Bad Body Image: What causes it and how to manage it
In this post I want to discuss body image - the different variables that affect it, and how to manage on the days when it isn’t so good. Bad body image is something many people struggle with, not just those with diagnosed Eating Disorders, and so I’m hopeful this post can help everyone learn to be kinder to themselves and stop placing their worth on their appearance.
There are several factors that can trigger poor body image, from feeling guilt around food or lack of exercise, to comparing yourself to others you know or to posed/ photoshopped influencers on Instagram. Both guilt and comparative urges are usually caused by the toxic diet culture that surrounds us, as we are constantly given the message that food has moral value, and that our bodies should look a certain way in order to meet current beauty standards. This often leaves us feeling inadequate and insecure, which is the very aim of these dieting campaigns, as it is in this state we are more likely to buy into their products meaning they make a profit! This is actually one of my reasons to recover: to not let these companies get their hands on my money. Regardless of this though, bad body image days are hard, and they can result in us wanting to engage in behaviours to change our appearance. Therefore, I want to share some tips below to prevent you from following through on these urges and to explain to you why it isn’t necessary, nor an effective solution.
Firstly, you need to know that body image is in your head, and so the actual appearance of your body has little to do with how you’re feeling. Sure, if you’re especially bloated it might not help, but that is just your body existing and keeping you safe - it is not a problem that needs solving. Therefore, instead of attempting to change your body, you need to change the way you think about it.
It may also be helpful to remember that bad body image is something that affects people in all different bodies and different weights and sizes, and so restricting your intake or compensating for food with exercise or other behaviours is not going to make it any better. These activities may provide some temporary relief, but as a human being indoctrinated by diet culture, you will never be satisfied and thus always experience poor body image (this is especially true if you are someone with a history of an Eating Disorder).
Based on this, the key to better body image is in unlearning the messages of diet culture that have caused it in the first place…
Remove terms such as “naughty” from your vocabulary when it comes to talking about food, as it suggests food has a moral value which it does not. Foods have different nutritional values sure, but no food is categorically good or bad, and believing this only serves to evoke guilt when you eat certain items.
Stop comparing yourself to others. I know it’s a cliche, but comparison really is the thief of all joy, and it has no right to be, especially when we rarely know the full picture of the person we’re comparing ourselves to. This is easier said than done, but start by clearing out your social media by un-following anyone who makes you feel bad about yourself. If you also find yourself looking at others in real life, consider whether you are being affected by subject or assessment bias? Subject bias occurs when you only take in a sub-section of the people you see, for example only those with a certain body type. When I was struggling with my Eating Disorder I experienced this, as I only ever noticed those who I perceived to be in a smaller body to me, and consequently believed I needed to lose weight. This bias ignores the diversity of our population, and whilst it is not something you should feel terrible for holding, it is certainly something to work on. This is because it will both improve your relationship with your own body, and help you honour your true values as I strongly doubt you would ever genuinely base your opinion on someone off what they look like. Assessment bias is something that needs addressing for similar reasons, as this is when you only focus on certain body parts when looking at others, usually those you are insecure about yourself. For example, maybe when looking at influencers on Instagram you always look at their legs as you are unhappy with your own. This is something you can challenge daily in order to reduce, and it will aid you in viewing your own body with less unkindness as you will come to realise no one is perfect, we are all just human and that is okay.
Educate yourself on Health at every size (HAES). This is something I touched on in my last blog post too, but unlearning what society teaches us health looks like can be crucial to improving your body image. This is because often when we feel low about ourselves it is because we think we need to exist in a smaller body. This is simply not true but until we unpick why we hold this belief it is incredibly hard to change.
I’m sure there is much more I have to say on this topic and so there may well be a part two coming soon, but I hope this post can get you started on your journey to body acceptance. I guess if you take anything away from this I’d like it to be that your bad body image is in your head, and so attempting to change your body will not fix it.
More from me soon,
Mais// The Recovery Bean <3