How to Protect and Improve Your Body Image
Body image is something everyone has, whether positive, negative, or neutral. Thanks to diet culture, we as a nation become aware of our bodies from a very young age. The UK Government, specifically The Women and Equalities Committee, conducted a survey in July of 2020 to investigate this.
It was found that 61% of adults feel negative or very negative about their body image most of the time. This was broken down into 48% feeling ‘negative’, and 13% feeling ‘very negative’.
This was worse for children, 66% of whom felt negative or very negative about their bodies, broken down to 46% and 20% respectively.
Overall, 62% of women and 53% of men reported that they felt negatively about their body image, with men having slightly more extreme feelings; 14% feeling very negative and 3% very positive, compared with 13% and 1%, respectively, for women.
The report delved into the reasons people feel this way, asking the respondents to qualitatively explain:
Is there anything else about body image you would like to tell us?
Many responses detailed the things that they found to impact them most when it comes to their body image. Key culprits were advertising in general (TV, transport, newspapers, online, and so on), magazines, lack of diversity/representation, and social media.
While we have little control over what is posted or printed on or offline, we are able to control what we (metaphorically) consume, and to what extent, to aid in bettering our body image, and hopefully the pointers below will help with this.
Arguably the biggest culprit, as more and more people are spending time on their phones and online.
As mentioned, we can’t control what other people post on social media, but we can, to an extent, control what we see, and how frequently.
To start, unfollow anyone that makes you feel bad about yourself. This could be that their posts promote something you don’t agree with and make you question yourself, that you notice you’re comparing yourself to them or feel envious – anything that brings on negative feelings.
If you feel uncomfortable unfollowing them entirely, for example, if it’s a friend or family member, most social media platforms have the option to ‘mute’ accounts, meaning that you still follow them, but their posts are stopped from being shown on your feed.
Replace these with accounts that represent an array of shapes and sizes, and that promote body positivity, or at least neutrality, instead.
Additionally, there is also the option to select that you’re ‘not interested’ in seeing particular posts on explore-type pages (mostly applicable to Instagram and TikTok). This allows the algorithm of that platform to adjust and try to show you posts more suited to and more beneficial for you.
If none of this seems to help, consider deleting the social media apps on your phone, or hiding them in folders so they are less in view. Alternatively, most phones now have an option to limit screen time on apps of your choice at certain times, or altogether, depending on what feels necessary for you.
In terms of advertising on social media, all platforms give you the option to ‘hide’ ads, and to give a reason as to why you’d like to hide them, which can help prevent similar ads from being shown in the future.
In the same vein, reducing the number of magazines you buy and read, whether online or physically, can significantly help as well.
Simple but effective; eat what makes you feel good. If you’re wanting to feel better in your own skin, why eat foods that make you feel bad? And that doesn’t necessarily mean exclusively eating salads or vegetables – hone in on what you think your body would benefit from most, and whether you think you would enjoy that meal.
It’s important to eat things that will satiate you physically and mentally, otherwise, you will be craving certain foods you wish you had chosen instead of enjoying the meal you’re eating, even if you are already physically satiated.
Make sure you’re only wearing clothes that you feel comfortable and confident in. If you know something doesn’t fit you, or that you don’t like the way that you look or feel in it, don’t even bother trying it on, as it will likely make you feel critical of yourself.
If you can, get rid of or sell anything that doesn’t fit or that you don’t feel comfortable in, and that you don’t wear because of those feelings. Wearing something you know that you’ll feel self-conscious in all day or night is a recipe for disaster, and will mean you feel distracted and/or disengaged throughout.
Try to avoid keeping clothes that don’t fit for ‘motivation’, or tell yourself that you’ll fit back into them eventually. It’s a perpetual negative cycle that can leave you feeling trapped and ashamed if you don’t end up fitting back into them. If it’s an item you love, get it tailored if that’s an option, otherwise, try to find something similar (or the same version!) in the right size for you now.
Tip: selling your clothes on sites like eBay or Depop can be a great way of getting rid of clothes and making some money at the same time. If you don’t have time or simply don’t want to deal with the admin, charity shops are a great option too!
Stop Focussing on Other People.
Criticising other people’s appearances, whether that’s their body, make-up, clothes, or anything else, only focuses your attention on their appearance, which means that you tend to think others are fixating on your appearance in return.
You won’t love your body straight away but work towards body acceptance. Appreciate all that your body does for you, from exercise and movement to getting you through work or university, breakups and grief or weddings and celebrations – your body has been there through it all.
A lot of negative body image is deep-rooted in diet culture and fatphobia. ‘Fat’ is not inherently a negative word in its actual definition, but it’s something that the media portrays as being bad. Additionally, the media shape ‘ideal’ or ‘perfect’ bodies based on celebrities, which for most people are completely unattainable.
These are, for the most part, even unattainable for the celebrities themselves, with the extensive editing that takes place for ad campaigns. Looking in the mirror and not seeing the ‘perfect’ body depicted by the media does not mean you’re fat, and even if you are, fat does not necessarily mean unhealthy, just as slim doesn’t necessarily mean healthy.
Start to question all negative thoughts you have about yourself, and why you might be saying or thinking them. Being objective and factual in these circumstances can be greatly helpful.
Ultimately, diet culture, the media, and society, all have a lot to answer for when it comes to body image, but the above pointers can help start building a more positive body image for yourself.
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