How We Look At Ourselves
By Tracey Soghrati MA Psychotherapist, RN, RP
In developed countries (e.g.: Canada, USA, United Kingdom), 20-53% of people report body image dissatisfaction. While I hope that your jaw landed on the floor reading this, I know you’re not surprised. I wasn’t either. I noticed the creep of self-criticism as I entered middle age and many felt it long before that. However, I hope that we can further self-acceptance and body positivity through a deep dive into the factors that shape the way we see ourselves.
Your body image includes your perception of your body – that is, what you think you see when you look in the mirror, or how you picture yourself in your mind. It includes your feelings about your body, which may be positive, negative or both. Likewise, your body image is impacted by how you think about your height, shape and weight. In totality, the factors (perception, feelings, thoughts/beliefs) contributing to your body image impact the choices you make.
The factors that influence your body image include culture, family values, abuse, trauma, and developmental changes (e.g. puberty, aging). It might seem obvious, but Western culture, and especially social media plays a huge role in the idealized form (white, thin or muscular, young). The bombardment of images shapes our beauty preferences, narrowing our view to a small slice of global diversity. We can begin to shift our perspective by following social accounts that promote body positivity and health at every size (HAES).
Family values that negatively impact body image include having a parent who chronically diets, negative evaluation of bodies (fat phobia), focus on appearance, and criticism centered on looks. If this is part of your history, it’s important to distinguish your values about your body – while letting go of harmful internalized beliefs.
A history of abuse or trauma (e.g. a catastrophic accident) can negatively impact your body image by triggering feelings of shame or unworthiness. The urge to get away from these feelings can lead to unconscious choices to dissociate. These factors may also trigger the urge to change the body to get rid of the feeling.
Aging impacts body image, although it’s functionality that packs the biggest punch. Older adults feel greater dissatisfaction with their bodies when they struggle to experience the things they love. Appearance dissatisfaction tends to stay the same over time or decrease. In this case, it’s important to train the aging body in a way that enhances strength and mobility over time.
A positive body image is enhanced when you actively show your body respect, care and appreciation. This includes making choices that nourish, support and protect your tissues while reducing exposure to media that portrays unrealistic forms.
Tracey Soghrati is passionate about mind-body healing, and she’s spent her life exploring the intersection between mindfulness, psychology and our relationships.