When you look in the mirror, you have thoughts about what you see. Sometimes, you see things that you like, and other times you may see things that you would like to change. Seeing things about your body that you would like to change can be normal and not necessarily a bad thing. Self-improvement can be positive! However, if you find yourself having constant negative thoughts about your body, this could be a bigger issue and your body image (and self-esteem) could be suffering. Body image is how you feel and what you think when you see yourself. It is an important part of your self-esteem. Self-esteem is the set of beliefs you have about yourself and your feelings of self-worth. It plays a part in your mental health and development, your belief that you can be happy and that you can achieve your goals.
Did you know that having low self-esteem can put you at greater risk for things like depression, anxiety, disordered eating, violent behavior, and substance use?
Body Image can range from very positive to very negative- check out some information below to see if your body image is healthy!
Having positive body image means that you feel good about your body most of the time. You don’t have to look a certain way to have positive body image.
Some characteristics of positive body image are below- how many fit you?
- Seeing yourself accurately- how you really look.
- Feeling comfortable in your body.
- Appreciating what your body can do.
- Being able to name some things that you like about yourself- including non-physical features.
- Having confidence in yourself and your abilities.
- Understanding that they way you look does not determine how much you are worth.
- Not comparing yourself to others.
Having negative body image can be very harmful and can leave you feeling as though you cannot ever measure up to others.
Some characteristics of negative body image are below- how many fit you?
- Seeing yourself inaccurately, not how you really look.
- Feeling self-conscious, awkward or shameful about your body most of the time.
- Putting yourself down, physically and mentally.
- Being unable to find things that you like about yourself.
- Recurring negative thoughts about how you look or act.
- Constantly comparing yourself to others and feeling as though you don’t measure up.
- How do you feel when you look in the mirror?
- Do you avoid mirrors or focus on them?
- What do you feel like when you see people you think are attractive, either in person or through media?
- How do you feel when someone compliments you?
- What do you think other people think about how you look?
- Do you ever avoid activities because you are uncomfortable with your body?
- How often are you critical of how you look?
- Do you feel like a perceived issue about how you look could drastically change your mood?
- It doesn’t have to be about changing yourself– remember that this is not about how you look, it is about how you feel about the way you look.
- Health and body image are two different things- think more about your health, instead of just about how you look.
- Talk with someone you can trust- sometimes just talking about your thoughts and getting the reassurance of a person you trust can help get you to a better place.
- Seek professional help- doctors and therapists may be able to help you improve your health and body image and develop self-worth.
- Wear clothes that are comfortable and make your body feel good.
- Be critical of media messages- if you see things that make you feel bad about your body, don’t watch it, or make a positive change in the world by writing a letter to the advertiser to tell them how their messages are affecting people.
- Do something nice for yourself. This could be anything positive that you consider comforting- you deserve it.
- Treat your body with kindness and respect in all ways- it’s the only one you’ve got!
Body Image and Gender Diversity
Gender is a person’s sense of being male/female/in-between/neither- it is not their sexual orientation (who they are attracted to). Our society has been operating on a view of gender as specifically male or female (this is called the gender binary). This view comes along with the expectation that people’s gender will match with the societal stereotype of the sex that was assigned to them at birth (male or female).
However, our society is recognizing that there are a variety of ways that people can experience their gender, instead of just as completely male or completely female. Many people identify as non-binary or transgender, meaning that their sense of their gender identity is different from the biological sex they were assigned at birth. These individuals may have unique struggles with body image because of society’s rigid expectations of what it means to be male or female, and because their physical body may not match their true sense of gender.
Gender is a unique experience for each person
Some people begin the process of bringing their outward appearance more in-line with how they feel inside by expressing themselves (through actions, behavior, style) as their true gender, some people seek therapy or use medical options to transition to their true gender- some people don’t do anything at all. All people identify differently and it is up to each person to choose what fits best for them at the time (it can change). There are a variety of non-binary identities, and it may take some time to figure it out.
Being gender diverse does not mean that you will have body image issues, however if you are experiencing body image and self-esteem issues, here are some things to remember:
- Take your time- it is completely okay not to have everything figured out.
- There is no right or wrong answer regarding your gender identity, only what feels comfortable to you.
- Don’t go it alone- seek out someone that you trust who can support you through the variety of options you may have to change your body.
- Find a community- this can be attending a group for LBGT people in your community or at school. It can be helpful to surround yourself with people who are experiencing similar challenges.
- Consult a medical professional- you may want to make some physical changes as soon as possible- leave the medical changes up to people who can monitor your health. Doing things like buying/using hormones illegally can seriously damage your body.
- If you are changing your physical appearance/behavior to be perceived as the gender you feel you are, get help. Things like chest binding can be dangerous if done incorrectly.
BODY DYSMORPHIC DISORDER
Negative body image and very low self-esteem can turn into a clinical disorder called Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). Body Dysmorphic Disorder happens when a person’s vision of themselves is distorted. They will perceive flaws with their body and repeat behaviors to manage these flaws, like constantly checking a mirror or grooming. BDD can interfere with a person’s ability to function in school, activities or relationships. It is different from an eating disorder.
BDD causes a person’s view of themselves to be distorted, meaning that they may perceive a minor flaw as a very major issue. Having BDD does not mean that the person is self-obsessed, vain or shallow. They feel extreme distress about their body image that can impact their daily life. BDD can affect anyone.
SYMPTOMS OF BDD
Everyone has moments where they feel unhappy with the way they look; these thoughts come and go. However for people with BDD, these thoughts are extreme and recurrent. Reassurance about their appearance from their loved ones does not help.
Symptoms of BDD may include:
- frequently thinking about your appearance- over an hour a day
- repeatedly asking people if you look okay and not feeling reassured by their answers
- compulsively picking at your skin
- constantly comparing your looks to other people’s
- spending a long time in front of a mirror, or avoiding mirrors altogether
- spending a long time concealing what you feel is a defect
- becoming very distressed over a particular area of your body (commonly the face)
- feeling anxious when around other people and or avoiding social situations because you don’t feel you look good enough
- not wanting to get help because you feel others might judge you to be vain or shallow
- seek extreme fixes for perceived problems, like surgery, extreme dieting or exercise
If you feel you need help, talk to a trusted adult, who can support you to seek professional help.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder versus Gender Dysphoria
Although non-binary and transgender individuals can also suffer from BDD, the experience of severe distress, anxiety or depression from the feeling that the body does not match the internal and true sense of gender is identified as Gender Dysphoria, not BDD. Gender dysphoria DOES NOT MEAN you have a mental illness because you feel that your gender identity is different than your assigned sex at birth and the goal of treatment is to address the stress, anxiety and depression that can come with this experience NOT to change how a person feels about their gender.