Body Image for Whole Body Health

Saying it louder for the people in the back that you do not need to be diagnosed with an eating disorder to live with poor body image. Body image is a universal aspect of being human. While body image is extremely subjective, it is important to talk about what body image really is and how it so significantly impacts our whole body health and nourishment.

To put it simply: body image is the mental representation an individual creates of themselves. This includes a person's perception of their physical self and feelings, positive, negative or both, which result from that perception. However, there are several complexities.

One's body image can bear no relation to the correct representation of how one actually looks or how others see them. Body image is extremely subjective because it is shaped (and often distorted) from all kinds of early experiences. According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), it involves memories, assumptions, and generalizations. Why does this matter? Because body image so strongly influences one's behavior and how he or she takes care of him or herself.

Preoccupation with (and distortions of) body image are overwhelmingly present in today's society. The results of this have contributed to high rates of eating disorders among both men and women and other mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. It is important to start the discussion about what negative body image is so we can understand it and overcome it, especially because so many of its characteristics are normalized and even encouraged in our current culture. Below is by no means an exhaustive list, but signs of negative body image include:

- Frequent comparison of shape and size to others

- Feeling ashamed, self-conscious, uncomfortable, awkward and anxious about one's body

- Negative thinking or comments about one's body, often with feelings of envy or judgments about others’ bodies)

- Obsessive self-scrutiny in mirrors or avoidance of mirrors to prevent feeling disappointed

- Chronic and consistent feelings of dissatisfaction with one's body that interferes with daily living

- Frequently weighing one's self

- Avoiding certain articles of clothing due to own perception of body or due to fear of being scrutinized

- Preoccupation with body shape or size

- Disordered eating and exercise patterns (these patterns can include-binging, purging, restricting food, excessively counting calories, use of diet pills, diuretics, laxatives, use of steroids, exercising excessively to either bulk up or to compensate for caloric intake)

It is pretty safe to say that this list includes behaviors that the average person sees on a daily basis in one way or another. However, this does not mean they are okay, and does this by no means mean they are healthy. They are also behaviors I see so very often in my work. What society deems as normal are major concerns because of all the negative impacts they take on health and quality of life. Quite frankly, these "norms" are extremely dangerous and a major public health concern. Need more convincing? Below are some statistics captured in several areas around the world:

Male Body Image Statistics

Males: Children and Teenagers

Research conducted in the U.S showed that around 25% of male children/adolescents were concerned about their muscularity and leanness, by expressing a greater desire for toned and defined muscles. Research on Australian male children and adolescents reported that around 17% were dissatisfied with their body and that around 5%