Tara Trewartha, Psychologist, Baulkham Hills NSW
5 September 2018
When you think about or look at your body, what sort of feelings and thoughts come up for you? For a lot of people, thinking about their body can bring up a lot of negative or uncomfortable thoughts and feelings.
If you’re in the habit of making judgements about your body, have you ever wondered how accurate your judgements are? Have you ever heard a friend or family member speak about their body in a way that is so different to what you see when you look at them? That’s because we humans are notoriously bad at seeing our own bodies in an accurate way. So often we’re judging our own bodies based on misinformation.
Adding to the difficulty of judging our bodies, we live in an environment filled with pictures of unattainable body shapes. We know that the types of bodies shown to us in the media do not represent what the majority of people look like. We also know that these images are retouched to look completely different to real life, which makes these body shapes and features unattainable in the real world. Despite knowing this, it often doesn’t change the way that we judge and think about our own bodies.
What can we do differently?
So we’re living in a world surrounded by unrealistic images of unattainable bodies, and we’re prone to seeing ourselves as looking differently to what we actually do. Thankfully, there are some helpful steps that we can take to get out of the body dissatisfaction trap and find fulfilment in the bodies we have.
Who are you? Sometimes we can become so fixated on our bodies it can be hard to recognise and focus on the other aspects of who we are. When you think about what you want to be remembered for, is it your body? Or are there other things that are more important? What difference would it make if you shifted your focus and energy away from your body and toward these other aspects of who you are?
Body checking can play a big role in maintaining negative body image. If you’ve ever spent extended periods of time looking at a particular body part, you may have found it’s really easy to find something that stands out in a negative way. If you’re in a habit of squeezing, pinching, feeling, examining or staring at parts of your body, why not experiment and see what happens when you cut back on it? How long can you go without doing this? If it’s really hard, the help of a psychologist can make a big difference.
Frequent weighing. Did you know that our body weight can easily fluctuate by 1-2kg in a day? And there are so many factors that influence the number on the scale, from food digestion, menstrual cycles, fluid intake, bowel and bladder movements, hydration and dehydration.. the list goes on. Frequent weighing can increase our preoccupation with weight, and can maintain body image problems. We know now that body weight is not a realistic single indicator of our health or appearance. Often times, frequent weighing increases body dissatisfaction and the unhelpful behaviours that come along with this. If you’re weighing yourself regularly, why not try to reduce this and see what happens?
Body language. What language do you use when you’re talking or thinking about your body? Rather than focussing on what you’re not happy with, what are you happy or grateful for in your body? What does your body enable you to do? What would life be like if your body suddenly couldn’t do what it does? What can you say to your body today to be kind to it? How do you want to treat your body differently when you are being kind to it?
Health or shape? Sometimes in the pursuit of a particular body shape people find themselves sacrificing their health. Restrictive or “yo-yo” dieting, excessive exercise and minimal rest are all behaviours that commonly occur when pursuing shape over health. If you would like to shift your focus toward health but aren’t sure how, why not make an appointment with your GP for some advice, and possibly a referral to a dietitian or psychologist who can help you out.
Body image can be such a difficult part of our lives to navigate. If your body image is having a negative impact on your life, what small step could you take today to improve your body image?
Tara is a psychologist who enjoys working with people of all ages and backgrounds. Tara is passionate about helping people to capitalise on their individual strengths and develop new skills to experience a greater quality of life and achieve their goals.