Body image is about how you feel about your body, not about how your body looks. We all have a body image and we all have to work towards feeling good about ourselves.
It can be hard to care for our bodies due to the messages from the media that sell us the idea that we are less than others. Sometimes these messages come from other places as well: our peers, our coaches, our doctors, or our families.
Your body, your rules. It’s important to find ways of caring for ourselves, after all, we all get to value our bodies. It’s good for us! We all deserve the right to feel healthy and beautiful for whom we truly are.
- Body Image & the Media
There is so much focus in the media on the outside of our bodies and how they look. It can be hard to value our bodies when we compare ourselves to the unrealistic images we see in social media, movies, TV, advertising, magazines, etc. The images we see in the media are crafted to create an unrealistic idea of what is beautiful. Celebrities are surrounded by a team of people whose job is to help them look the way they do. This can include personal stylists, makeup artists, fitness trainers, chefs and publicists. Even posts on social media can be crafted. Few people post their first photo, they may be filtered or Photoshopped, and there may be a lot of prep for the image that we don’t see. Family and friends are also affected by media and can reinforce the negative messages we are getting. This can make it really hard to value our bodies.
Check out a video about what goes into a typical photoshoot
The media also doesn’t show us all types of bodies equally. Different body sizes, skin colours, genders and body types are shown (or not shown) in different ways. Fat bodies are often looked down upon or shown as a comedic friend but rarely the romantic lead. White skin is regularly shown as while people of colour have their skin lightened in Photoshop. Male and female gender stereotypes are reinforced and other gender identities are often missing. Bodies with different physical abilities are rarely shown. We know in reality the world is an amazingly diverse place and all bodies deserve representation.
We all have to work to resist messages that our bodies make us less than. Check out the section Workings towards body acceptance to learn ways to push back against these messages.
- Eating Disorders and Disordered Eating
- Eating disorders are a mental illness. They may begin when someone has a negative body image or they may also be a way that someone is coping with their feelings. Eating disorders can have a negative impact on someone’s mental wellness and physical health.
Some examples of eating disorders are:
Anorexia: A disorder where someone does not to eat enough food to fuel their body. They may not eat even to the point of death.
Bulimia: A disorder that involves someone trying to get rid of the food they put into their body. Sometimes people with bulimia eat a bunch of food (binge) and then feel desperate to get rid of that food through a variety of activities.
Megarexia: Someone feels pressure to get bigger and does things that are risky to their physical and mental health in order to look that way. They might over-exercise to the point of injury, use steroids, or do other harmful activities.
It’s important to understand that eating disorders are mental illnesses that someone can recover from with support. If you or someone you know is living with an eating disorder talk with someone you trust. You can also check out one of these resources:
Eating Disorders Manitoba ~ Provides resources and support for people in Manitoba.
National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) ~ Supports and resources for people from all over Canada. They also run the NEDIC Helpline. It’s free to call and open Monday-Friday 8am-8pm 1-866-633-4220.
Disordered Eating: Someone with disordered eating is doing the same behaviours as someone with an eating disorder, but at a lesser frequency or to a lower degree. Disordered Eating is not a mental illness, but may develop into an Eating Disordered without support.
- Working Towards Body Acceptance
- All bodies have value. All bodies deserve care. If someone is struggling with valuing their body and caring for their body, we might call that having a negative body image. For some people, having a negative body image may make them obsess about perceived flaws in their appearance, prevent them from listening to their body when it’s hungry or full, lead to over-exercising or impact their mental health. It’s important to talk with someone you trust if you or someone you know is struggling with their body image. That could include a teacher, school counsellor, family member or elder. It can also include phonelines such as the Klinic Crisis Line, 1.888.322.3019 or 204.786.8686. It’s free to call and open 24 hours.
We all have to work to resist messages that our bodies make us less than. It can help to think about the things we can do to feel good about ourselves. It can include things like:
- Complimenting ourselves every day. Mix it up with inner and outer qualities
- Listening to your body. Pay attention to what makes you feel good.
- Exercising to feel good in a way that you enjoy. Exercise isn’t about losing weight or bulking up; it’s about moving your body in a way that feels good.
- Wearing clothes you feel good in.
- Eating a variety of foods that fuel your body and mind, and that makes you feel good.
- Surrounding yourself with people who support you and make you feel good about yourself.
- Don’t put yourself or your body down, even when you’re just by yourself.
- Be critical of the media you see, especially if it’s making you feel bad. Be aware that many of the bodies and people we see in the media are photoshopped or edited to look a certain way. Many types of bodies are left out of the media. Comparing our bodies to the media is not realistic
- Fill out a Body Image Booster as a reminder that you’re amazing
Feeling good about ourselves can make us feel happier and more confident, but working towards body acceptance can be a life-long process. To paraphrase Sonya Renee Taylor, body acceptance isn’t about you learning to love every part of your body, but rather making peace with and caring for who you are.
