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Understanding Body Image and Mental Health

Body Image & Mental Health

What is Body Image?

Body image (BI) refers to how one thinks and feels about one’s body. This perception can be positive, negative, or neutral, and need not be factually correct. A positive BI relates to satisfaction with one’s body, whereas a negative BI indicates dissatisfaction. A negative BI usually correlates with concerns relating to weight, body shape, hair, skin, or even a specific body part. This dissatisfaction can sometimes translate to serious mental health concerns. A poor BI can also affect one’s self-esteem, along with general functioning in domains such as academic or job performance, socialization, and forming of relationships. 
Poor BI can be seen across age, gender. However, many studies observe a higher prevalence of BI concerns amongst females, and in adolescence and young adults. 
How is Body Image formed?

A negative BI is the product of several factors, over a period of time. These may include:
  • Media & Culture: All forms of media, through the ages have promoted certain types of physical traits as being linked to success, or happiness. These messages are often internalized by people unintentionally, causing pressure to live up to unrealistic/perfect standards. The media may promote all females to be curvy, men to tall or muscular, preference for a certain complexion, or body types. 
  • Family & Friends: Family members and friends can influence one’s perception of BI both in a negative or positive manner. A family may tease or make fun of a child’s weight, or make casual remarks or comments on their physical appearance. They may also be modelling a healthy body image, being satisfied with one’s body, inculcating healthy habits, and also giving context to unrealistic expectations set by the media. Either way, people around us have an important role to play in formation of our BI.
  • Genetics: Genetic factors also have a role to play in the formation of BI. 
  • Body changes: Factors such as illness or pregnancy may also alter one’s perception of their body. Early puberty in girls, and late puberty in boys have been found to be correlated with body dissatisfaction in adolescence.
  • Body Mass Index: A low or high BMI has been found to be correlated with body dissatisfaction. 

How can Body Image be improved?

Working on improving the BI is possible with consistent efforts:

Restricting the comments & comparisons: Curbing the use of social media or avoiding meeting people wherein one ends up feeling worse about themselves is an easy starting point. 

Gratitude: Considering how each of your body parts is helpful in achieving different goals and accomplishing a variety of tasks is an easy way to begin inculcating a sense of gratitude towards the body as a whole, and also towards different parts of the body. This practice allows you to re-focus and consequently also make a conscious effort away from the nitpicking which may exist.

Challenging negative thoughts: On occasions when you get negative thoughts about your body, try to question or challenge them by looking for evidence which proves or disproves your thought/s.

Self-Care: Eating healthy, sleeping for an adequate duration, and regular exercising are easy and significant ways to feel better about oneself, consequently also improving one’s BI
Professional Help: Reach out to a mental health professional if you identify yourself or a loved one struggling with a negative BI. 

Dr. Komal Manshani
Department of Mental Health & Behavioral Sciences
Artemis Hospital

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