How often do you worry about your body’s shape, size, or weight? Sure, we all feel a little awkward in our bodies from time to time, but does thinking about it stop you from doing anything else? If you find yourself constantly thinking about your body’s imperfections, it could be mean that there is a deeper issue showing up through your body image & which leads to an eating disorder. One survey shows that approximately 61 percent of adults and 66 percent of children have negative feelings about their bodies most of the time. With time, body image issues can lead to disordered eating. So let’s take a look at where the issue stems from, how it relates to eating disorders, and what you can do to alleviate it.
The Concept of Body Image
According to the APA, this is the mental picture you form about your body as a whole. It includes body percept, which is the mental image of your body’s characteristics, and the body concept, which is your attitude toward such characteristics. As a whole, it’s a unique construct that’s shaped by our collective perceptions, beliefs, and behaviours. Ultimately, how we see our body has a significant impact on our relationships and well-being.
Positive versus Negative Self-Image
Is there such a thing as a healthy body image? If there is, it’s surely common among people who have the most desirable bodies, right? Wrong. You can have a healthy or positive body image regardless of our health status. That’s because it doesn’t require you to be a certain size–you just have to view your body objectively and separate your self-worth from the way you look. The 2 things are not connected. In contrast, a negative body image means holding a distorted view of your body shape. Also titled body dissatisfaction, it’s characterised by feelings of self-consciousness, anxiety, and shame. If you face higher levels of dissatisfaction with your body, and often compared to others. And with the proliferation of social media, camera filters, and image retouching, people, especially adolescents, start making comparisons on a subconscious level. Consequently, you tend to suffer from low mood, low self-esteem, and self-isolation just by from the constant comparison!
When Body Image Issues Start
Usually, body image issues start at a younger age and propagate because of societal standards of beauty, coupled with a lack of understanding of who we are as powerful and capable human beings. When exposed to these ideals as children, we likely hold onto them for much of our lives. It’s often why we see high rates of body dissatisfaction among children, especially young girls. Girls usually begin expressing worries about their body size by age six, and one study shows that one in ten teenage girls in the UK is worried about gaining weight. Such concerns are also common among boys, who face as much weight-related bullying and fat-shaming as their female counterparts. While most cases of body image issues see onset around late childhood, they can differ from one individual to the other. In some cases, it may start at a younger age, and in some, it may never occur at all.
Although all people can experience body image issues regardless of their culture, there are different standards based on gender. While the constant is that you shouldn’t be fat, societal standards prefer girls to be thin and slender. On the other hand, boys strive to become muscular and lean.
How Body Image Issues Pave the Way for an eating Disorder
Such perceptions about your body can prompt you to rely on unhealthy ways to lose weight or maintain it. These include skipping meals, vomiting, and the use of laxatives. But aside from these methods, it’s likely that body dissatisfaction can change the way you feel about food. You may demonise it, and think of it as an indulgence when it’s actually a necessity for healthy functioning. Similarly, you may dislike mealtimes, or avoid going out with friends to eat. If you do give in to cravings, you feel unwarranted guilt and try to reverse the ‘damage’ through harsh dieting and or excessive exercise.
The Importance of Seeking Help
Aside from taking a toll on your mental health, eating disorders have lifelong effects on aspects of physical health. It can lead to nutritional deficiencies, ulcers, dehydration, and various other concerns. It’s why immediate intervention is so crucial once you learn that you or a loved one is dealing with an eating disorder.