Society nowadays encourages us to embrace our bodies and to commit to activities that boost our self-esteem and encourage self-care. Nevertheless, we all have those days where we experience a negative body image and feel down about ourselves. What does positive body image actually mean? Despite what you may think, it’s not actually the opposite of negative body image. Let me explain….
In psychology, we would define positive body image as:
- Appreciation for your body and the functions that it performs
- Accept and admire the majority of their body, including parts not in line with society’s ideals
- Feel beautiful/handsome, comfortable, confident and happy with their body
- They can be viewed as having an “outer glow”
- Emphasise body assets rather than dwell on imperfections
- They can interpret incoming information in a body-protective manner
- Ie. they will internalise positive information and reframe or reject negative information received
- Favourable opinions of the body
- Respecting your body by attending to its needs and engaging in healthy behaviours
- E.g. if you’re hungry you’ll eat and not threat over “I’ve eaten too much today I might gain weight”
- This links to protecting the body by rejecting unrealistic ideal body images portrayed in the media
If it’s still not very clear, here’s what positive body image isn’t:
- Being highly satisfied with all aspects of appearance, people can still hate a certain part of their body they’ve just learnt not to emphasise that area and have learnt to counteract it with what they find positive about their bodies
- It is most certainly not expressed as narcissism or vanity
- Positive body image isn’t foolproof against all body image-related threats. People might still feel a bit down after seeing a very thin model in a magazine, however, they can overcome it and focus on the positives
- It’s not linked to disengagement from self-care, sometimes, people may have a positive body image because they engage so much in self-care
- E.g. regularly moisturising etc.
- Another important thing to note is that positive image isn’t aided by frequent appearance-related compliments from others, confident and appreciation for one’s body has to come from oneself.
It could be said that positive body image is more body acceptance than anything. It’s really the start to loving yourself and who you are. There are other benefits though, which can only encourage us to seek positive body image even more:
- Less depression
- Higher self-esteem
- Fewer unhealthy dieting behaviours
- Lower drive for muscularity
- Greater intentions to protect yourself from UV exposure and damage
- This might seem like an odd one, but in many places, the ideal is also to look slightly more tanned than is our natural tone. Some people go as far as to say that people who are too pale naturally look ill, which definitely doesn’t help the situation!
- As a result, those with a negative body image might spend time in sun beds, applying darker foundation or even spending unhealthy amounts of time in the sun, whereas those who have a positive body image won’t do such thing as they’ll want to protect their skin from damage over appealing to the ideal
It’s easier said than done to achieve a positive body image, so if you struggle severely with a negative body image, there’s help you can seek (links I’ll leave below), however, if it’s just a matter of feeling self-conscious and loving yourself a bit more, here are some tips you can try to help increase just that!
- Engage a little more in a technique called “Protective filtering.” This is where the body is interpreted in a self-protective manner, so you learn to filter out negative information that’s potentially harmful to your body image.
- This mentality is slightly linked to the next technique which is called “Media Literacy,” where you critically evaluate the media’s depiction of appearance ideals and try not to internalise the ideal but instead to ignore or reject it. I’ve written out some actual examples that participants came up with in an experiment, just so you get the gist.
– “The advertisements have clearly been digitally altered.”
– “The women in the adverts had hair and make-up done by professionals.”
– “The women aren’t a true representation of women in society.”
– “The women look the way they do as it’s their job.”
– “The women might not necessarily be healthy or happy.”
- Another thing you can do is to engage with people who have positive body image and who don’t engage in fat talk
- By doing this, you can avoid making comparisons between peers and there’s no “reference point” established for your group-weight-norm.
- Unconditional acceptance of any defects you might have or areas you don’t like
Remember, your size, shape, look, hairstyle… none of that defines you. Let your personality and behaviour be the things to stand out at people and let that be what you put the emphasis on when you go out. Avoid opening the makeup bag but instead, open the door to people discovering your true self.
The Frugal Frenchie x
Links for help (including interesting articles to read on different treatments):
- Tylka and Wood Barcalow, 2015 :
What is and what isn’t positive body image? Conceptual foundations and construct definition
- Wood-Barcalow, Tylka and Augustus-Horvath, 2010 :
Positive body image characteristics and a holistic model for young-adult women
- Gillen, 2015 :
Associations between positive body image and indicators of men’s and women’s mental and physical health
- Andrew, Tiggemann, Clark, 2015:
The protective role of body appreciation against media-induced body dissatisfaction
- Mirror exposure:
Delinksy et al. (2006) Mirror Exposure for Body Image Disturbance
- Cognitive dissonance:
Stice et al. (2001) Randomised trial of cognitive dissonance programme
- Acceptance and Commitment:
Pearson et al. (2012) ACT intervention for body image and ED (eating behaviour) attitudes