Op-Ed: Stop Hating Your Body Image and Change the World

A self-accepting society starts with individual people loving the human packaging they live in.

Two women in Milan, Italy, view a billboard intended to insert a shock of reality into the unhealthy fantasy created by the false-body-image industry. (Photo: Stefano Rellandini/Reuters)

Oct 29, 2012

Body image issues are more common than not. By some counts, more than 80 percent of women are dissatisfied about how their bodies look. The ways we perceive our bodies and those of other women make body image one of the biggest concerns of women, affecting both mental and physical health.

Body image concerns communicated to me in my practice are not only problems with what we see in the mirror—our issues also include coping with changes as we get older, our sense of sexuality, dealing with chronic illness and surgeries, and striving to fit into the culturally constructed beauty ideal.

Body image concerns are not only concerns of adult women. Young girls face the pressure to “fit in” and “be beautiful,” as well. Pressure at a young age to conform to what we see as ideals in advertising and entertainment can lead us to question our very self-worth.

No wonder cosmetic surgery is such a high-grossing industry, fueled by people’s feelings of inadequacy and body image dissatisfaction.

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Part of our mission to overcome negative body-image concerns is to challenge stereotypical and cultural beauty images and to encourage self-acceptance and self-love. We can do this by developing a realistic and positive body image.

Body image is the foundation for so many parts of our perceptions, both internal and external messages, our emotions and how we feel in our bodies. It needs to be addressed from a broad angle and from different perspectives.

Our society has created a complexity of rules and belief systems around the body that send mixed messages about how to improve or change it. The message needs to be how to love and respect it.

The ideal of what is “beautiful” is constantly evolving with time. As a culture, we must address the role of society in how we form our body image and to acknowledge that beauty is based entirely on how we perceive it. What we see in the media today is also an objectification of women and constant images of women in parts.

We see products that use words that focus on the need for personal physical upgrading. The message is that women are parts that need fixing or improvement, not unlike cars. If we listen to enough of these messages, we don’t learn how to relate to, communicate with, or embrace our bodies.

Struggles with body image can lead to unhealthy behaviors, such as eating disorders, constantly comparing our appearance to others, excessively checking parts of our bodies that we think are flawed, and feeling anxious and self-conscious around other people. The consequences can lead to depression, low self-esteem, isolation and self-harm.

The relationship we have with our bodies is a key element in our overall physical and emotional health. We often seek to improve or address issues of the body and mind separately, but it is within this connection that healing and wellness takes place. If we think negatively about our bodies, these thoughts can distort body-image perceptions and lead to unhealthy behaviors and emotions. I cannot emphasize this point enough.

Our society has created a complexity of rules and belief systems around the body that send mixed messages about how to improve or change it. The message needs to be how to love and respect it. We need to accept that we have only one body and that a healthy body image comes from taking care of it, nurturing it, and developing positive feelings about it.

We also need to teach our loved ones, partners and friends to respect, enjoy and love your body. This “body wisdom” creates a strong sense of self and spirit. By encouraging a healthy, positive attitude toward our bodies, we foster a healthy relationship with our mind, spirit and environment. This change can make all the difference within our lives. If enough of us embrace our physical selves responsibly, it can be the change we need in the world.

Be you and be beautiful.

Is there one thing about your body that you would be better off to accept and stop trying to improve? Talk it out in COMMENTS.

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