Body image difficulties effect a significant proportion of the population with around 30% of the teenage and adult population feeling upset or ashamed about their body image.
- Mental Health Foundation, 2023.
Body Image difficulties can lead to high levels of anxiety, depression, low self esteem and suicidal feelings. Body Image difficulties can focus specifically on one area of the body we’re not happy with, such as the nose or chest, or individuals may experience a more global feeling of discontent, around body shape, or a sense of being unattractive in comparison to others.
What causes Body Image Difficulties?
Unfortunately, when it comes to our Body Image, we live in a toxic society; we’re bombarded with contradictory images of how we’re supposed to look: Enhanced, Natural, dressed up, dressed down, curvy, skinny, muscly, soft, flawless, hard, real… we’re drowning in idealised images and for many of us they’re unobtainable. Our lives are documented more than ever before on social media and there is a culture that’s been built on getting approval from others in the form and likes, retweets and shares. We’re then told to be positive about our bodies to love our imperfect bodies, this is still making the body a primary focus.
Our history also has a lot to do with Body image difficulties. Being bullied, mistreated, let down, compared to others, can all cause us to look in the mirror and focus a host of unhappy feelings onto our own image.
Similarly, if your appearance was highly prized when you were growing up and you were praised for looking a certain way, such as neat or cute, this can also be a precursor to poor body image.
Genetics can also play a role in body image issues, we know purely because of their genetic make-up some people are more vulnerable to developing the thinking styles that can lead to body image issues.
What are some of the symptoms of Body Image Difficulties?
• Preoccupation with our body image so much that it is a central point of focus compared to other areas of our life.
• Seeing our body or areas of our body in a negative light and experiencing related low or anxious feelings.
• Believing that other people negatively judge us on our body image..
• Continually comparing ourselves to other people in a negative light. This is called “compare and despair.”
• Researching cosmetic enhancements to correct our body image.
• Believing that because of our body image we won’t ever be happy/find a partner/be fulfilled.
• Seeing ourself only as our perceived defect, filtering out or minimising the importance of anything else related to our identity.
• Compulsive mirror checking and/or mirror avoidance.
• Intrusive images of our body image.
• Avoiding social situations due to body image concerns.
• Attempting to manipulate the angles in which people see us in real life.
• Your body image is CENTRAL to life.
What you can do to improve your Body Image
• Seeing your body as a whole working vessel that is continually in flux.
• Practicing gratitude in other areas of your life.
• Stopping body checking.
• Learn how to use a mirror without judging yourself.
• Setting a “compare and despair” ban.
• Remember that your long terms goal is body neutrality.
• Developing stress reduction skills to help you emotionally regulate.
• Learning detached mindfulness skills to help you let go of preoccupying body focussed thoughts.
• Frame your body image issues as a psychological problem not physical defects
For the past 20 years I’ve supported teenagers and adults who have body image difficulties and I use a variety of evidence based psychotherapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Schema Therapy. If you’re looking for counselling for you or your child, I’m an accredited psychotherapist based in Wilmslow, Cheshire which is in easy reach of South Manchester, Macclesfield and Cheshire.