Being dissatisfied with your physical appearance is now perceived as normal in our image-obsessed society. Here are eight signs that you may have body image issues.
The concept of an idealised body shape, particularly for women, has been around for thousands of years. Anyone who is into their art history will be aware of the obsessions that many painters had for curvy, voluptuous women – Peter Paul Rubens is probably the most notable and we can attribute the term “rubenesque” to his influence.
Then came corsets, bustles, hoops and cages – all working underneath the outer garments to create the illusion of the latest fashionable body form. In the latter half of the twentieth century, preferences turned to the slimmer, straighter, more waif-like structure most famously modelled by the likes of Twiggy and Kate Moss.
More recently, it’s been about shapely derrieres, leading to an unfathomable demand for dangerous surgeries such as the Brazilian butt lift. And the less said about Turkey teeth, the better!
Men are not faring too well either. The hero of romantic fiction is usually tall with broad shoulders, a flat stomach, a chiselled jaw and a full head of hair. Rarely do we see a male lead, straight or gay, who is short, plump and bald.
It’s nothing new to feel under pressure to look a certain way, and with social media acting as a constant reminder, we can quite quickly feel that we just don’t measure up. Based on my observations as a body confidence coach, here are eight indicators that you may be struggling with your own body image.
You may be hiding away altogether by avoiding certain occasions, or you may be trying to conceal the bits that cause you the most shame or embarrassment. Maybe you don’t want to be photographed, or you won’t speak out because you don’t want to draw attention to yourself. Or you steer clear of situations that require more revealing clothing, such as exercise gear or swimwear.
We have a primitive need to fit in – our survival in ancient times depended on us being part of the herd. But the problem here is really about our belief systems. Yes, we need to be accepted, but when we focus on physical appearance as the enabler, we’re using the wrong criteria.
When you rank yourself against others in terms of physical appearance, you are more likely to focus on those above you in your list. It’s human nature to pay more attention to what’s not right so we can fix it.
One of the main problems here is that we compare ourselves piecemeal. We’ll notice someone with a prettier face than us, and someone else with more beautiful hair, and yet another person with a nicer figure. The net result is that we then feel bad about all those things, because we’ve compared ourselves to a composite ideal.
But feeling inferior is actually a choice we’ve made, usually because we decided to judge and compare in the first place. In the wise words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “no-one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Judging and comparing
Comparisonitis (yes, it’s a real word!) has grown exponentially with the expansion of social media, as we are constantly bombarded with images of other people looking fabulous, be they friends or complete strangers. Comparing ourselves to others is nothing new (did you know the phrase “Keeping up with the Joneses” dates from the early 1900s?) but it seems so much worse in our digitally connected world.
However, it’s worth being aware that we are usually not judging like with like – studies show that we are typically comparing the worst of ourselves to the best of others, especially when most people tend to post carefully curated pictures of themselves looking great.
Realising you’re doing it is the first step to changing the habit of comparing. Start to notice your judging behaviour and use it as an opportunity to remind yourself that what you’re seeing isn’t the real person, and that judging anyone on the basis of looks alone is shallow and unhelpful – it’s what’s on the inside that truly matters.
Masking (or pretending)
You’ll know if you’re doing this because it just won’t feel authentic. You’re putting on a front and pretending you’re OK with your looks, but deep down inside you’re desperately unhappy.
Living with this kind of incongruence can be soul destroying. The only way to break free is to learn to let go of physical appearance as a yardstick for measuring your worth.
Going to great lengths to look presentable
Repeatedly agonising over what to wear. Spending hours doing your hair and applying makeup on pretty much a daily basis. Having non-cosmetic procedures or even elective cosmetic surgery.
These things cost you time, money and mental energy. If you can’t pop out to the shops or do the school run without a full face of makeup, it’s likely that you have body image issues.
From time to time, particularly for special occasions, it’s fine to go the extra mile. But for the rest of the time, we need to be able to feel comfortable around others with minimal effort.
Worrying what people think
It’s good to be concerned about what other people think, otherwise we might unwittingly trample all over their feelings! The problem comes when we worry unduly, when we relate it to our appearance, and when we assume they’re probably thinking the worst.
This is known as mind reading and it’s incredibly unhelpful. What’s more important is what you think about yourself – that’s the bit to work on. As for other people, since you don’t really know, you might as well make it up and assume it’s positive!
Refusing to accept or believe compliments
Most of us are notoriously bad at accepting compliments! Our automatic response is usually to dismiss the remark in some way, which is a bit like throwing it back in the other person’s face.
Instead, try thanking them and then taking the compliment on board – file it away in your mind and remember it. When we focus more on the positives, then we start to notice more positives.
Living in fear of being judged negatively
This goes hand in hand with worrying what people think but it can be even more stifling, causing us to avoid doing things in the first place.
Ask yourself exactly what judgements you are fearing – this will reveal the kinds of judgements you’re actually making about yourself. When you know this, you can then choose to think differently. Take back control and write your own narrative, rather than living in fear of criticism from others.
These eight indicators are highly likely to be tied up in subconscious beliefs and automatic habits. To break free and become more body confident means exploring what’s going on in your mind and then changing the bits that aren’t helpful. Working with a coach is the best way to do this, but if that’s not for you right now then you might be interested in my free guide instead: Eight Steps to Body Confidence So You Can Have The Life You Want.