I didn’t have to look far to find examples of unrealistic body images after deciding I would use that topic as the focus of my next Blueline News post. Aside from the dozens of articles that populated my google search, I found myself barraged by unsolicited advertisements posted on the side of my screen telling me that I could drop a pant size (“It’s easy!” it said), alongside images of flawless women, with perfectly white teeth, a perfectly flat stomach and a perfectly curved waist
The topic of body image is something that can bring up sensitive feelings. Many people, especially women, feel insecure in their own skin, finding fault with one aspect of their appearance or another, constantly striving for an ideal that is not attainable or real. Social media, advertisements, TV and the Internet constantly bombard us with unrealistic ideas of beauty and body shape that cannot be achieved without the aid of screens and computer programs. These subtle messages chip away at anyone’s resolve to be happy with their body image. But they are everywhere; their sheer number has gotten to a point where they are ever-present, making it difficult to keep their influence at bay.
Men and women can be quick to compare themselves to others, and many times falsely conclude that they don’t measure up. When images, innocent as they may seem, appear on screens, posters or videos, the viewers initial response is often to compare themselves to the picture that has most likely been digitally enhanced: my face is too round, my stomach isn’t flat enough, my hair isn’t right.
There is a theory in psychology called the social comparison theory. This states that “people have a drive to evaluate their progress and standing on various aspects of their lives and, in the absence of objective standards, people compare themselves to others to know where they stand” (Fardouly et al, 2015). So, it’s not unusual for people to compare themselves to what they see. It’s a natural response. Dissatisfaction with body image can appear when a person “repeatedly compare[s] their own appearance to the appearance of others” (Fardouly et al, 2015). It can be a slippery slope from there. The more comparison, the unhappier the person is.
Negatively viewing one’s own body can lead to delays in seeking treatment for physical problems. It can also impacting mental health. A new concern regarding negative body image comes from a recent study done by researchers at Anglia Ruskin University in the United Kingdom. They found that women who are dissatisfied with the size of their breasts are less likely to perform self-examinations for breast cancer (Breast size dissatisfaction affects self-examination, 2018). Viren Swami, the lead author of the study, suggests that “breast size dissatisfaction may also activate negative self-conscious emotions, such as shame and embarrassment, that results in avoiding breast self-examination.”
How can someone restore and promote positive body image? Jillian Roberts is a child psychologist who offers ways to avoid negative body image. In an article she wrote for the Huffington Post she addresses parents and how to teach their children positive body image, but her advice is applicable to adults as well. Her first suggestion is to avoid focusing on appearance-based praise (Roberts, 2018). When adults give out too much appearance-based praise it can reinforce the idea that appearance is the most important characteristic of a person. Instead, focus on other things to compliment.
Another way to combat or restore positive body image is to set boundaries. “Boundaries have a lot to do with body image, because body image has a lot to do with what messages we’re willing to allow into our minds, and the power we choose to give those images we see and the words we hear” (Roberts, 2018), said Roberts. Boundaries can include time allowed on social or other forms of media, the types of media used and monitoring what kinds of things are ‘liked’ or followed on social media.
The last piece of advice from Roberts is to nurture the relationships that are current and present. People are not digitally enhanced, nor do we have filters in front of us. Seeing reality and stepping outside of oneself helps protect against negative body image.
Breast size dissatisfaction affects self-examination. (2018). Anglia Ruskin University.
Fardouly, J., Diedrichs, P. C., Vartanian, L. R., & Halliwell, E. (2015). Social comparisons on social media: The impact of Facebook on young women’s body image concerns and mood doi://doi-org.byui.idm.oclc.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2014.12.002
Roberts, J. (2018, Jan 8,). Make your new year’s goal raising kids with a healthy body image. Huffington Post Canada. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/jillian-roberts/make-your-new-years-goal-raising-kids-with-a-healthy-body-image_a_23325297/