Media messages and images that define the ideal appearance standards are internalized and lead to body dissatisfaction. We are socialized to think that we could change our body and achieve that ideal and fictitious image, if only we do certain things and try hard enough.The unrealistic, attainable and brushed images of the ideal male and female body create a frustrating and distressing gap between the perceptions of our actual body and what our ideal body should look like. The more the comparisons of the self with those images are made, the more body dissatisfaction rises and the body image becomes more negative.
How we perceive, think and feel about our body can lead to maladaptive behaviors such as excessive workouts, extreme dieting, consumption of appearance and performance enhancing substances, avoidance, constant body checking( e.g. mirrors, weighting, measuring, feeling the body parts, comparing oneself to others ), cosmetic procedures or surgery and reassurance seeking. When taken to extremes, any of these behaviors and body alteration methods can be detrimental to an individual’s physical and mental health. Negative body image is associated with shame, depression, low self- esteem, anxiety, self-criticism, more social isolation, impaired intimacy and sexual functioning, eating disorders, body dysmorphic disorder and diminished quality of life.
Gender similarities in body image-
- The perfect muscular V shaped tall male body that is portrayed in the media is as unattainable for man as the ideal thin body is for women, which raises the presence of negative body image in both genders. The body dissatisfaction seems to worsen over time.
- Negative body image is associated with rigid and negative thoughts and beliefs about the body’s shape, size and weight. These thoughts and beliefs influence information processing about the body and behaviour choices in divers of situations. Rumination about the body reduces concentration, performance abilities and raises negative emotions.
- Women and men feel more insecure and negatively about their body in the company of a potential partner; when the topic of the conversation is about physical appearances and when they think that others are thinking or judging their appearance.
Studies show that there are also differences in body image perceptions.
- Women with negative body image tend to avoid significantly more social situations, recreational activities and social interactions in which their appearance can be judged, the body might get more attention and/or will be on display than men do. A few examples could be dating, sexual intimacy, exercise classes, going to doctor, parties, beach etc.
- Women report body shame more openly than men. Failure to reach the idealized standard of body perfection can leave many women feeling ashamed about their body. The more a woman values physical attractiveness, beauty and weight/body shape as important to the self- worth, the more shame is felt. Men, who value strength and muscularity more, will report more body shame than men who do not hold these attributes as highly important. However, in situations in which the body is more on display ( e.g. underwear, swimwear) both men and women report similar levels of self-consciousness.
- Women’ dissatisfaction with their body is perceived in terms of attractiveness, sexuality and desirability. The main focus is on weight and size, whereas men perceive it more as a sign of masculinity and look more at muscularity, strength, stamina and physical coordination.
- Women tend to overestimate their weight. Thinking that they are fatter and bigger in shape than they are, while interestingly enough men think that they are more muscular and less heavy than they actually are.
- Women value their body on appearance .The body is perceived as an object and it not really valued in terms of its’ performance. As the focus on an ideal muscular body for men increases in the media, men also value their body on its appearance, but they still look and value the body’s performance of goals too (e.g. muscular strength, endurance) .
How do you think and feel about your body? Did any of the points above sound familiar to you? A body image is fluid and on a continuum but if it comes to a point that your body image makes you unable to recognize what makes you special and you are unable to feel good about yourself, as well as, you have a limited overall life satisfaction, then it is time to adjust that body image. Think about it….how much and by how far are you influenced by your body image?
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