- Supporting Others to Feel Better About Their Bodies
Helping other people to feel good about themselves actually allows us to feel good about ourselves and our bodies too. We can support people by
- Not judging anyone’s looks
- Complimenting people. Make it a mix of inner and outer qualities
- Educating yourself and others about fatphobia, the diet industry or the media
- Take part in or start a body acceptance day like International No Diet Day
- Be a good example. By staying positive or even just body neutral (not talking about bodies as good or bad) we give others permission to do the same
- Speak out against all forms of discrimination including fat phobia
- Challenge what you see (or don’t see) in the media
Use social media to benefit instead of harm. Share body acceptance messages and posts
- Body Image Booster
Sometimes when you feel down it can help to have accepting messages to remind you that your body deserves care. Fill this out and keep it somewhere safe so that you can look whenever you need a boost.
Click here for a printable version of the Body Image Booster.
Body Image Booster
Booster #1: Name 3 things about your body that you enjoy.
Booster #2: List 3 of your best personality traits.
Booster #3: Write down a compliment that you received that made you feel good.
Booster #4: Name a piece of clothing or accessory that makes you feel good.
Questions About Body Image
- People tease me about my body shape and size. What can I do?
- It can feel really awful if we’re being teased for anything, especially our bodies. It’s important to remember that it’s not your fault! Your body is perfect the way it is.
If we have a choice, spend time with people that don’t tease and make fun of us. Surrounding ourselves with people who support us no matter what our body looks like feels good, and can even help boost our self-esteem.
That said, sometimes we don’t have a choice. In other words, the people who are making fun of us are unavoidable (family or peers at school). This can be really hard to deal with. If you feel comfortable doing it, tell them to stop and/or let them know how it makes you feel. Again, remember that this has nothing to do with you or your body, it’s not your fault.
Also, you don’t have to go through this alone. Try talking to your school guidance counsellor, a teacher, a family member, a friend, or someone else you trust and who might be able to help you. And check out the question above about how we can feel better about ourselves and our bodies.
Finally, remember that you are an amazing and truly unique individual. There is no one out there that is quite like you and you deserve to be treated with respect and also to feel great about yourself!
- It seems like body image is a girl’s problem. Do guys have body image issues?
- Body image issues affect everyone, but the way they affect each of us can be different. Boys and men are more likely to exercise and work out to have bigger or more muscular bodies and/or take steroids or supplements. Girls and women are more likely to try to be thin (often still with big breasts/bums). Of course, there are exceptions, but these are just examples of how girls and boys might be affected in different ways.
Boys and men are also diagnosed with eating disorders and can deal with disordered eating. This has been going on for a long time, but only recently there has been increasing public awareness and media coverage of it to make it more of a mainstream issue.
Just like how many girls feel pressure to have their breasts look a certain way, many guys also feel pressure about penis size. So, yes, guys are affected by body image issues, but sometimes just in different ways.
- I’m fat, but I exercise and eat healthy. What’s up?
- This question is a perfect example of how healthy bodies really do come in all sizes. We are all unique and totally individual, and our bodies were made to fit each one of us. Perfectly. This means that for some people, their bodies are naturally fatter, this is not a bad thing!
Eating foods that make us and our bodies feel good along with exercise (otherwise moving our bodies in ways that feel good) is healthy. Sometimes peoples’ bodies stay a certain size because it’s the size they like to be. This can be a good sign because your body is telling you that it likes being where it’s at!
- Are all diets unhealthy?
- This is a really good question, but it doesn’t have an easy answer. There are many different kinds of diets out there. A diet because of an ongoing health condition may be healthy. For example, a person with diabetes may follow a specific diet to keep their blood sugar levels at a healthy place. However, most of the time when people talk about dieting, they are talking about eating a certain way to change the shape of their body.
Restricting or limiting calories and nutrients, especially for long periods of time, is hard on your internal organs. It also sends the body into “starvation mode” which slows down your metabolism to try to conserve calories. (This is why people tend to gain back more weight after they go off the diet – which sometimes leads to “yo-yo dieting”)
Why people diet and how long they diet for also affect how healthy something is. If someone is dieting to change the shape of their body it could also make people overly concerned about looking a certain way instead of learning to value the body they already have. Dieting can make us even more critical of ourselves and push us to regulate everything we eat (this is not good for us). If someone already has the tendency to over-focus and obsess over what they eat, this could make them more likely to develop an eating disorder.
Advertising can also make some diets seem more healthy than they actually are. If you are wondering if a diet is healthy, ask yourself, could I eat this way for the rest of my life? Would I be genuinely happy following this program? Will I miss some of my favourite foods/food groups? Would I be able to recommend this way of eating to a 5-year-old? If the answer is no, then most likely the diet isn’t healthy.
- I am in dance and I work out, but I can’t get thinner. What can I do?
- You deserve to feel good about your body whatever size you are! Nobody has the right to tell you to change your body, not family or friends or even your dance instructors. You can be healthy, happy, fit and beautiful no matter what size your body is.
