• Rachel Ogilby

Let's Talk About Body Image

Why talk about body image?

As a member of one of my nursing organizations, I was able to pick out a free healthcare magazine for a year. Body image is one that caught my eye, and I was fascinated by some of the articles. As we all move towards shorts, swimsuits, and tank tops this summer, I thought it was fitting to post an article about body image and positivity. Here’s a reminder that YOU ARE AWESOME and one of a kind! The following information is gleaned from journal articles and is evidence-based. You might be surprised by some of the information that follows!

What is body image?

Body image is multidimensional. It’s comprised of attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors related to the body, especially its appearance. Poor body image typically relies on appearance as the defining feature of oneself. On the other hand, positive body image includes appreciation and acceptance of the body and all it can do.

A person with a positive body image respects their body and is attentive to what it needs (Rest? Water? A vacation?). They also have a broader understanding of beauty and they usually reject social standards. People with positive body image are more mindful and accepting. They typically have a more holistic view of how the body is experienced.

Why should I care about my body image?

Poor body image and body dissatisfaction has shown to be associated with lower quality of life and eating disorders. Research shows strong associations between a dissatisfied body image and anxiety, depression, and decreased self-esteem. Research also suggests that a positive body image is associated with optimism, healthy coping, self-esteem, a decrease in disordered eating, and intuitive eating (when you eat according to your hunger signals).

What is the impact of social media of body image?

Since we know how important is to have a positive body image, it’s important to know what the risk factors are of poor body image. Frequent social network use results in body dissatisfaction. Interestingly, women who take and post selfies on their social media report feeling less attractive than people who do not frequently post selfies.

90% of young adults access social media daily. Using social media that features the posting of photographs (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat... etc.) are shown to have a stronger relationship with women's body dissatisfaction and desire to be thin.

Additionally, body dissatisfaction is positively associated with photo manipulation. Ditch those filters!

How can I improve my body image?

Self-compassion is a protective factor that helps us stop comparing ourselves against social norms (which are usually heightened in social media). Self-compassion is the capacity to experience unpleasant thoughts or emotions with self-acceptance and worth instead of self-judgment. In one study, women viewed images of idealized bodies alongside self-compassion statements. They reported a greater body satisfaction compared to women who only viewed the idolized body images. This shows that self-compassion can buffer against the harmful impacts of social media!

How can I help others achieve a positive body image?

Research shows a positive relationship between the body ideals of mothers and daughters, spouses, and friend groups. The more positive you are, the more positively you effect the people around you.

One way to do this is to decrease the “fat talk”. This is when we talk negatively about our own body or eating behavior. People who engage in or hear this type of talk tend to have body dissatisfaction, a negative affect, and disordered eating. Sadly, studies show that women in college consider positive body talk to be surprising and less common. Interestingly, they also believe that this type of positive thinking is less credible than negative talk. However, studies show that we can affect this attitude!

In one study, a group of women listened to someone challenge fat talk by saying “I think feeling happy and healthy is so much more important than focusing on how I look”. Another group of participants heard fat talk such as “I’ve been thinking about going on a diet- maybe then I wouldn’t feel so fat”. Those who heard the challenging response felt less negative and reported a lower likelihood of engaging in fat talk. As one researcher states, “If you’re around people who are picking at themselves or saying ‘I look bad’ or ‘I hate my thighs’, you’re going to be more inclined to pick at yourself... if you’re around people that don’t talk about that sort of thing, it’s easier to have positive self-image."

Okay, so what’s the message?

Talk kindly to yourself and to others when it comes to body image. Remember that you are so much more than just your body! You might be a spouse, daughter, son, mother, aunt, friend… if you’re like most of the nurses I know, you are also intelligent, kind, caring, strong, patient, and attentive. I know that as I’ve gotten older, my friend and family groups have slowly stopped the negative body talk (is it our society changing? I hope so). However, let’s remember (especially if we have children or young impressionable minds around us) to keep the talk optimistic and focus on all the wonderful qualities of ourselves and our loved ones.

What are you planning on doing to help keep body talk positive? I would love to hear about it!

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