Body Image

Posted by: Asa Don Brown on February 2, 2012 10:00 am

Culturally, North America has become obsessed with the concept of body image.  Children are bombarded by mixed messages describing the “right” physique and the “right” body type. These messages are broadcasted through television, radio, movies, magazines, newspapers, billboards, the web and through a barrage of electronic gadgets (i.e. cell phones, tablet computers, personal computers).  “Body image is a widespread preoccupation. In one study of college students, 74.4% of the normal-weight women stated that they thought about their weight or appearance ‘all the time’ or ‘frequently.’ But the women weren’t alone; the study also found that 46% of the normal-weight men surveyed responded the same way.” (Brown University, 2012, Online)

DEFINING BODY IMAGE 

Body image is a subjective picture of how we consciously and unconsciously relate to our bodies. It is how we perceive and interpret the messages being offered through the media and our social environments.  

“The obsession with body shape and size is not a new phenomenon.  Throughout history, society has worshipped a variety of ‘ideal’ images of the female (male) body.” (Friedman, 2002, p. 97) Ironically the “ideal” shape and size has varied, shifting between obesity and ultra thin throughout various stages of humanity.  The distortion of body image occurs when we feel a need to prove acceptable; whether the acceptability is through our own eyes, the eyes of another, or based on societal perceptions. Unraveling the threads of distortion that have become so entangled begins when we can distinguish between a healthy body image and a distorted body image. 

HEALTHY BODY IMAGE
– You unconditionally accept your body.
– You cherish your uniqueness and your profound individuality.
– You reject comparing your body with others.
– You seek to establish a healthy approach to eating and personal lifestyle.
– You resist defining your self-worth and value by your physical appearance or performance.

DISTORTED BODY IMAGE
– You lack confidence in your bodies shape, size, and attractiveness.
– You have a distorted perception of your body favoring another’s over your own.
– You reject your body type wishing for another.
– Your body feels like a foreign object.
– You worry about your consumption of food, calories, metabolism, weight, and energy burnt.

Individuals consumed with the “right” body image  or type have a higher likelihood of developing psychological challenges.  They may suffer from feelings of social withdraw or isolation, negative self-esteem, low self-worth, depression, anxiety, obsessions, panic attacks, and suicidal thoughts. 

Battling the negative body image in children can prove arduous task.  Children observe the perceptions and misperceptions of their parents. Children’s internal sonar can detect messages that are not only verbally communicated, but are deeply embedded in the psyche of their parents. 

Moreover, the media plays mind games with our children.  “It’s almost impossible for girls (and boys) to escape the pervasive influence of the media.  Children watch an average of four hours of television every day.”  (Friedman, 1997, p. 63)  The media’s influence consumes every aspect of a child’s life today.  Children are influenced by technological devices at a much younger age and more rapid rate.  In fact, schools throughout North America have implemented tablets and other learning devices to promote academic growth. Argumentatively, while these devices offer scores of positive possibilities, sadly they also allow for the influence of the media at a much younger age.  “The media is a powerful conduit for transmission and reinforcement of cultural beliefs and values, and while it may not be exclusively responsible for determining the standards for physical attractiveness, it makes escaping frequent exposure to these images and attitudes almost impossible.” (Brown University, 2012, Online)  Therefore, it is prudent that parents play a vital role in monitoring and being the ultimate overseer of their children’s technological influences. 

IMPROVING BODY IMAGE 

As people, we need to learn to unconditionally accept ourselves.  Whether or not I am having a good hair day, I am a person of value and worth.  I am person deserving of acceptance, love, and approval.  I should not place my value on another’s expectations or societal norms.  

ACCOUNTABLE 

Everyone should have someone that they can be accountable unto.  It is important that people can check in with others from time-to-time, when they are struggling with negative thoughts. 

