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It may sound so simple to say that body image is what you see when you look in the mirror. But this is really not so simple at all, because how you see yourself is influenced by so many things other than the picture that you see staring back at you. Chances are, what you see when you look in the mirror is more a reflection of how you think and feel about yourself, rather than your actual appearance.

And these thoughts and feelings ABOUT YOU come from a variety of different sources like your own personal self esteem, your parents, peers, school, and the media. All of these sources are helping to shape what you think is attractive or not, and the media is especially powerful in this area. In fact it has been estimated that the average adolescent receives over 5,260 messages per year about what is or is not attractive (Myers, et al., 1992).

This is largely influencing how you think and feel about your body… and what is also particularly scary about the media’s message about attractiveness is that most women depicted are 98% thinner than the average American woman (Smolak, 1996). This example of what a woman looks like is both unrealistic and unhealthy for you.

Your body image and how you think and feel about yourself also tends to change a lot over time, and sometimes even from day to day. For example, have you ever had “one of those mornings” where nothing seems to be going right? You’re running late for school, you don’t feel like going, and then you go to get dressed and absolutely nothing seems to look good or fit right? Well, this would be an example of a bad body image day- or just a bad day in general. The two tend to go hand in hand, and I suggest you start paying attention to that. Sometimes, the solution to a better body image day is not to change clothes, but rather, to change your attitude or to talk to someone about your feelings and the kind of day you are having instead.

For some girls/women however, negative body image can be more of a concern. Negative body image (as defined by the National Eating Disorder Association, 2002) is:

  • A distorted perception of your shape- you perceive parts of your body unlike they really are.

  • Being convinced that only other people are attractive and that your body size or shape is a sign of personal failure.

  • Feeling ashamed, self conscious, and anxious about your body.

  • Feeling uncomfortable and awkward in your body. People with a negative body image have a greater likelihood of developing an eating disorder and are more likely to suffer from depression, isolation, low self esteem, and obsessions with weight loss.

Whether you already love your body, sometimes have bad body image days, or are REALLY concerned about your body image, here are some tips to support you:

♥ Learn to listen to you body. Take time to pause and pay attention to how your body feels throughout the day. Your body will give you messages about what it needs if you are listening. It will tell you when it is hungry and it will tell you when it is full. It will tell you when it wants rest and when it wants to move. It will tell you when it is happy or when it is sad. When you listen to these messages, honor your body’s wishes and this will help you stay healthy and well.

♥ When you look in the mirror, see yourself as whole. See your entire body and do not focus on one particular area. Start each day by looking in the mirror and saying something nice about yourself.

♥ Appreciate all that your body does for you. Notice just how amazing it is to breathe, to walk, to talk, and to move. Focus on all that is good about this and celebrate it by giving something wonderful to your body like a massage or a nap.

♥ Learn the difference between your healthy voice and unhealthy voice. Inside your mind you will probably hear self talk that supports you and encourages you, and another voice that criticizes and judges you. Have a debate in your mind where the healthy voice wins- supporting you in saying things like “I’m awesome!” and “I treat my body with love and respect.”

♥ Choose to avoid making comments about other people’s bodies, or your own, on the basis of size or shape.

♥ Surround yourself with positive healthy people who inspire you. Be their student and learn what made them so wonderful, and then go out and do it!

♥ Remove excess magazines and TV shows about celebrities and models from your life. Remember that these are not good role models for you and are both unrealistic and unhealthy.

♥ Learn to talk about your thoughts and feelings to close friends and family. Share what is going on in your world because after all, this does affect how you think and feel about yourself and your body. If you do not think you can talk to a friend or family member, you can see a counselor at your school or at a therapist’s office.

Dr. Stephanie

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