However, we know that there is a lot of pressure on people to be very thin. This pressure can make us feel like we have to change our bodies to fit in. We might do dangerous things like work out too much or too hard. It can also get to the point where we miss out on things that make us feel good or miss time with friends or family to exercise.
It might help to talk to someone if you don’t feel good about your body, or if you feel like exercising is stopping you from other things in life. You can talk to a counsellor at your school, call a phone line or if you’re in Manitoba, contact the Women’s Health Clinic for information about counselling.
- What is the body mass index?
- The body mass index (BMI) is a scale that is sometimes used to see how “fat” a person is. It works by comparing height and weight to label someone as “normal” “underweight” “overweight” or “obese.”
The BMI was actually never meant to be used for this purpose. It was invented in 1832 century by a Belgian mathematician named Lambert Adolphe Jacque Quetelet. He intended what evolved into the BMI to be used as a short-cut method for looking at body sizes on a societal level. He never intended the scale to be used on an individual level. Quetelet was working on figuring out societal averages of body size, not weight.
It was only later, towards the end of the 19th century, when insurance companies started looking for measurements, that the BMI was linked to weight and personal health outcomes. It has since grown, and changed with time, but continues to be used by insurance companies and in doctors’ offices despite its arbitrary body measurements.
The BMI fails to take into account personal health outcomes and individual body diversity. Tall people and short people will have different outcomes on the BMI that aren’t connected to their weight. The BMI does not account for muscle vs fat percentage or body frame size. It also was developed by looking at people, mostly men, from the same ethnic background, and therefore doesn’t account for the fact that people whose backgrounds are from other areas of the world or other genders may have totally different averages.
We know that how healthy we are is made up of tons of things like how we feel, how our bodies are working, if our bodies are helping us to achieve the things we enjoy doing, how much stress there is in our lives, how much we sleep, etc. None of which the BMI can tell us.
- Why do people change their body, even though they already know they’re pretty/ beautiful?
- A lot of times, people may not know or feel like they are pretty or beautiful, even though everyone is beautiful in their own way. Negative messages about our bodies fly at us from all directions in this society. Parents, friends, family, teachers, the fashion industry, diet companies and especially the media put so much pressure on us to look a certain way. The media lies to us by saying there is only one type of body that is ok, and everyone should try to look like that.
The truth is, there is no such thing as a “perfect” body. Because there is no way to look like the “ideal” bodies we see in the media, some people feel like they have to change their appearances, even though they look fabulous the way they are! The images we see are just there to make us all feel bad about our bodies so that we will buy the things the beauty and diet industries are trying to sell us. If they sold us the idea that Health and Beauty came in all shapes, sizes, and colours- they wouldn’t make any money!
- What are the risks of using steroids?
- When it comes to steroid use, there are risks involved. Steroids can change someone’s body and contribute to muscle growth which is why people might use them. The longer someone uses steroids, the high the chance of experiencing negative side effects. Some risks are based on someone’s sex, while others can happen to all bodies.
- For people with testicles, risks can include shrinking of the testicles, reduced sperm count, infertility, development of breasts, and increased risk for prostate cancer.
- For people with ovaries, risks can include the growth of facial hair, changes in or cessation of the menstrual cycle, enlargement of the clitoris, and deepened voice.
- Some risks for all bodies include baldness, cancer, kidney problems, and extreme mood swings.
- Are food supplements like Creatine safe to use?
- Some protein powders can be helpful for folks who don’t get enough protein from the foods they eat. However, if someone is using protein powders and supplements to change their body size, there are a few things to consider:
The recommended dose for these supplements is not meant for bodies that are still growing/in their teen years. If people are using supplements to enhance their performance or change their body size, people are easily tempted to take more than the recommended amount. In fact, there are major medical societies including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Sports Medicine advise against the use of creatine in people younger than 18.
Long-term use of creatine has been shown to damage liver and kidney functions. Using it while the body is still developing (like in the teen years) may affect how the organs might work over time. If people are working towards building strength in their bodies, it’s best to do it the old fashion way. This means a balanced workout plan that includes listening to your body. It means taking things slow, including breaks for recovery to avoid injury and most importantly having fun with what you are doing.
- I heard what you eat and not washing your face gives you pimples. Is this true?
- There is no scientific evidence to show that food gives people pimples. People often get pimples because an increase of hormones in their body stimulates glands under the skin that release an oil called sebum. That is why a lot of people have zits during puberty, why some people get zits when they have their period and some people get them when they are stressed. Hormones changes happen with all three of these things.
There’s also a lot of talk about having to clean your face a certain way or with a certain product to keep pimples away. While we do all have to wash our face as part of good hygiene, there is also washing too much. Once or twice a day with a mild cleanser is all most bodies need. In fact, washing more than this can actually increase pimples. Our body produces a thin layer of sebum to protect our skin. When we over-wash our face we take off too much of this oil. This can make the body kick into sebum production overdrive to make up for the increased loss of protection. More oil means more opportunity for it to clog pores and create pimples.
The bottom line is everyone gets pimples. There are times in life when we may have more pimples and that’s okay!