There are plenty of articles about the terrible ways social media affects body image for people of all ages. And for good reason. It’s true.
Social media can be a huge body image killjoy.
You probably already know this, firsthand. Especially if you identify as female. And because, the United States, like most Western countries, is steeped in Diet Culture.
Scrolling through images of friends, acquaintances, and influencers can be a real downer. Especially if you’re competitive (or even if you’re not!) about who has the most ‘likes’, ‘loves’, or comments. The scrolling can be particularly tough on self-esteem. The same is true if you’re comparing yourself to determine who’s the hottest, most popular or other (fill-in-the-blank) est.
Social media provides 24/7 opportunity to compare yourself to countless others’ highlight reel. And, to internalize Diet Culture messages. Social media spreads toxic Diet Culture themes, such as:
- Body dissatisfaction (for all genders, especially people who identify as LGBTQ)
- Internalization of the cultural ideal
- Disordered eating
A 2019 report suggests more than 3 billion people are active social media users. That’s nearly half of the world’s population. The impact of social media on how we think and behave is mind blowing.
Keeping up with the Kardashians and with other trends, looking a certain way, and having a particular aesthetic have become a given. And social media posts communicate this loud and clear.
Social media demonstrates beautifully that “comparison is the thief of joy”.
Even though Teddy Roosevelt was not referencing social media with this quote, it fits perfectly.
How are you using social media?
There are many different ways to use social media. How you use social media affects body image. For example, how do you consume what other people post? Are you taking, editing and uploading selfies? Do you follow close friends and family? Or a bunch of celebrities and influencers? Which platform do you tend to use most?
Most likely you do some combination of consuming, uploading, and following.
As we said, social media is toxic for body image, largely because of the built in comparing it promotes.
Self-objectification is at the heart of the problem.
What is self-objectification?
Self-objectification occurs when we internalize an observer’s view of our own body. As if our body is a mound of clay to measure, shape, and control. By viewing and treating our body as an object, we are essentially scrutinizing our own body in anticipation of being evaluated by others.
Our body becomes a ‘thing’/object to monitor, manage, and curate. Rather than how you express your life.
Is viewing social media always associated with poor body image?
This is a ‘no, but’.
Social media use is consistently and positively associated with negative body image. (That is the ‘but’.)
Scrolling through the feed of a Diet Culture oriented fitness instructor, for example, will likely worsen body image. However, researchers have identified some nuance in the effects of social media on body image.
For example, different social media platforms impact body image worse than others. In fact, a recent study suggests Instagram users spend more time looking at images of people; Facebook users spend more time looking at images without people in them. And FB users tend to read and write more content. It’s no surprise, then, that Instagram users report more appearance comparisons than Facebook users. Women in the study’s Instagram condition also reported thinking about their appearance significantly more than women in either the Facebook or online game (Bejeweled) conditions.
Another example in the ‘yes’ column: time spent on body positivity sites can improve body image.
Do #BoPo images really help people improve body image?
In social media language, #bopo refers to body positivity, The purpose of #bopo images is to encourage acceptance of and appreciation for all body types.
Viewing body positive images, on social media sites can be associated with improved body image But not always.
The basic criticism of Body Positivity is that the focus is still on bodies. The ‘love your body at any size’ message of #bopo is lovely. But, again, focus is still on appearance.
Our bodies are more than something to look at. How strongly you identify with that belief system affects the impact #Bopo images has on you.
What about #Fitspo posts?
“Fitspiration”, aka #fitspo in Instagram language, is a popular social media category. #Fitspo images promote exercise and ‘healthy eating’ (aka Diet Culture) as a source of encouragement and inspiration.
(Please pardon the snark here: If the encouragement and inspiration are meant to inspire a nosedive in body image, mission accomplished.)
Exhibit A: In a A 2017 study, 160 female undergraduates viewed either #fitspo, self compassion quotes, or a mix of the two. Here are the findings:
- #Fitspo viewers were low on self-compassion.
- “Fitspiration” images were associated with being self critical.
- Compassionate quote viewers (e.g. “You’re perfect just the way you are”) were kinder to themselves AND thought more positively about their bodies.
- Good news! For those who viewed #fitspo and self-compassion quotes, the benefits of self-compassion outweighed (pardon the pun) the negatives of #fitspo.
What about posting selfies?
When it comes to posting pictures on social media, selfies prevail.
Selfies are photos taken of oneself or of oneself in a group. They’re often used on social media sites as a way to present oneself.
Modifying selfies so we appear more conventionally attractive (that is Diet Culture speak for thinner) is an automatic step in posting. We “edit” ourselves to accumulate more followers and boost our social media presence and reputation.
Among female college students (and probably among most people) taking and posting selfies, with and without photo-retouching, worsens mood and body image. This is true even when editing, filtering, or otherwise retouching selfies.
