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Mirror, Mirror on the Wall How Your Body Image Could Be Harming You

by Dr. Ilona L. Tobin

Do you ever have thoughts like these?

  1. My life would be better if I looked better.
  2. I will never look as good as _____________.
  3. My _________ is/are so ugly.
  4. I am so fat.
  5. That scale/size can’t be right.
  6. I look disgusting; no one could ever love me.

If you do, you’re not alone. Numerous studies and surveys show that up to 80 percent of American women are dissatisfied with their appearance. Women aren’t the only ones with poor body images; recent studies indicate that men are becoming increasingly bothered as well.

Body image is not just a problem of being unhappy with what we see in the mirror, but also that our perception of what we see is skewed. For example, a University of Colorado study showed that the same women who overestimate the size of their waists by 25 per cent were still able to correctly estimate the width of a box.

We also have unrealistic expectations of what we should be seeing in the mirror, thanks to the mass media’s portrayal of “ideal” body types and other physical features.

A Three-Legged Stool

So, body image is really a three-legged stool that wobbles
(and sometimes knocks you right over) when you:

  1. Feel dissatisfied or unhappy about how you look
  2. Have a skewed perception of how you actually look
  3. Have unrealistic expectations of how you should look

As you can imagine, the more wobbly your stool, the more deeply these body image issues are going to permeate your life. Poor body image can lead to eating disorders, depression, substance abuse and other serious problems.

Even when it doesn’t seem to be having an impact on your day-to-day life, if you take a closer look, you may find that your body image is an underlying cause of issues in virtually every area of your life.

Personal relationships. When you’re preoccupied with body image, you may sacrifice quality time with friends and loved ones. For instance, you refuse to go to the beach or pool because you don’t want to be seen in a bathing suit.

Romantic relationships. When you’re feeling bad about the way you look, you might create distance between you and your mate (e.g., you say no to intimacy) or a potential mate (e.g., you don’t talk to new people).

Workplace success. Confidence is attractive in the workplace as well. Even though your physical appearance has nothing to do with your job performance, your level of self-esteem does.

Self-care, health and wellness. If you’re not feeling good about yourself, you may not be motivated to take good care of yourself.

Finances. How much money do you spend on the pursuit of a better body? Could that money be better spent?

Spiritual. When you’re focused only on your appearance, you have little time, money or energy to cultivate a spiritual life, help others or contribute to the greater good.

Home. You may reflect your poor self-image in your outer environment by letting clutter build up or neglecting house repairs or cleaning.

5 Ways to Love Yourself Again

  1. Spend time every day on your self-care, hobbies, friendships and spiritual interests. These will fill you up in ways that a “perfect 10” body never will.
  2. While looking at yourself in the mirror, affirm your appreciation for all of your positive qualities, skills and traits.
  3. Groom and dress yourself lovingly every day. Choose clothing that fits well, in colors and styles that you like.
  4. Aim for a body size that is healthy for your height and shape. Speak to a doctor or dietician so that you have a realistic goal.
  5. Focus on creating a healthy body and let your weight take care of itself. Try limiting the frequency that you step on the scale.

By acknowledging the impact of body image on the rest of your life, you can refocus your lens and keep a healthy view of what you see.

Ilona Tobin has been a psychologist and a marriage and family therapist for more than 25 years in Birmingham, Michigan. For more information, please visit her listing on the Therapist Directory.

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