Learning how to understand and love your body image is often challenging. Dale Decker offers solutions that promote better acceptance.
I’m sure you have the same urge I do when a beautiful person exclaims, “I’m so fat!” Thankfully, my aversion to pain is greater than my instinct to punch. A needling comment must suffice in the interest of law and order. Sigh. Distract yourself with this amusing experiment: watch a group of people greeting each other and count the number of comments on clothing, hair, or even scent. In a small gaggle of gay men, this process can consume the better part of an episode of Project Runway! It reminds me of an episode of What Not to Wear.
What Not to Wear is a reality program that teaches fashion-challenged victims how to dress themselves. At first I scoffed at this premise, but by the end of each program the previously uninterested slob has a self esteem that grew three times that day. The increased confidence and pride is really astounding. I wish I could get the same reaction after a few hours of therapy!
Why should some colored fabric and a pair of shoes make someone feel so great? Well, body image actually has three factors: our ability to correctly perceive our body, our attitudes about beauty, and our internal image of how our body should look. All three of these factors work together to either promote pride or bring us down.
How We Can Help Ourselves
Perception. Sometimes we are unable to correctly perceive how our body looks. Eating disorders in particular often cause people to believe they are overweight despite being emaciated. The person with an eating disorder actually sees a fat body where you and I would see a very thin person. Treatment of this problem focuses on readjusting perception to better reflect reality.
Attitudes. Here’s where the majority of us cultivate our craziness; we accurately perceive our body but have a negative attitude toward it. There are lots of theories about why we are so hard on ourselves. Photography, air brushing, fashion models, competitiveness, and plain old sexism top the list. The standard of beauty in America has become unreachable for all but a tiny minority, leaving the rest of us feeling inadequate and underestimating our own beauty.
Internal/external mismatch. A small minority of people have an mental image of their body that is mismatched with their physical body. Transgendered people perceive their body correctly and may even have the attitude that their body is attractive. However, their internal sense of how their body should look is radically different from the body they were born with. Needless to say, this can create an overwhelming amount of stress and pain. Over the past several decades, the preferred treatment for this problem has not been to change the body image, but to change the body itself. Sex reassignment has been very controversial. Research has shown, however, that transgendered people who transition from one sex to the other have improved mental health and an overall better quality of life.
Allow me to take a moment for a disclaimer. Some body image disturbances can be serious problems that require expert help. You should seek counseling if you are experiencing any of the following problems: restriction of food intake, binging, purging, excessive exercise, urges to cut or remove body parts, worry about your appearance that interferes with work or relationships, or suicidal thoughts. Get thee to a doctor or counselor right away if any of these fit you. Thankfully, most of us don’t have any of these problems; we just have some poor mental habits that discourage self esteem. Some very simple changes to our daily life can promote a healthy self-image.