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how negative body image impacts women

In honor of the Lawrence County Women’s Conference coming up on March 7thAngelus will be focusing the next few blogs on women’s issues, beginning with an area that appears to impact most women: body image. We’ve all heard that having a healthy body image is important, but thinking positively (or at least neutrally) about your own body can be especially hard when we live in a society that focuses so heavily on appearance. Though both men and women experience issues related to body image and pressures to look a certain way, today’s focus will be on how this impacts women.

Body Image Defined 

Yes, body image entails what you think about yourself & your body, but it goes a lot deeper than that. Your body image is not only shaped by what YOU perceive about your own body, but also how OTHERS react to you. What you’ve learned throughout your entire life about what is attractive in society and “acceptable” to look like influences how you think and feel about yourself. Have you ever decided to stop following an account on social media or stop watching a tv show because it made you feel bad about yourself? You (and everyone else you know) have been conditioned to some extent to appreciate and aspire to certain socially desirable appearances. This ranges from weight, hair color/texture, skin color, body shape, and even particular styles of dress.

Not having a healthy body image can not only lead to poor self-esteem, but in some cases, it can lead to conditions like depression, anxiety, eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). BDD entails having an extremely distorted body image, obsessively focusing on it, and likely not wanting to be around people because of it. People with BDD may feel as if they are disgusting/repulsive. Sometimes people may even develop disordered eating as a result of unhealthy body image. It’s important to be aware of these issues and if you may be headed down that path

What Affects Women’s Body Image?

There are so many things that can influence a person’s body image, like friends and family, but media (tv, social media, advertisements, models, games, movies, etc) has a particularly large influence on what with think is attractive/acceptable. For example, how many movies feature a “fat girl” getting the guy? I’ll give you a minute…the only one I could think of is Hairspray. I am positive that there are more but the numbers are so significantly lower than the number of movies with women who fit that “ideal” shape that they don’t come easily to mind.  

The absence of diverse body types being shown in the media perpetuates a really harmful underlying message: only thin women are deserving of love and relationships. People who don’t fit that thin ideal are stereotyped as lazy, unhealthy, unintelligent, undesirable, and the list goes on and on. Now that we’ve called out some unhealthy pressures for what they are… what is there to do about it?  

Separating Yourself from
Harmful Pressures 

It may seem impossible to separate yourself from some of the harmful pressures in society about body image, but there are some things that you can start doing today that will lead to a healthier body image over time.

Ways for Women to develop a healthier body image: 

  • Notice when you’re making social comparisons
  • Be mindful of the language you are using
  • Watch what type of media you are consuming
  • Take pride in your appearance
  • Notice what you LIKE about yourself and seek at least one thing out daily
  • STOP connecting with other women over what you DON’T like about yourself 
Notice Social Comparisons

Let’s expand a bit on each point. Notice when you make social comparisons and what is it doing for you. Is it helpful or does it make you feel bad about yourself? Do you compare yourself to others in terms of body shape? Weight? What is your focus? Try to notice your reaction. If you feel worse after the comparison, use a healthy distraction instead to disengage from that behavior, or replace it with a positive thought about yourself.

be mindful of language

Notice what type of language you use to describe yourself and other bodies. Is it negative? Do you use words like “disgusting” or “gross”? Change up your vocabulary and don’t allow yourself to use such demeaning words to talk about your body or someone else’s. That just perpetuates the negativity that could be bringing you down.  

watch media consumption

Pay attention to what you are consuming. Do you follow a bunch of fitness Instagram accounts? Beauty gurus who use filters on all their photos? If you consume media that showcases an impossible ideal of perfection, it may be time to lessen that consumption or shifting it to more realistic unairbrushed images. Remember to take the filter off your own Snap Chat impulses while you are at it. Sure, many of them are a lot of fun and funny to send to friends, but when you start needing to see the airbrushed improvements in your own images you are beating up your unairbrushed self in the process.  

pride in your appearance

Another way to help boost your body image is to take pride in your appearance. This doesn’t mean being vain and seeing yourself above others, but it means taking care of yourself. Do things for yourself that feel good and help you to look your best. This may mean doing your nails regularly, getting your hair cut, expressing yourself through makeup or wardrobe. Make sure you’re doing what feels good to you and check to make sure you’re NOT doing something because you feel like you should or you feel like you have to in order to get approval.

notice what you like about yourself

Many women spend so much time thinking about what they would like to change about their bodies. If this sounds like you, put in some effort to reorient your focus. What is it that you LIKE about your body? You might start off by being grateful that you are relatively healthy or that you like the color of your eyes, the shape of your nose, or the strength that your body has shown in carrying your children. There is always something to be grateful for, even if you feel like you don’t like many parts of yourself. Over time, you can expand those “liked” parts.

last but not least, be positive

And finally, and this is a big one, STOP connecting with other women over what you dislike about yourself. There seems to be a type of camaraderie among women in which it’s an acceptable (and encouraged!) talking point to bemoan how your body looks. Don’t engage in conversations like this. You can work to change the subject or say something more neutral like “I am working to accept myself as I am.” Remember that most women are struggling in the same ways you are. Make sure to use positive and affirming language with the other women in your life, tell them what you like about them. Be honest and gracious, use kindness in your approach

We have the opportunity as women to change our world, to create one that builds women up rather than tearing them down. The Lawrence County Women’s Conference is a great way start making a difference on a local level. March 7th there will be a full day event of speakers, shopping from women owned businesses and networking/ connecting with other women in the New Castle area. Be a part of it if you can 

Extra Support 

Body image can fluctuate. Some days you might feel great about yourself, the next you may not want to look in the mirror. It’s normal for body image to shift. However, if you would like to work toward having a more stable and healthy body image, counseling can help. Make an appointment with Angelus today to start unpacking some of the underlying behaviors and thoughts that may be keeping you stuck from appreciating and loving who you are right now. The goal isn’t to say you will accept yourself when XYZ happens (losing weight, etc), the Goal is to Accept and Love yourself NOW. That’s the key to a healthy body image, and counseling can be that extra tool to get you there.

Blog Credit: Natalie Drozda, MA, LPC is a PH.D student in Counseling Education and Supervision at Duquesne University & therapist at Angelus Therapeutic Services

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