Selfie takers still tend to focus on what they don’t like about their looks. Retouching photos doesn’t prevent a body image decline. Maybe the anxiety of accumulating “likes” and “loves” interferes with better body image. After all, the likes and loves can only provide temporary boosts or relief. #Reality!
Some experts suggest spending a lot of time perfecting selfies may indicate a person is struggling with body image.
Is this just a female thing?
Negative effects of social media posts on body image extend to people of all ages and genders. Men are not immune. For example, a study found that men who reported looking at male #fitspo content more frequently said they compared their own appearance to others more often and cared about having muscles more. As a result, they had more body dissatisfaction and appearance oriented motivation to exercise.
Among men, #Fitspo content is linked with concern about being muscular and lean for appearance sake.
How do you know if your child’s body image problems are cause for concern?
If you’re thinking, “Oh great! Now this to worry about?” I get it. Just what you need –yet another thing on the mile long list of concerns.
Please don’t panic!
At every phase of body image development, parents can do lots of things to support their children’s body image. And address signs of body image problems.
Whatever your child’s age, their relationship with their body is important. In fact, their body image is central to their sense of who they are. And lays the foundation for well being throughout their life.
What is body image?
Body image is how your child feels and thinks about their body.
Positive body image means they’re relatively happy with how their body looks and moves. A child’s positive body image is central to confidence and self esteem.
If a child has poor body image, they feel negatively about their body. They may not like how their body looks, or for some other reason feel unhappy about their body. Feeling badly about their body lowers confidence and self-esteem.
A child’s relationship with their body is one of the most important relationships they’ll ever have.
Children and Body Image
Everyone with a body has a body image. A relationship with their body. As with teens and adults, children can have body image problems too.
Babies and Toddlers
- We are all born with a body. And that is where body image begins – as a newborn, with a body.
- A year or so later, babies become toddlers and learn to crawl, stand, and walk. They take pride in doing things themselves.
- Parents can help babies and toddlers feel good about their bodies. You may do this through smiles and praise. Or by cuddling and playing. And by tuning into and responding to your their needs.
- Spend time 1:1 if possible, and have direct eye contact.
- Body image grows as your child grows.
- Poor body image occurs in children as young as 3-5 years of age.
- For each child, positive body image moments look different. Like when your child smiles in the mirror after a dental cleaning, delighting in their ‘shiny whites’. Or when you two plant a garden together, as she enjoys the feel of the dirt on her hands.
- All of these moments are based in body image. And are an opportunity for you to support your child’s relationship with their body.
- Children naturally want to feel good about their body and how it looks. They want to be able to do what other kids can do.
- As your child gets older, he will likely compare himself to others. To do so is normal. But, comparisons can go south over time. and cause body image problems.
According to research on body image among children:
- More than half of girls and one-third of boys as young as ages 6 to 8 say their ideal weight is to be thinner than they are.
- By age 7, one in four kids has attempted some sort of dieting behavior.
- As many as 41 percent of girls say they use social media to “make themselves look cooler.”
- A whopping 87 percent of female characters on TV that are between the ages of 10 and 17 are below the average weight.
Body image problems are most likely during adolescence
- Puberty is one of the most challenging times for body image – and for lots of other things. So much is in flux at this time in your child’s life. The way they feel about their body may be one of many changes, happening all at once.
- Body image problems are common during this phase of development.
- Your teenager may be excited about the way their body is changing. Or feel shy and modest. Or somewhere in between. All of it is normal.
- Being in a body that is changing can be stressful. Hair grows where it had never been. Body shape changes. Weight gain is biologically natural and common.
- Adjusting to a changing body is about more than just looks. Boys’ voices become more like men’s. Girls begin to menstruate.
Getting used to a body that looks and feels different takes time. It’s an adjustment.
There may be more body image problems than victories. And that is ok.
- Kids who develop early may feel super awkward at first. Some feel proud.
- Teens who develop late may be excited to finally fit in with their friends.
- Or maybe their self esteem has already taken a hit.
- Your role as a parent is to educate, support, and provide assurance.
Being in a teenager ‘s body can = body image problems: What’s normal?
- Adolescence is a time your son or daughter is prone to worry about weight.
- Kids become more aware of looks around the time bodies start to change.
- This can make physical changes difficult to deal with.
- Some kids grow wider before they grow taller.
- Some become taller and then fill out.
- Their relationship with their body can be challenged, especially if their growth sequence causes them to feel like they don’t fit in.
- Preteens and teens may try out new looks and styles. Or dress to fit in or to stand out.
- Some kids focus on what they don’t like about their body.
- Boys may wish they had more muscles. Girls may wish they were thinner or had a bigger butt.
- Being self-critical about looks hurts everyone’s body image. This is especially true for teens.
- In addition to speaking negatively to themselves, some kids are teased or shamed about their body.