HEALTHIER APPROACHES 
– Accept your body as your unique instrument to life.– Be aware of your bodies need for nourishment.
– Do not try to achieve a particular body stereotype.– Avoid weighing yourself on a daily basis. 
– Recognize your limitations.– Consider yoga as a source of body and mind unification.
– Do not strive for a perfect body, rather a healthy body.– Deny the shame and blame game. 
– Have an unconditional approach to life.– Respect your body and your person. 
– Develop relationships with others who have healthy approaches to eating and lifestyle. – Enjoy the body you have, by playing games, getting out and participating with others in healthy activities.
– Reject or avoid negative relationships.– Positively develop your inner being. 
– Practice positive “I-Statements” and positive affirmations.– Educate yourself on positive perspectives on health, beauty and lifestyle.

In the end, our children’s wellbeing is directly influenced by our own wellbeing.  If we want our children to have a healthy approach to life, then we need to lead by example. Life flourishes with positivity. 

REFERENCES

Brazlier, B. (2009) Thrive fitness, Mental and physical strength for life. Ontario: Penguin.

Brown University (2012) Body image. Retrieved January 28, 2012, from http://brown.edu/Student_Services/Health_Services/Health_Education/nutrition_&_eating_concerns/body_image.php

Campos , P. (2004). The diet myth: Why America’s obsession with weight is hazardous to your health. New York: Penguin.

Friedman, S. S. (2002) Body thieves, Help girls reclaim their natural bodies and become physically active. British Columbia: Salal Books

Friedman, S. S. (1997) When girls feel fat, Helping girls through adolescence. Ontario: HarperCollins

Joseph, R. (1988) The right cerebral hemisphere: Emotion, music, visual-spatial skills, body-image, dreams, and awareness. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 44 (5): 630-73 

The University of Alabama (2012) Parenting assistance line, PAL. Retrieved January 29, 2012, from http://www.pal.ua.edu/discipline/moody_teen.php




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

24 comments on “Body Image”

  1. The notion of body image has been with humanity for several thousand years. All one has to do is to look at Roman / Greek history to understand the importance that was placed on the physical aspect of human body. This is not a bad thing, but rather when a culture becomes absorbed by it and places an importance above the self-worth of a person then it becomes unhealthy. Are we at that stage in North America? I would argue that as a culture, many youth feel – and believe – that the perfect body is the one depicted by the media on a daily bases. As a counsellor, when discussing this issue with youth, it is important to try to understand what pressures are being felt by youth, and help them to understand the difference between what is considered healthy, and what is considered unhealthy, while at the same time promoting self-worth.

    Carpe Diem Live Counselling

    http://www.livecounselling.ca

    1. Dearest Online Counselling,

      Thank you for taking the time to read and reply to my latest article. I wholeheartedly agree that the “media” has a major role in the personal depiction of health, wellbeing, and body image. Our societal mores and ethos have responsibility in depicting what is right or wrong body type. Therefore, it is important that our definition of body type and image represents a healthy perspective, rather than a perspective guided by the social media and unrealistic body images.

      I am sincerely appreciative of your time and feedback.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  2. amber says:

    Dr Brown it is self-esteem that makes up a person’s worth. Self-esteem is important because it mirrors how people see themselves. Self-esteem is important because feeling good about yourself can affect how you act around others. A person who has high self-esteem will make friends easily, is more in control of his or her behavior, and will enjoy life more. It’s self-esteem that acts as a barometer regulating our personality. DrV

    1. Dear Amber,

      I am appreciative of your time, feedback, and thoughtful reply. I am in agreeance with your take on self-esteem. Self-esteem is one of the many contributors to our emotional wellbeing, as well as, the overall makeup of our personality. Self-esteem contributes a great deal to our perceptions and worldview. It has a tremendous impact on one’s image of self, including body image.

      Amber, I am sincerely appreciative of your time and feedback.

      Warm regards
      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  3. Dear Sheila Gruenwald,

    Thank you for taking the time to reply to my latest article. I agree that “creating the balance of educational information and entertainment is such a delicate balance.” As a parent, I too have had to define “what is appropriate” and “what is not appropriate” in the life of my children.

