By Ciara Corcoran
Ask anyone how they feel about their body and there’s usually a list of complaints a mile long.
Your body image can be influenced by your own beliefs and attitudes as well as those of society, the media and peer groups. It’s easy to start feeling bad about the way you look when you remember we’re surrounded by images of perfection.
Celebrities always seem like they’ve perfect make-up, perfect figures and shiny white teeth. Magazines are full of tall, thin, glamorous models who never seem to have bad hair days. We see unrealistic body images in the media every day – watching TV, reading magazines, and going to the cinema to name a few.
Trying to live up to those standards is not only stressful, it’s pointless. Celebrities and models not only have personal trainers, nutritionists and stylists but are also subjected to photoshopping. Photos in magazines are usually air-brushed to perfection. Any extra curves, spots, wrinkles, fuzzy hair (anything that’s normal really) are gotten rid of by a computer. Fashion designers also often use models that are several sizes smaller than the average person.
Men are not immune to this issue. For men, the ‘perfect’ muscled body is still held up as a model for readers to follow. Some experts believe that the media’s message about male body image is causing a rise in the number of eating disorders in men. The issue of male body image can be seen as silly and not a real issue but men across the world feel pressures to look a certain way and live up to social expectations.
Between body, height, hair and clothes men can often be as self-conscious as women who are subjected to the same social pressures. Men often feel like they shouldn’t be affected by body image concerns, that they should be the ‘tough man’, but this does not need to be the case. For example, men feel an expectation to be trim and toned. When they are told they’ve put on weight or need to ‘bulk up’ it can be seen as banter but it can make men very self-conscious in the same way women are affected.
Remember: healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes, big and small, and these are all beautiful. It’s okay to be who you are! No matter what shape or size you are, the main thing is to be fit, healthy and happy with your body!
Impact on self esteem
Unfortunately, when it comes to looks, we’re often our own harshest critics. Self-esteem is the answer to the question “how do I feel about myself” and when we’re harsh on ourselves our self-esteem takes a major hit. Research carried out by the personal care brand Dove in 2010 found that only 4% of women across the world considered themselves beautiful.
What is more frightening is the statistic that 6 out of 10 girls are so concerned with the way they look that anxiety forces them to exclude themselves from social occasions, daily rituals, even failing to attend school. Body confidence and self-esteem are very important particularly regarding general and mental health. Low body confidence is a serious issue which has been linked to depression, obesity, low aspirations and eating disorders.
We might feel better in the short-term to think models we see in magazines don’t really look that good, or we see them in snatched images without their make-up coming out of the gym. But, that’s not what learning to love the skin you’re in is really all about. That means learning to be happy with your appearance, whatever anyone else looks like. It means accepting yourself, imperfections and all, and learning not to compare yourself with other people. If you truly accept yourself, you won’t need to compare.
Easier said than done right?
Yes, and it won’t happen overnight. There’ll always be times when we look at ourselves in the mirror and wish we could change something about ourselves. But, having a healthy body image means we can soon forget about it, and move on. People with a healthy body image don’t really need anything about their bodies to change in order to be happy.
How to learn to accept the way you look:
- Question messages in the media – every time you see a magazine article showing tall, thin models, ask yourself why it’s making you feel bad. As long as you stay fit and healthy, you can look good whatever your body shape is. Don’t accept a social rule that says only thin people are beautiful.
- Stop buying magazines – if what you’re reading or watching is promoting an unrealistic stereotype, why not boycott the magazine or TV show in question? Life is hard enough without being constantly told we’re not good enough.
- Find your own style – wear what you want and not what’s in fashion. Finding styles that suit your body shape will give you confidence. Don’t feel like you have to wear something just because it’s trendy.
- Appreciate your other qualities – list the good things about yourself without referring to your appearance. Learning to love yourself ; it’s what’s inside that is important.
- Embrace your differences – the world would be a boring place if everyone looked the same. As time goes on, you might find it’s your differences from other people that you appreciate, not your similarities.
Don’t get hung up on your body, remember it takes all sorts to make the world. There are millions of different types of people so accept yourself as you are. As long as you feel happy with yourself, that’s all that counts.
Many people have problems with their body image and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.If you’re having a hard time with your body image, there is plenty of help out there.
Counselling – 061 202327 CM-070
BodyWhys for eating disorders – 1890 200 444
Thanks to SpunOut and ReachOut for all your great information.