- Bullying in all forms, including cyberbullying, is harmful. Whether it happens on social media or in person.
Bullying can easily trigger to body image problems.
Especially when you consider that kids in larger or smaller bodies are at higher risk for being bullied.
What can parents do to help with body image problems?
It seems almost inevitable that at some point, Aunt Phyllis or other well-intentioned person will make a comment about your child’s body. Maybe the comment is in the form of a diet recommendation. Any such talk is likely inappropriate and may negatively affect kids’ body image.
Parents have limited control of outside forces, such as peers, media, social media, classmates, and teachers. But, parents do have some agency in their child’s relationship with their own body.
If you’re reading this article, you’re clearly a parent who wants to do their best to encourage their teens to feel comfortable in their body.
Remind yourself and your teen that health and happiness are not equated with weight loss or weight gain, nor with appearance in general.
You and your teen could focus on their talents, passions, strengths, and other valuable qualities, along with appearance.
Talk with and listen to your child. About everyday things. About their life. And even about bodies.
Show interest in your child’s interests, hobbies, opinions, and schoolwork.
Minimize the focus on appearance. Encourage your child’s passions. Help them find their special skill, talent, and/or joy.
A healthy body image comes from accepting one’s body, liking it, and taking care of it. Even when there are things kids can’t do, they can feel good about what they can do.
Talk about your own body in positive ways. Accept your own body, and take good care of it. Kids will pick up on this and do the same for themselves.
A child’s body image can improve, even if it’s been hurt.
The most important thing for you as a parent is to be a good body image role model.
Dr Elayne Daniels is in private practice in the Boston area. Areas of expertise include body image and eating disorders. She’s passionate about helping people improve their relationship with food and their body.
There are lots of signs of an eating disorder, yet how to know if you have one can be tricky. One of the main reasons you may not know if you have an eating disorder is due to Diet Culture. More about that in a moment.
How to know for sure if you have an eating disorder? Ideally, an informed physician or psychologist would conduct an evaluation of your symptoms. Unfortunately, education and training for eating disorder treatment is woefully inadequate, especially among medical doctors.
Even worse is that a lot of medical professionals don’t actually know how to correctly diagnose an eating disorder. Instead they resort to stereotypes and myths, such as using weight as a main indicator. Or believing that only white teenage girls develop eating disorders.
By the way, in the United States, an estimated 30 million people of all ages and genders have an eating disorder.
So, how do you know if you have an eating disorder?
Knowing if you have one is complicated. Being diagnosed with one can be even more complicated. Again, eating disorders are easily misdiagnosed. And often overlooked by professionals. Many in the medical and psychiatric field do not have training in eating disorders. Or in nutrition. (Can you tell it’s a pet peeve of mine?)
Consider too that an eating disorder is often downplayed by the person suffering from one. S/he may not want it to be identified. Or not recognize that her thoughts and behaviors are part of a bona fid eating disorder.
By the way, you can’t tell by looking at a person if she has an eating disorder. Body size is not an indicator, nor is any specific sign a slam dunk indicator. Girls and boys, nonbinary people, women and men suffer from eating disorders.
You definitely can’t tell by looking at yourself in the mirror if you have an eating disorder. Often your own perception of your body size and shape is distorted.
What is the main challenge of knowing if you have an eating disorder?
A huge challenge for how you know if you have an eating disorder is Diet Culture.
In reality, Diet Culture makes it nearly impossible to distinguish between “normal” and “abnormal” eating and body image. What is considered ‘healthy’ in Diet Culture is often anything but.
Haven’t heard of Diet Culture before? It’s a system of beliefs that equates thinness with worth as a human being. Through the lens of Diet Culture, you’re taught to feel bad about your body. And to judge other people’s worth by their body too. Diet Culture is often disguised as “healthy lifestyle”, “eating clean”, or “Intermittent Fasting”.
No wonder eating disorders are so rampant. Or that what is and isn’t an eating disorder can be tricky to determine.
Diet culture’s solution to any problem is: “Lose weight and you’ll look better, feel better, and be better.”
Taking this insidious message to heart puts you on a fast(er) track to an eating disorder.
Of course more factors than Diet Culture are at play. Regardless, Diet Culture’s messages are pervasive and detrimental. To the point where you may be unaware you’ve internalized them and are being controlled.
Social media has fueled Diet Culture’s impact. (Instagram is considered the most influential. although I suspect TikTok is a contender for first spot.)
What follows is a list of potential indicators of an eating disorder. This is not a complete list! (Resources are also available online to help you determine if you have an eating disorder.)
Possible indicators that you may have an eating disorder include:
1. Preoccupation with food, weight and/or the shape of your body.
- Thinking about food all day – what you ate, wish you could eat, wish you did not eat, and how to compensate for what you ate.