    Again, thank you for your time and feedback.

    Warm Regards,

    Dr. Asa Don Brown

  4. Deborah Pickering says:

    Hello Dr. Brown,

    This is a very inspiring article! I love the way you are able to address all of the negative aspects of society’s obsession with body image. Even more, I love the way you drove home the positive messages, what approach for us to take in regard to our body image. The subject of body image is vitally important to the physical and psychological health of society now and in the future.
    Linking perceived body image to the use of technology and watching TV is an important step in making everyone aware of the subtle messages that are embedded in it. It also brings to my mind how TV and technology also affect youth’s perception of what acceptable sexual behavior is and it also desensitizes us all to violence.
    They are all connected, body image, sexuality, and exposure to violence, graphic violence. Parents, teachers, health care professionals, all people need the education that articles such as yours bring to our attention. Unless society stands together and says ‘NO’ to unhealthy advertising and programming, it is not going to change. It’s all about the bottom line for the advertisers and TV executives, immorality sells. Teaching our youth how to look, what to wear, even how to behave is, sadly, just a way to make money.
    The cost to society, to our children is immeasurable and it is up to us to make it better. Thank you Dr. Brown for addressing such an important topic.

    1. Dear Deborah Pickering,

      First of all, thank you for taking the time to read and reply to my latest article. You have hit the nail square on the head; it will take a community purposefully working and banning together to make a difference. “The subject of body image is vitally important to the physical and psychological health of society now and in the future.”

      Again, thank you for taking the time to offer your feedback on “Body Image.”

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  5. Great Article Asa! Your mention of the influence of media is so valid for young parents to realize. Creating the balance of educational information and entertainment is such a delicate balance. Most parents are not as radical as myself with no TV in the house for 22 years.
    Having said that; however, the influence of internet cartoons even falls into the self-image realm and some monitoring is required there as well.
    Teaching our children that the actors are airbrushed and are paid to look that way does little to reassure them as they face peer pressure and hormonal changes.
    Keep your word circulating and inspiring parents, grand-parents and teens to take a realistic look at themselves.

  6. Brenda says:

    What a great article!!! You are a true inspiration to all!

    1. Dear Brenda,

      Thank you taking the time to review and offer feedback on my latest article. I am pleased to hear that my articles are having a positive impact upon you. I can tell you, that I too have enjoyed reading many of the articles offered on the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.

      Please do accept my delayed response, as you know, I had been away for a surgical procedure when you had posted your comments. Again, thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my latest article.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  7. Nicola says:

    Excellent article. A good common sense approach to a healthy and happy life, Dr Brown. One of my personal favorites is smiling at myself in the mirror every morning ~ a genuine ‘ I love you ‘ kind of smile. : ) Thanks for your work!

    1. Dear Nicola,

      I am sincerely appreciative of your very warm remarks, review of my latest article, and of your time. It sounds as though you have been reading my articles for sometime. I am appreciative of this information, because it informs me that my audience has read a variety of my articles. I too enjoyed learning more and writing about smiling and the mirror assignment.
      Again, thank you for your time and most recent review.

      Please do accept my delayed response, as you know, I had been away for a surgical procedure when you had posted your comments. Again, thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my latest article.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  8. Cherie Carter says:

    Great Article Asa. It has helped me look at myself and perceptions that affetced me throughout my life and possibly I have directed towards my own children. I have always tried to teach my girls the importance of self-worth, their value in the home, family and community, and their innate value is not based on someone else’s perceptions of what is right or acceptable. I see many youth today who would benefit from positive role modeling of healthy body images. I believe having spiritaul connections in a faith can also be helpful in instilling acceptance, love, self worth, value.
    I appreciate your article and will sahre with my daughters and sons. Thank you.
    Also my prayers will be with you for speedy recovery.

    1. Dear Cherie Carter,

      I am certainly appreciative of your review and very warm comments. I am pleased to hear that this article “…has helped (you)… look at (yourself)… and perceptions that affected (you)… throughout (your)… life…” Your decision to teach your girls the importance of self-worth will always have a positive affect upon their maturing lives.

