Is Negative Body Image Bringing You Down?

I must come clean. I’ve been living a double life. Not the superhero, saving-the-world variety, but more like Jekyll and Hyde.

By day there I was a tall, bubbly and fit girl in front of my friends, but in the privacy of my home I saw the real monster living in the mirror. Her hair was dull, skin riddled with imperfections, and horrific thighs.

She was a mess!

I hated my body so much I'd steer clear of outings with my skinner and prettier friends, dates, and even university lectures, fearing that others would see this monster and judge me like I do.

Everyone experiences doubts when it comes to body image, which is perfectly normal as long as most of the time you have a realistic, positive view of yourself.

But for many people like me, without even realizing it, we turn against our bodies and lock ourselves away in a dungeon of self hate.

As a personal trainer and wellness coach, I see these inner monsters daily. And I've found many studies to support my theory that many people suffer from a distorted perception of their weight.

And, to no surprise, women perceive their weight in a more negative light than men. A study by the University of Chicago about Americans' perceptions of their own weight found that 38% of normal weight women thought they were “overweight,” while 33% percent of overweight men thought they were “about the right weight” or “underweight.”

That’s a whopping third of women who were not overweight trying to lose weight, while a third of men who were overweight were fine with the status quo.

When we compare ourselves with the thin, tight, sculpted bodies that seem to appear everywhere we look, it’s no surprise that many of us feel inadequate. A study conducted by the Flinders University of South Australia found that subjects’ body image satisfaction decreases after viewing TV commercials containing images of the “thin ideal” for women and the “muscular ideal” for men, occurring more so with girls than boys.

Sadly as children, we’ve been set up to focus on how we look from a young age. It begins with something as innocent as complimenting a young girl on how pretty she looks, while our young male friends were encouraged to show off their muscles.

As we grew older, we turned to comparing ourselves with fitness and fashion models as well as celebrities who make a living from their appearance and have the means to hire professionals to create this illusion.

So what’s so bad about looking at thinspiration?

The resulting feelings of aesthetic inadequacy can manifest into something more sinister like imagined ugliness, body dysmorphia, muscle dysmorphia and dysmorphophobia. A person with body dysmorphic disorder, intensely obsesses over their appearance. No matter what they do, they are never satisfied.

Genetics, the environment, and brain chemistry have been linked to body dysmorphia as well as other risk factors like childhood teasing, low self-esteem, expectations of beauty, and having anxiety or depression.

I can assure you that boys are not exempt from this. Muscle dysmorphia, body dysmorphia’s ugly cousin, causes men to obsess about having large muscles and a lean physique. A person with “bigorexia” may fall victim to excessive use of supplements and steroids, while adhering to extreme diets and training schedules, letting other areas of their life deteriorate.

If you feel that you or someone you know may have body image issues, you can stop this debilitating process.

Try not to compare yourself with others. 

Many of the men and women you see in magazines, movies, TV, or social media have body fat percentages that are too low to be healthy in the long-term and have probably starved themselves and dehydrated their bodies just for that photo.

Get moving.

Do strength training to build confidence, join a group-training studio, or go to yoga.

Build a support network. 

Surround yourself with real, health-focused people and professionals who will help you achieve your goals.

Catch yourself in the act. 

Become aware of your self-abuse, and break the cycle. Replace it immediately with positive thoughts and affirmations like “My body is beautiful and a work in progress.”

Imagine saying all those negative things to a three-year-old version of yourself. 

How would that child feel? Change the negative self-talk into something nurturing and inspiring.

Focus on your non-appearance strengths. 

Your worth isn’t connected to how thin or muscular you are.

Get profesional help. 

If you think you have body or muscle dysmorphia, seek professional treatment.

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