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.
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.
|– 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.
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