Written by Dr. Ryan Kron Ph.D. Psychologist
Loving Your Body Image (is Rare)
Not many people truly feel good about their body image. Body image issues are common among adults, teenagers, young children, the elderly, and LGBTQ+ people. We assign value to our self-worth related to how we perceive ourselves. Moreover, we believe that part of our self-worth is related to our perceptions of how we believe people see us. Sometimes we think that how people see us defines our self-worth. Thus, our self-worth ends up being rooted in what others think of us (or what we think that they think of us). It is difficult and rare to love your body image. It is however healthy to have a positive relationship with your self-image. So what do we think of our body images?
My Body Image (is not Perfect)
“I’ll never look like them.” “I’m never going to be as pretty as her.” “I’ll never have as big of muscles like him.” “I’m too fat.” “I’m too thin.” “Why can’t I have hair like that?” “I’m too ugly.”
Sound familiar? Maybe you have had the same thoughts. Maybe you have even said something similar, or you have heard someone say these statements. Everyone wishes that they could have a better body image. It is common to desire something different about your body. Whether it is your size, shape, face, hair, height, breasts/penis, teeth, weight, thinness, muscularity, or something else, most everyone has wished for something to change about their body image that compares to an idealized body image. These are all aspects related to body image issues.
Media Body Images (are Unrealistic)
It is not hard to wish for a better body image and to experience body image issues when so-called beauty and perfection are thrown in our faces everywhere we look. Magazine covers, movies, popular social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and Tik Tok inundate us with images, products, and programs to look younger, leaner, and more muscular. The media delivers messages of beauty to both males and females every single day everywhere you look. Even toys like the Barbie doll or action figures that have exaggerated body parts and unrealistic figures communicate body ideals (Pope et al., 2000). There is a very clear reason why the image-diet-exercise industry has sales in the hundreds of billions of dollars (Haney, 2020; Walker, 2017)! If this industry didn’t use the media to portray unrealistic body images, they couldn’t profit off the millions of us that see them.
Ideal Body Images (are Subjective)
Beauty is not objectively defined. There is not a perfect body image for men, women, or LGBTQ+ individuals. There is no objective ideal standard for beauty for any demographic. Research shows that beauty is a social phenomenon and changes over time (Pope et al., 2000), sometimes in as little as one decade.
Changes in social standards are easily seen in fashion and expectations of what a man or woman should be. For example, male body ideals and socially constructed masculinity across 70 years in the United States show the clean-cut family man or playboy in the late 1950s, the hippie in the 1960s, the liberated activist of the 1970s, the muscular hunk of the 1980s, and the steroid using beefcake of the 1990s (Luciano, 1997; 2007), the metrosexual of the early 2000s, and the nonbinary gender identity formation of 2010s. In another example, 100-year analysis of illustrations of female body fashion figures from 1840 to 1940 shows body images that vary greatly in shape and size. There is even a noticeable contradiction in preferred body images related to wealth and social status – curvy and full-figured body shapes signaled wealth and elite social status in earlier decades but fashion trends in later decades among the wealthy were designed to make women look thinner (Creekmore & Pedersen, 1979).
Socially constructed ideal body images (beauty) have been shown to change over time. Women were and continue to be socially pressured to be thin but also to have accentuated body parts (Cusumano & Thompson, 1997). Men experience a similar phenomenon where they are expected to be lean but also muscular (Avila, 2021). It is no wonder why body image issues are so prevalent and pervasive. What is a person to do?!? Unfortunately, body image issues have resulted in numerous adverse outcomes for people. Consequently, many people seek to change their image.
