks can even make a huge impact on our own mental health. The reasons could vary from person to person but they all fall under 3 categories.
First is The Need to Conform. The need to be liked and within a social unit is particularly strong in humans. This is even more pronounced at crucial developmental stages like adolescence.
Next is The Need to Be Accepted. It is not enough that people have a positive perception of you, you yourself must be identified to be within a social group. This a trait that we got from our ancestors who survived because they were part of a functioning social unit. Those who do not conform cannot be accepted and thus the pressure to be accepted in any group increases as technology becomes more advanced.
Lastly, there is the fact that media and society tend to glance over adversity. Rather qualifies and judges people by their Appearance without Context. Society pays little attention to psychological trauma and mental illness. There is a stigma to part blame for that. Our society’s attention overall is only superficial.
And, for some reason, deeming themselves better than those considered to be different gives a lot of people pleasure. In turn, this gives those being appraised negatively even more pressure to project an image appealing enough for acceptance.
Positive Body Image
Without a doubt, it is tiring to maintain a perfect body image. These efforts take a toll. They reinforce negative thoughts and poor ways of coping.
First is the increased tendency towards self-harm. By being forced into adhering to certain image standards and an easily impressionable person might adopt a lifestyle that lends more towards long-term self-neglect. Over-exercising and poor food choices are two examples of self-harm. Read our article on binge eating to learn more.
Second is the constant release of hormones which ultimately affect the body in negative ways. Hormones like Dopamine are released when a person is happy. In conjunction with fitting to a certain image standard, this can make a person dependent on dopamine to experience that “natural high” when they get positively appraised for their appearance. Lastly, poor body image can result in lifelong mental illnesses.
Being conscious of one’s image and seeking to conform to certain standards is not a mental illness. However, it can lead to such especially through negative reinforcement. The most prevalent of these is an increase in a tendency towards self-harm and suicide, especially among teens.
Positive Body Image and Mental Disorders
Below we will list mental health disorders associated with a poor body image.
- A negative body image and eating disorders go hand in hand. People with disordered eating are often critical of their own appearance.
- Often people with depression have a negative body image. In general, they too are critical of their appearance.
- Body image concerns and Cluster B personality disorders overlap
- Body dysmorphic disorder. This condition exists when someone is very unhappy about a part of their appearance.
However, having a negative body image doesn’t mean you have a mental disorder. Many people with a negative body image cope just fine. If you are worried that your negative body image is linked to another mental health condition, speak with your GP. Your local doctor can assess for other mental conditions. Unfortunately, having a negative body image is quite common. Your doctor will have to experience working with people with a similar problem.
Addressing the Issue
Although the results of poor body image are quite prevalent these days, the conditions bring about them exist only because of poor reinforcement coming from the reasons above. When reinforcement comes from more positive sources. A more positive body image will result.
Being supported and understood is important This is where friends and family come in. Unfortunately for some people, they may not have supportive people with them. Of late, people are finding support online. Forums and online support groups are other examples.
Also, being able to identify when your beauty concerns are negatively affecting your mental health at its early stages can help intervention to prevent long-term damages.
To conform to certain standards of beauty or image as dictated by society is not “wrong”. The problem comes if, in the process of maintaining that image, you inadvertently put yourself on a path towards self-destruction. Seeing a psychologist or your doctor might be the first step you take. On a journey back to the right path.
Psychologists use cognitive exercises to help. They can teach mind exercises to silence the inner critic. Behavioural exercises, limit setting and graduated exposure to trigger will help. There is an increasing number of online self-help tools. Achieving a positive body image is possible.
Contact our friendly support team to learn more about seeing a psychologist at Epsychiatry. We have both male and female clinicians. You can contact us via email or webchat. We understand that body image is a sensitive issue.