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Body Image and Self Esteem

Written by Karl Perera BA, MA, DipLC
Updated: October 19th, 2020

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One of the biggest factors that affect self esteem, especially in women, is body image. Women are more unhappy with the appearance of their bodies than men (Grogan 2017). However, adolescents, men and even children can have poor body image. Through dealing with this issue myself when younger, and through the work I have done on self esteem, I will outline what body image is, the effects it can have and what to do if you suffer from poor body image.

Let’s begin with a short description of body image.

Body image is “The picture of our own body, which we form in our mind, that is to say, the way in which the body appears to ourselves.” (Schilder 1950, p.11). Poor body image can cause low self esteem and, in extreme cases, eating disorders. Women, men, adolescents and even children can suffer from negative body image.

Body image affects how you feel about yourself and in particular, your appearance. Social media and the wider press seems to constantly focus on the perfect body, not only affecting women but it would seem that women are most affected by the images we see everyday. I developed a negative body image when I was younger, so men are affected too. Based on the work I have done over the years, and my own personal experience, I’d like to help you understand this problem and take steps to overcome it.

Body Image and women

Self esteem in women these days seems dependent on how they think they look. Many women check the scales several times a day as if that will make a difference. This a form of obsession. Women are more unhappy with the appearance of their bodies than men (Grogan 2017).

In fact this study showed that even watching half an hour of TV could be enough to negatively affect a woman’s body image. Myers and Biocca (1992) go on to state there is much evidence that connects poor body image in women with eating disorders such as Bulimia or Anorexia Nervosa. The biggest problem appears to be advertising on TV and in the media, where images of slim and healthy women are often shown.

“I’m fat, short, skinny” – these are opinions you may hold and are most likely not true. Body image is often a distortion from reality.

Body image can affect self esteem (generally this is accepted according to Miller and Downey, 1999, though there is some disagreement). If you have poor body image you may also suffer from low self esteem and a lack of confidence. This appears to be quite a common problem these days due to the reasons so far given.

Although the ideals portrayed on TV and in the media focus on being slim and youthful, anyone can experience positive body image no matter what their appearance. We’ll take a look at techniques you can try a bit later.


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Often women try to impress men with their looks and appearance and consequently feel self conscious about their body shape and their weight. In fact, most men, (in my experience as a guy), see beauty in women of all shapes and sizes. Attractiveness does not always lie in appearance. In my opinion, the most attractive quality in a woman is having self confidence and a positive outlook on life. Appearance does matter, but not as much as most women believe.

Body image statistics
Body image and women in the US source

Your body is unique, enjoy it and love it. Focus on your good points. If someone likes you they will see the good and not the bad. Make yourself worthy of love and like yourself first.

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Body Image and men

Men also suffer from body image issues and this causes low self esteem and a lack of confidence.

Men worry about how tall, strong or muscly they are. The worst thing for men is probably being short or underweight. Many men can suffer low self esteem if they think they are short or too thin. Like women these men can become obsessed.

According to Grogan (2016), many men want to be like society portrays the ideal man, slender and muscular. If someone thinks they are too skinny or too fat, or weak looking, this can cause problems with body image and a resulting low level of self esteem.

One way that men can improve their body satisfaction is through physical exercise. There is quite a bit of evidence that physical activity can build positive body image according to Campbell and Hausenblas, 2009.

Again, the stereotypes that men carry around in their head and that are often reinforced on TV and in the media often contribute to body image issues in men.

Many women don’t like musclemen and even prefer shorter men. Sensitivity is a real plus. So you should forget the stereotypes and stop them controlling how you think about yourself.

Image and adolescents

Adolescents often compare themselves and worry about their appearance. Looks and physical appearance seem highly important for them! The media encourage teenagers to look like the stars and pop idols they see on TV. These stars are not average looking people. The bar is therefore set very high. Comparing oneself and trying to be like these successful celebrities creates pressure and low self esteem.

Bad self image can be a killer! If people had confidence and liked themselves then eating disorders, bulemia and suicides would decrease.

How to Increase your Self Esteem and Improve Body Image

  • Focus positively on the parts of your body you like.
  • Dress to emphasize your physique and look good. This will help you feel good.
  • Stop comparing yourself to others. You are unique.
  • Start an exercise program. It’s great for both the mind and the body!
  • Eat healthy food and stay away from diets.
  • Play sports as often as you can. Make exercise sociable and fun!
  • Walk as much as you can, it’s the best exercise you can do regularly.
  • Don’t smoke at all or drink too much. Respect your body!
  • Write down compliments you receive about how you look. Learn to accept them.
  • Straighten up, smile and look straight ahead – you’ll look and feel more confident!
  • Try this fantastic self hypnosis download – Building your self esteem
  • None of us are perfect, stop trying to be and accept positively who you are. – here’s how to change your attitude towards your body image and be less of a perfectionist.

References

  • Campbell A, Hausenblas HA. Effects of Exercise Interventions on Body Image: A Meta-analysis. Journal of Health Psychology. 2009;14(6):780-793. doi:10.1177/1359105309338977
  • Grogan, S. (2017). Body Image. London: Routledge, https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315681528
  • Gallivan, H. (2014). Minnesota Association for Child Mental Health website. Teens Social Media Body Image Presentation. Park Nicollet Melrose Center. https://www.macmh.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/18_Gallivan_Teens-social-media-body-image-presentation-H-Gallivan-Spring-2014.pdf
  • Miller CT, Downey KT. (1999). A Meta-Analysis of Heavyweight and Self-Esteem. Personality and Social Psychology Review. 3(1):68-84. doi:10.1207/s15327957pspr0301_4
  • Myers, P. N., & Biocca, F. A. (1992). The elastic body image: The effect of television advertising and programming on body image distortions in young women. Journal of Communication, 42(3), 108–133. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.1992.tb00802.x
  • Schilder, P. (1935). The image and appearance of the human body. Kegan Paul.
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Website Author and Editor Bio

Photo of Karl Perera, MA, DipLC Karl Perera is a fully qualified Life Coach (DipLC), Teacher (MA) and author of Self Esteem Secrets. He has taught at various universities including Durham, Leicester and Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge. He has run More-SelfEsteem.com since 1997 and is an expert in Self Esteem and Self Confidence.