Changing my Body Image (is Good and Bad)
A plethora of methods exists for people to change their image. Changing one’s body image may be both positive and negative. People have used clothing, cosmetics, diet, exercise, medications, supplements, illegal/legal drugs, surgery, and other appearance-transforming techniques as far back as ancient times to keep up with “current” societal trends (Haney, 2020). More recently, however, social media platforms and digital editing programs allow people to manipulate their appearance digitally to create a modified image for others to view (Brunell et al., 2021). When these techniques are adopted in a healthy manner and are the result of one having a positive relationship with their self-image, it is likely that changing one’s body image is good and results in positive outcomes (although this is not always true). When these methods are used in an unhealthy manner and/or result from body image issues stemming from a poor self-image, then changing one’s body image is bad producing adverse outcomes (or perpetuating adverse outcomes). Regardless of the method, body transformation can be both good and bad.
Body Image (Dissatisfaction)
There is however a big difference between body image transformation that is healthy/positive and appearance transformation that is damaging, unhealthy, and carries serious potential risks. Any of the aforementioned strategies can be positive or negative. When body image issues result in negative experiences, body image dissatisfaction causes problems for the individual experiencing them.
Body image dissatisfaction is understood as a negative response (cognitive and affective-emotional responses) to one’s perceived body image failing to compare or measure up to an ideal image. Often body image issues result in adverse outcomes such as eating disorders, muscle dysmorphia, steroid use, low self-esteem, anxiety, and/or depression. Not everybody who wishes that they could have a different body image suffers from body image dissatisfaction or has body image issues. It is when one experiences negative cognitive and affective-emotional responses to one’s comparison of self to an ideal image or an image perceived to be better than their own that body image dissatisfaction exists.
It is worth noting that body image dissatisfaction is different from eating disorders, although they are commonly linked. Eating disorders involve perceptual distortions in one’s body shape and/or size (Talbot et al., 2019). The definition of body dissatisfaction referred to here is specifically referring to the affective-emotional component of one’s body image. They do however share many similarities and are often found to be comorbid for a person.
Body Image Issues (do not Discriminate)
Body image issues impact women, men, and LGBTQ+ individuals alike. Body dissatisfaction does not discriminate. Originally body image issues were thought to be a female-only issue (Frederick et al., 2014). No surprise, female body image issues dominated popular and scholarly literature. Early prevalence rates found that nearly three-quarters of women experienced body dissatisfaction. Current national findings on body dissatisfaction have illustrated that over 50% of both men and women were somewhat to extremely dissatisfied with parts of their body consisting of appearance, body, weight, and muscle tone/size (Frederick et al., 2020). The last 30 years have witnessed a rise in awareness of males experiencing body dissatisfaction. Research shows that over 80% of college men suffer body dissatisfaction (Dakanalis et al., 2015). Sadly, it is taboo for males to admit to experiencing body dissatisfaction because it has long been perceived to be a female-only issue. Thus, many body image issues for men go unreported and unnoticed. The same is also true for women and LGBTQ+ people.
My Ideal Body Image (Starts with Me)
What does this mean? If body image issues can result in (or from) anxiety, eating disorders, depression, and numerous other bad things, how do I avoid these?
Body image issues inherently stem from some compromised view of self or a self-image that is negative. Body image issues are not the result of an imperfect body. Body image issues are not the result of not being beautiful. Body image issues are a matter of self-perception. Many factors and systems drive one’s self-image. These include factors within one’s social environment, family, individual physical development, personal history (including trauma), individual health, and one’s cognitive and mental capabilities. Furthermore, the interactions between the individual and all of these systems are what contribute to a healthy or unhealthy self-image.
With all the factors potentially driving body image issues, it may seem like an insurmountable feat to overcome them. Fortunately, the opposite is true, and The Truism Center can help. Conducting an initial assessment through the framework of Dr. Ryan Kron’s multisystemic reciprocal determinism (MRD) theory, factors that have the greatest influence on the individual, on you, or pinpointed. Learning how you have interacted with the strongest influencers in your life provides the direction for therapy. Thus, individualized person-centered therapy is tailored to develop goals and strategies matching your life and your world. Utilizing the reciprocal interactions between you and the systems in your life, you are offered real tangible means to overcome body image issues. You will see how you perceive yourself in your world. You will learn how to improve your self-image. Before you know it, you will have a positive view of yourself while alleviating body image issues. You will love your body image!
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