How a person sees or thinks about their own body is referred to as body image. Many things contribute to this image. Sadly, many contributions lead to the person developing a negative body image. This negative body image can be detrimental to both physical and mental health. What contributes to this problem today?
Cultural Beauty Standards
Society’s narrow beauty standards often lead to negative body image, especially among women and girls. The media promote unrealistic ideals of thinness, youth, and conventional attractiveness that most cannot healthily attain. This pressure to conform can damage self-esteem and lead the person to explore potential anorexia behaviors..
Humans must expand their cultural definitions of beauty to be more inclusive of diverse body types and natural aging. While personal choice empowers, when beauty norms become oppressive, people should question their source and reject their control over their sense of self-worth. Value and beauty originate from within, not from transient trends.
Social Media Usage
Social media can have a profound impact on body image, particularly for young people who are highly engaged with platforms like Instagram and TikTok. Seeing a constant stream of edited, curated photos and videos depicting unrealistic beauty standards can lead to negative comparisons. Teens may feel their bodies don’t measure up, fueling poor self-esteem and body dissatisfaction.
This effect seems especially strong for girls and young women. Some research indicates adolescent girls who spend more time on social media are more concerned about their weight, shape, and appearance compared to peers who use social media less often. Images of thin, airbrushed models and influencers propagating unhealthy diets or excessive exercise regimens introduce unrealistic ideals that set girls up for failure.
Fatphobia and Sizeism
Fatphobia refers to the fear, dislike, and prejudice towards obesity and high-weight individuals. Sizeism is discrimination based on a person’s size and weight. These pervasive societal attitudes lead to stigma, stereotyping, and bullying of anyone perceived as being outside the thin ideal. Such experiences can significantly contribute to the development of a negative body image.
Peer influences can have a major impact on body image, especially during the teenage years. Teens are very susceptible to messages from their peers about how they should look. If friends frequently talk about dieting, make negative comments about their own or others’ bodies, or idolize ultra-thin celebrities, it can lead a teen to develop a negative body image. They may obsess over perceived flaws, engage in disordered eating habits, or feel intense shame about their appearance. Promoting body positivity and limiting harmful messages in social circles could help counteract these harmful peer influences on body image.
Trauma and Abuse
Traumatic experiences like bullying, assault, and emotional or physical abuse rooted in appearance often have deep impacts on body image. Degrading comments and hurtful experiences cause people to feel shame, disgust, and anxiety towards their bodies. This trauma is hard to overcome and may haunt survivors for years.
Biology and Personality
A person’s innate biology and personality traits also influence body image. Some people are genetically disposed towards anxiety, perfectionism, or obsessive tendencies. They are more inclined to notice perceived physical flaws. Hormonal changes also make women more vulnerable to negative body image.
Developing a negative body image is a complex interplay between societal forces, experiences, biology, and psychology. Combating the sources requires effort on both individual and collective levels. Awareness of these factors is an important first step. With compassion, courage, and persistence, a positive body image is possible for all.