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How’s Your Body Image?

Very few people are totally satisfied with the way they look. The difference between having a healthy and unhealthy body image is the degree of that dissatisfaction and the way it is expressed.

There is nothing wrong with realizing that you are thirty pounds overweight and that you would look better without those excess pounds. However, there is something wrong if, because of the extra pounds, you hate your body and call yourself all kinds of names that you would never say in polite society.

People with a healthy body image work on what they can change in their body and accept what they cannot change. They do not let their physical shortcomings get in the way of having a ‘life’.

People with an unhealthy body image are never satisfied. Improving their looks by having cosmetic surgery or getting lean and defined through exercise does nothing to improve the way they feel about themselves or their looks.

Rita Freedman, author of “Body Love: Feeling Good About Your Looks and Yourself”, writes, “There’s hardly any connection between a woman’s actual physical attractiveness (as rated by others) and her satisfaction with her body”. She says studies show that pretty women are as likely to be unhappy with their looks as plain ones. She further states, “There’s very little connection between physical attractiveness and feelings of self-worth”.

However, there is a strong relationship, Freedman says, between body image and self-esteem. Therefore, regardless of appearance, people who view their bodies favorably tend to have higher self-esteem than those who view their bodies unfavorably.

The relationship between your body image and self-esteem has little to do with how you really look. It has more to do with what you believe and what you think other people believe about your looks.

Rate your body image
“The Eating Issues and Body Image Continuum” was developed by nutritionists at the University of Arizona to help people determine if they have dysfunctional eating patterns and/or a dysfunctional body image. This version was adapted from the original by registered dietician Sheri Barke. Although you may have body image attitudes that are spread out over the continuum, Barke says the goal is to be mostly in the “body is not an issue” and “body acceptance” categories.

Body is not an issue
· I feel fine about my body.
· I don’t worry about changing my body weight or shape.
· I never weigh or measure myself.
· My feelings about my body are not influenced by society’s concept of an ideal body shape.
· I know that the significant others in my life with always love me for who I am, not for how I look.

Body acceptance
· I pay attention to my body and my appearance because it is important to me, but it only occupies a small part of my day.
· There are some things about my body that I would like to change, but I spend most of my time highlighting my positive features.
· My self-esteem is based on personality traits, achievements, and relationships – not just my body image.

Body preoccupied/obsessed
· I weigh and measure myself a lot.
· I spend a significant amount of time viewing myself in the mirror.
· I compare my body to others.
· I have days when I feel fat.
· I accept society’s ideal of body shape and size as the best body shape and size.
· I’d be more attractive I were thinner, more muscular, etc.

Distorted body image
· I spend a significant amount of time exercising and dieting to change my body shape.
· My body shape and size keeps me from dating or finding someone who will treat me the way I want to be treated.
· I have considered changing (or have changed) my body shape and size through surgical means so I can accept myself.
· I wish I could change the way I look in the mirror.

Body/hate association
· I often feel distant and disassociated from my body – as if it belonged to someone else.
· I hate my body and I often isolate myself from others.
· I don’t see anything positive or even neutral about my body shape and size.
· I don’t believe others when they tell me I look okay.
· I hate the way I look in the mirror.

The “ideal” body does not exist
There is no such thing as an ideal body because ideals change all the time. Today’s “ideal” body is slim, lean and defined. Yet, this type of body was not always considered attractive. Trying to achieve society’s ideal of beauty (past, present or future) is setting yourself up for failure since many of us will not fit into whatever is deemed the ideal body for that era.

Attractive people can be found in all sizes and shapes. If you feel you need a role model to look up to, choose one who closely resembles your own size and shape so your aspirations are realistic.

Learn to love your body.
To love your body, you must be comfortable with your appearance. Dr. Elena Ramirez, staff psychologist at a Vermont weight and health management center, shared with Prevention magazine a body image exercise to encourage body acceptance. Ramirez says to slowly acclimate yourself to your image in the mirror by spending a few seconds a day looking at yourself with clothes on. As the days pass, wear fewer clothes until you are looking at your body completely naked for a few minutes at a time. Ramirez says that many people cringe at looking at their bodies and develop unrealistic ideas of what it really looks like. By facing your fears, you conquer them. This exercise helps you to love your body in a healthy way – celebrate your good points, resolve to change whatever bad points are within your power to change, and peacefully accept what you cannot change.

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