Health and Wellness

The ugly truth about body image affects men and women

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Negative body image perception occurs in 91 percent of women. (Courtesy of DoSomething.org)

 

Body image issues are a real problem affecting many people. This issue isn’t just impacting women, either, as pressures to obtain an ideal appearance continue, men are beginning to succumb to the struggle of body image as well.

Everyone worries about their appearance — in fact, it is relatively normal — but when that worry turns into obsession, a body image problem begins to develop. Worrying about appearance can be unhealthy when it becomes a daily, or even hourly, struggle interfering with relationships, work and school.

Problems arise when fears and insecurities prevent people from enjoying and pursuing a better life. If worrying about appearance creates feelings of depression, anxiety or alienation, there is a possibility of having an issue with body image.

Body image is the way someone perceives their body and assumes others see them in negative light — commonly influenced by family, friends, social pressures and media. Body image for adolescents with low self-esteem can lead to eating disorders, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts. Some common signs of a body image issue are over-exercising, excessively counting calories, constantly weighing oneself and distorted body image.

Additionally, obsessing about weight and dieting can result in much larger issues, including eating disorders. An eating disorder is considered to be any unhealthy relationship with food including fasting, purging, constant or frequent anxiety about eating, or even overeating.

Poor self-esteem and negative thought patterns are commonly experienced when dealing body dissatisfaction. Losing confidence, self-respect and several other health-compromising behaviors are also associated with low self-esteem, stemming from poor body image.

The ugly truth about body image issues is shocking, and the facts are often disturbing. Body dissatisfaction is a real problem affecting a large portion of people, the majority of whom are unaware that there is a body image issue to face.

According to DoSomething.org’s “11 Facts About Body Image,” 91 percent of women are unhappy with their bodies and resort to dieting in order to achieve an ideal body shape. 58 percent of college-aged women feel pressure to obtain a particular weight as well.

More than 1/3 of people who admit to “normal dieting” will develop pathological dieting, a precursor to eating disorders. Pathological dieting is the forming of abnormal eating patterns that grow into unhealthy behaviors. This becomes a life-long struggle with eating. Nearly 1/4 of people dieting will form a partial or full-on
eating disorder.

One out of every three women and one out of every four men are on a diet at any given time, according to the Philadelphia Eating Disorder Examiner by Heidi Dalzell. This information manifests in a real threat to mental wellbeing and overall wellness of
many people.

Of all mental disorders, the one with the highest mortality rate isn’t depression or schizophrenia, it’s eating disorders. Those who are unhappy with their bodies and decide against seeking out healthy methods of losing weight run the risk of developing these disorders. Of those suffering from eating disorders, 95 percent are between the ages of 12 and 25 years old. Only 10 percent of people with eating disorders look to professionals for help, according to DoSomething.org.

Body image issues don’t discriminate either. This is a phenomenon witnessed all over the world. Although these problems are mostly associated with women, researchers wrote in the JAMA Pediatrics journal that adolescent boys and young men are developing body image issues, ranging from drug and supplement use to binge drinking. This study estimated that nearly one in 10 eating disorders occurs in men.

The result of this study suggests that this is a broad issue. Bringing awareness to and thinking about these problems liberally can help stop these issues from occurring.

Among hectic lives and increasing pressures to look a certain way, how does one maintain a healthy perspective? There are many ways to help develop a healthy and positive perception of body image. Focusing on supportive relationships, setting personal goals and taking actions for benefiting mental and physical health are all steps in the right direction.

Identifying a support network can also prevent body image issues. This isn’t just a group of friends and family, it can be one person with whom an open and honest conversation about body image can occur. Spending time with those who contribute to a more positive perception of self is never a bad idea.

Interactions with our friends and family impact body image for ourselves and others. Positive reinforcement of others’ strengths determined by characteristics other than body image are useful. Both help create a healthier interaction devoid of judgement.

Taking care of the body and mind is vital. It seems simple, but getting enough sleep and eating right play a huge role in how people feel emotionally.

Moderation is key in all aspects of life, not just diet and exercise. It is common knowledge that drinking too much or abusing drugs only makes problems worse in the long run, so when it comes to partying, moderation is important.

Seeing one’s body as a whole person, and not being overly critical of problem areas can also help build a positive body image. This would also help create a more realistic perception of the body. Not equating thinness or becoming more muscular with happiness, and remembering there is no ideal body, are helpful actions to take.

Finally, deal with the real issues. Being significantly overweight or underweight are typically signs of a much deeper problem. Be realistic about what can be changed and, if help is needed, get it. There is no shame in looking to an expert for answers about body image.

There are several ways to seek help for body image issues. Reaching out to family and friends is often more helpful than most would think. Making an appointment to talk with a counselor who can work with individuals to develop a plan for developing a healthier body image is also a good idea.

The first step for getting help is acknowledging that the problem exists. Once this is done, behavior can begin to change. Instead of only identifying unhealthy behaviors related to food, discover that the behaviors may be disguising emotions by considering other personal issues that could be influencing self-esteem.

Challenging distorted thinking is also a helpful way to beat body image issues. It helps to recognize that others see body image differently than what an individual perceives, allowing one’s body image to be viewed as it actually is.

Having a healthy body image is about understanding that fitting other people’s standard of beauty is not what is important. What is important is that people are healthy and happy about their appearance — refusing to let insecurities and anxiety stop one from enjoying life.

SMU Counseling and Psychiatric Services provides confidential psychological and psychiatric evaluation and treatment at the Memorial Health Center on campus.

There is a subtle difference between the idea of what others think about someone and what others actually think someone. Inconsistency of the perceived norm and the real norm can lead to misleading beliefs and attitudes, particularly when it comes to body image.

Perception about body image is powerful, and ultimately decides how body image will impact an individual. Perception isn’t always like reality either, and more often than not it is very different. Understanding the difference between the two can help create a more realistic understanding of body image.

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