We spent the summer talking about several steps you can take to turn body dissatisfaction into body acceptance. We also presented some of the very important reasons why someone might be motivated to embark on such a task. The bottom line: negative body image can negatively impact all other areas of life – career, academics, physical health, social interaction and intimate relationships. As many as 67% of women ages 15-64 withdraw from life-engaging activities because they feel badly about their bodies. And women are not alone in the struggle; Thirteen percent of college-aged men say their appearance is traumatic or difficult to handle as well.As we head into the fall, its important to remember that negative body image doesn’t just go away for most people simply because the beach vacations and relentless bikini body advertisements subside. As much as we wish that was the case, we know body image is much more than a seasonal hazard.
Body insecurity will follow young boys and girls into middle school classrooms where they may stop raising their hands or engaging in class discussion to avoid drawing attention to their appearance.
Body insecurity will follow young adults onto college campuses around the country where it, paired with genetic risk factors like perfectionism and anxiety, plus fear of the Freshman 15, may provide fuel for the development of an eating disorder.
Body insecurity will follow the new mom to the play date where she will silently compare and scrutinize her body. She’ll be sold a thousand different ways to get her pre-baby body back.
Body insecurity will follow the quiet colleague home from work each night. He refuses to hang out with friends or start dating until he finally “bulks up” again.
These may be the realities of day-to-day life with body dissatisfaction but they don’t have to be the end of the story. In addition to the 3 Steps we laid out during the #bodypositivesummer campaign, here are a few guidelines to help boost body image in any season.
1. Don’t postpone important events or fun life goals for appearance or weight-related reasons. Putting off a special vacation, not applying for your dream job or not going on a date until you lose XX lbs. is a recipe for missed opportunities and delayed happiness. Saying you’ll get around to something in few months can quickly turn into a few years, or even decades. If you’ve been waiting to live life fully because you’re unhappy with your body, consider taking one small step today towards whatever it is you’ve been putting off. Research flights, update your resume or call an old friend.
2. Stop Fat Chat. When among friends or in social settings commit to steering the conversation away from appearance-based judgments and into more positive territory. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a report urging pediatricians and parents to stop focusing on weight, or even mentioning weight, during discussions with children and teens. The reason? Focusing on weight backfires, often leading to unhealthy behaviors that are associated with both obesity and eating disorders. The same is true for adults. Stop focusing on your weight as the golden marker of health and you may actually find it’s easier and/or more fulfilling to engage in healthful behaviors.
3. Cleanse your social media feed. Disconnect from the negativity, surround yourself with positive, healthy, and uplifting social media accounts. If you’re online quite a bit, there is no reason to allow Instagram followers who consistently engage in fat talk or body criticism to cloud your view of yourself. You have every right to unfollow Twitter users that promote weight loss or diet products, even if they are close friends or family members. Remember, you are the curator of your accounts; use that power to cultivate a body positive presence for yourself online.
4. Last but definitely not least…ASK FOR HELP. Negative body image can be a risk factor in the development of eating disorders or may trigger relapse while in recovery from one. If you’re having a lot of negative body image thoughts throughout the day or they’re impacting your behaviors around food and weight it might be time to seek support. Specific evidence-based therapies like Cognitive Behavior Therapy can be effective in addressing body dissatisfaction. It can help to tell a trusted friend, spouse, or parent that you’re struggling and ask them to support you in getting connected to a counselor or therapist who is trained in these specific techniques.
Not sure where to turn? You can complete a confidential online self-assessment here or call (410) 938-5252 for more information.
Visit eatingdisorder.org for additional resources.