      By the way, thank you for your prayers for my personal physical recovery.
      Please do accept my delayed response, as you know, I had been away for a surgical procedure when you had posted your comments. Again, thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my latest article.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  9. Jackie says:

    Wow, soo interesting and unfortunately soo true as well. I think it would be fabulous if this kind of information was incorporated into our school system at every grade level. ie. a real emphasis on the heatlh aspects of diet and exercise, rather than simply the aesthetic results.

    1. Dear Jackie,

      Thank you for taking the time to reply to my latest article. I am appreciative of your very warm comments. What an awesome idea to incorporate this information (on body image and self-esteem) into our educational system. Furthermore, I would love to see a whole barrage of positive literature and living implemented in our schools.

      Please do accept my delayed response, I had been away for a surgical procedure when you had posted your comments. Again, thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my latest article.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  10. Jennifer says:

    Great article, Dr. Brown. At a young age, the actions of the parents speak louder than most anything the parents say or other influence in a child’s life. Focusing on the amazing and wonderful things our bodies allow us to do is a great way to redirect our thoughts from how we visually stack up against the media darlings of the day.

    1. Dear Jennifer,

      I am sincerely appreciative of your time and review of my latest article. What an awesome way of looking at eating, health, and life; you are so correct that the way we live will have a profound affect upon other’s lives. “At a young age, the actions of the parents speak louder than most anything the parents say or other influence in a child’s life.”

      Please do accept my delayed response, I had been away for a surgical procedure when you had posted your comments. Again, thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my latest article.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  11. Tracy says:

    Thank you Dr Brown for your important reminder of body image. Body image is such an abstract concept and affected by one’s own perception. Our children need to form a positive perception of themselves both physical and mental. This positive self view is encouraged to develop and grow by us as parents from birth throughout life.

    I appreciate the reminder that I can be such a strong force in my children’s life.

    Tracy

    1. Dear Tracy,

      Thank you for taking the time to review and reply to my latest article. You are correct that our body image is influenced “… and affected by one’s own perception.” During my doctoral research, I conducted a study on “The effects of childhood trauma on adult perception and worldview.” The study not only looked at how children responded to trauma, but how they were effected by various aspects of life and the effect it had on their worldview and overall perceptions.

      Please do accept my delayed response, I had been away for a surgical procedure when you had posted your comments. Again, thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my latest article.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  12. Trevor says:

    Great article. Society and the media have forever changed the way people look at themselves. Our youth are growing up with a lot of pressure now days. It is great to read an article that talks about this. Inner beauty is the most important thing we need to be concerned about. Thanks for the wonderful write up.

    1. Dear Trevor,

      I am sincerely appreciative of your time and remarks on my latest article.

      What a great statement that we as a “Society and the media have forever changed the way people look at themselves.” Isn’t it intriguing how society and the media are hyperactive about protecting children from being a part of abusive homes and relationships; yet we allow our children to instantly and vicariously partake of abusive materials through various forms of the media.

      I wholeheartedly agree that “Inner beauty is the most important thing we need to be concerned about.”

      Please do accept my delayed response, I had been away for a surgical procedure when you had posted your comments. Again, thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my latest article.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  13. Adele McLearn says:

    Excellent advice. It would be great if these principles could be taught in the school system as well as at home. Unfortuntely, we have so many people so wrapped up in how other people see them that they don’t know what the truth is – how they should feel about themselves – physically as well as emotionally and socially. It’s almost as though very few young people have been taught how to think for themselves with healthy lifestyle choices. Every parent should read this article and try their best to lead by example for their children.

    1. Dear Adele McLearn,

      Thank you for taking the time to reply to my latest article. I am sincerely appreciative of your kind remarks and feedback.

      I agree that “it would be great if these principles could be taught in the school system as well as at home.”

      Please do accept my delayed response, I had been away for a surgical procedure when you had posted your comments. Again, thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my latest article.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

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