As we begin focusing on Body Image for Mental Health Awareness Week, there are a few things to keep in mind about the theme. Admittedly, the subject of ‘body image’ is a big one, and it’s unlikely that we’re going to be able to cover even a fraction of it in just one week. However, to get started, let’s begin with some reminders that would all do us a world of good to remember.
First, What Is Body Image?
Simply put, it is how you see and identify yourself. It’s your perception of your own body and how you think you look to other people. It is generally influenced by a number of internal and external factors and can be either positive or negative.
It’s important to note that our ideas don’t necessarily reflect what we really look like. More specifically, if somebody has a negative body image, it’s unlikely that other people see them in the same way that they seem themselves. While positive body image is revolved around having a truthful perception of one’s appearance, negative body image often means that individuals will have a distorted view of themselves, which can affect their mental health.
Body Image Reminders
1. Your Body Image Is Valid
So many people think that there’s a wrong way to have body image, but this just isn’t the case. While body image can be negative, it doesn’t mean that your perception is invalid, and it doesn’t mean that the way you view your body is unacceptable.
I’m cautious not to use the word ‘wrong’ because it isn’t always truthful. If you have particularly negative body image, then you likely suffer from a distorted view of how you think you look to other people. Even though this perception doesn’t reflect reality, you’re not bad or invalid for thinking that. Everybody experiences body image in their own way and everybody has their own interpretation of how they look. Your idea of yourself might not be accurate, but it’s not something that anybody else should shame you for.
Just like negative body image is valid, positive self image is valid too, and it’s great! Having a clear perception of yourself and owning how you look is wonderful and it’s something that you should do with pride.
2. Negative Body Image Can Affect Anybody
No matter your age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, or your personality, negative body image can affect you. Even though having a negative perception of ourselves isn’t what we deserve, it’s important to be aware that anybody, regardless of who they are, can suffer from negative thoughts.
This is especially important to consider, as there’s a big stigma surrounding body image and who it can affect. Society likes to make it seem that men don’t suffer from negative body image, or that it doesn’t affect the older generation, when this just isn’t the case. In fact, the belief of these misconceptions makes it all the more difficult to start a conversation about mental health and really talk about how you’re feeling. Know that negative self-image doesn’t care about who we are as people – it can and will affect anybody, even if they seem confident in themselves.
The best way to start fighting the stigma surrounding mental health is to simply have an open mind and acknowledge their own reality. You might not agree with their negative perception, but that doesn’t make it any less real for them.
3. Food Is Your Fuel, Not Your Enemy
I know how easy it is to be mad at the fact that you have to eat, and to be mad at food in general. Believe me, it’s something I struggle with every single day, and this reminder is one that I also need to take on board. The simple fact is that food is fuel, not your enemy.
It’s hard to believe, especially if you have a negative body image, but it really is true. Even if you don’t want to think it’s true – look at it rationally and logically. Food is, literally, fuel. It’s where you get your energy from, and that energy allows you to keep kicking ass and taking names. It allows you to achieve your goals and live your life to the fullest. Even if you’re not out there skydiving, food genuinely allows you to keep functioning at a very minimal basis. It’s not bad for you, and no food is inherently ‘bad’ at all. You need food to function.
You deserve food, too. Another point that’s really hard to remember, but this is where self-care comes in. Even though it’s a cliché and it’s hypocritical of me to say, you really do need to treat yourself like you’d treat a friend. I’m still trying with that one.
4. Your Image Does Not Define You
Your body image does not define you – it never has and it never will. So it might be about how you think you look to other people, but that doesn’t mean that it determines your worth. It doesn’t dictate who you are as a person.
Your perception doesn’t represent your positive qualities, nor does it showcase your talents and your achievements. It doesn’t show how kind you are, or how loving you are, or how driven. It doesn’t represent the way that your face lights up when talking about something you love or the way that you care for others. Your body image is simply an idea you have of yourself, but it does not determine your own worth. You are so much more than negative thoughts, even if you can’t see it.
At the end of the day, you deserve to be here. You deserve to take up space. I know it’s hard to believe, but there is no wrong way to have a body, and we are all individual.
Body image really is fluid and flexible. One day is can be overwhelmingly positive, and the next is can be more negative than it’s ever been before. Whether you experience positive or negative self-perception or a mixture of both, these few reminders are always good to keep in mind.
What type do you experience? Are there any reminders that you tell yourself?