What Is Body Image?
Body image is defined by the National Eating Disorders Association as how you see yourself when you look in the mirror or when you picture yourself in your mind. Continuing, NEDA identifies the following as aspects of body image:
- What you believe about your own appearance (including your memories, assumptions, and generalizations)
- How you feel about your body, including your height, shape, and weight
- How you sense and control your body as you move
- How you feel in your body, not just about your body.
For many individuals, poor body image can trigger more severe issues, like eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. There are several factors that contribute to body image, including biological components, environmental stressors, such as the mainstream media, as well as psychological and emotional issues.
A person’s body image can change and evolve over time, and poor body image can be triggered by different life events.
Low self-esteem or poor body image can negatively influence a person’s quality of life, especially if these issues prevent a person from engaging in activities they previously enjoyed or prevent them from carrying out normal, daily tasks.
How I Have Battled Self-Esteem Issues
Poor body image as it relates to self-esteem is an issue that I have personally battled since I was an adolescent girl. Specifically, I was twelve years old when I first began to think negatively about my body and actively restrict my food intake.
For me, body image was a complex thought in which I would lose myself entirely through patterns of disordered eating. Eventually, I began to fight an everyday battle with anorexia and bulimia.
Throughout my journey of recovery, I have read many books, met many amazing individuals, and learned coping skills. I have found that reading is an excellent resource and tool for me for my recovery from anorexia and bulimia.
What Has Helped Me Improve My Self-Perception
One of the books I’ve read recently is titled, “Weightless; Making Peace with Your Body” and is written by Kate Wicker. Among the many quotes in the book that stand out, please consider the following:
“Eating too little or too much is often a means of coping with fears and insecurities. We have to uncover the feelings behind our actions to allow real healing to begin.”
For me, I have had to peel back the layers and really get into the emotional driving forces of my eating disorder. Why do I want to engage in such harmful and unhealthy behaviors to my body?
Once I had uncovered the why, it was time to begin working on how to combat these thoughts of negative body image.
For my work in recovery, this meant getting in touch more with my body through movement such as yoga and Pilates. Continuing, the negative self-talk had to stop. I actively try to redirect my thoughts daily, in an attempt to acknowledge the positives.
Also, spending less time in front of a mirror really helps me to stop the negative body image thoughts and negative self-talk.
I did an exercise for one of my therapy projects in which I only allowed myself to look into the mirror in the mornings as I was getting ready for my day.
This project challenged me to stop critiquing every single aspect of myself in the mirror, and instead devote this time to something positive. For instance:
- Getting outside
- Calling a friend
- Taking a walk
- Enjoying one of my favorite hobbies
The Conclusions I’ve Drawn About Poor Body Image, and What Has Helped Me
I realized at the end of this project, that I really did feel much better, was able to better focus and actually enjoy moments again, and the negative self-talk had declined.
I have read, and continue to read, books every day that will support me in my recovery.
“Life beyond Your Eating Disorder” is a text that I still turn to along my journey of recovery. Johanna S. Kandel writes words of hope and encouragement that continue to inspire me. The first words on the page are as follows, “A day is a day, a meal is a meal, a moment is a moment.”
Johanna goes on to say that gradually, a healthy voice will become stronger and louder until it’s actually louder than the eating disorder voice. Recovery is possible. Johanna Kandel’s words yet again speak beautifully to this when she writes, “The greatest thing about recovery is that there is a whole life, filled with infinite possibilities, after your eating disorder.” (180)
Poor Body Image Is Complex, but Not Impossible to Treat
Concluding, in reference to poor body image and the impact on self-esteem, there are many contributing factors which may lead to a negative body image, including biological, environmental, psychological, and emotional influences. However, through an awareness of these factors, we are able to work to avoid and even stand against them.
Personally, to promote my own healthy body image and positive self-esteem, I continue to read and educate myself, eat healthy to nourish my body, practice yoga to stay in touch with movement and make an active effort to talk to myself in an encouraging manner daily.
I am currently reading a book written by Becky Henry titled, “Just Tell Her to Stop”. She addresses the importance of learning to deal with external stimuli and the many benefits of it. In addressing body image and the impact on self-esteem, this is essential, as there are so many external factors which may greatly contribute to our body image.
Body image is an undeniably complex issue for many, however, there is hope of having a positive body image and self-esteem. There is always hope. The following is one of my favorite quotes and I recite it daily:
“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.”
― Emily Dickinson
If you have struggled with poor body image, low self-esteem, and/or an eating disorder, it is important to know that you are not alone.
Poor body image often silences the sufferer, making it easy to isolate due to feelings of shame or unworthiness. However, isolation can worsen matters, making it even more difficult to find healing and recovery.
Take the first step by talking with someone that you trust and sharing some of the struggles you are facing.
Working with an eating disorder specialist and/or a body image therapist can give you the support you need to overcome poor body image and improve your own self-perception.
About the author: April Ballard Warren, MA has a Masters of Arts Degree in Education, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology along with a minor in Social Welfare. She is a college professor at Eastern Kentucky University. April is recovering from anorexia and bulimia, and focuses every day of her life on helping sufferers of eating disorders and promoting health and wellness.
References:: Just Tell Her to Stop. Becky Henry. 2011.
: Weightless: Making Peace with Your Body. Kate Wicker. 2011.
: Life beyond Your Eating Disorder. Johanna S. Kandel. 2010.
: NEDA nationaleatingdisorders.org
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Updated By: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC on August 1, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on August 1, 2017.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com