- You’re constantly thinking about your body and comparing yourself to others, especially to people on social media.
- You weigh yourself often, and the number on the scale determines your mood and how the day goes.
2. Not eating certain foods for fear that something bad will happen to you.
- A common example is cutting out particular food groups out of fear that they will cause you to ‘get fat’.
- Another example is believing myths, such as sugar is toxic or addictive.
3. Feeling out of control over the amount of food you’ve eaten, at least once a week.
- You might have binges. If you feel a loss of control when eating, you’re bingeing.
- Bingeing is usually secretive. And is inevitable after a period of restriction.
- Sometimes you may think you’ve binged because you’ve eaten more than you planned.
4. Worrying about the nutrition and calorie content of foods.
- People with an eating disorder tend to get stressed about eating out. They may look at menus online in advance of going to a restaurant.
- More than others, people with an eating disorder are influenced by calorie information on menus.
- Someone with an eating disorder is likely to avoid going to restaurants, or to compensate before and/or after they eat.
- Avoiding social occasions if food is involved is common.
5. Feeling disgusted or anxious when looking at your body or seeing it in a mirror.
- A person with an eating disorder is likely preoccupied with looking at herself in the mirror. Or may go out of her way to avoid seeing her reflection.
- People with certain forms of an eating disorder may wear oversized clothing as a way to hide their size or shape.
6. Constantly comparing your body to friends’, social media influencers, and people you see at the gym.
- And feeling worse about yourself, regardless of the comparison.
- You long for your body to look more like so-and-so’s body. You may even think that if you could look like so-and-so, everything would be perfect! You’d be happy, then. (But not really.)
7. Feeling guilty after eating.
- Food is often categorized as good or bad. In reality, all food is just food. It doesn’t have moral quality.
- Having an eating disorder often means rigid rules.
- Violating any rules leads to guilt. Especially when the rules involve food.
- All-or-nothing thinking is common.
8. Intentionally making yourself vomit or exercise excessively so you don’t gain weight.
- These are called compensatory methods. They’re habit forming. And dangerous.
- The purging methods are secretive.
9. Being very aware of calories.
- You’re vigilant about the calorie or macro content of food, and/or the amount of calories you burn.
- You have rules about how many calories you’re allowed, and you may track the information in your head, on an app, or with pen and paper.
- The less you’ve eaten, the better the day. And the more successful you feel.
10. Needing to check your body’s appearance throughout the day.
- You may frequently mirror check, weigh yourself often, or pinch areas of your body to assess the amount of tissue.
- These are called checking behaviors and can become automatic.
- You engage in these behaviors for reassurance that body parts have not gotten larger.
11. Having other symptoms as a result of your behaviors.
- There are a myriad of medical symptoms and risks involved.
- “Everyday” physical consequences include headaches, fatigue, dizziness, light headedness, irregular heartrate, gi distress, and constipation.
- Depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems are common. Or become worse.
12. Treating your body as if it is an object, rather than as a beautiful expression of your life.
- When you focus on your weight, you are objectifying your body, as if it is a mold of clay to size and shape.
- Withholding food from yourself is punitive.
- What about practicing embodiment? BEING in your body as if your body were the instrument through which you live your glorious life?
Ok. So now what?
Early evaluation and diagnosis, as well as effective treatment, stack the deck favorably for recovery.
And, full, complete recovery is possible!
What if you’re still not sure if you have an eating disorder? Consider talking with a specialist on a hotline through one of the national organizations such as the National Eating Disorder Association.
Whether or not you have an eating disorder, educate yourself on topics such as fat stigma, privilege and other social injustices that make up Diet Culture.
Let’s ditch Diet Culture together. And delight in size and shape diversity.
Imagine actually enjoying food? Welcoming other pleasures? And feeling comfortable in your body?
This IS possible. As you learn to love yourself more, you’ll break free from the constraints of Diet Culture.
As you become more accepting of yourself, you teach others to be more accepting of you too. And of themselves. Before you know it, you’ll be teaching others to break free from Diet Culture too.
Greater inclusivity will reduce the rate and impact of eating disorders. And lead to unprecedented freedom FOR YOU to let your body be.
I’m reminded of Margaret Sanger’s words: “No one can consider [themselves] free who doesn’t own…. [their] own body.”
The first step toward freedom in your body is to admit having an eating disorder.
By letting go of the shackles of Diet Culture, you’ll be able to experience your life – “happiily full” and with abundance. .
Hi! I am Dr Elayne Daniels, a MA licensed psychologist with a passion to help people of all sizes and shapes improve their relationship with food and their body. If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, live in MA, and want help, please contact me here.
How often do you control, starve, punish, speak harshly to your body? Or about your body? Overcoming body image issues is challenging for most women, and, most women have them. It just seems to go along with being a woman. (And, increasingly, a man.)
The mean things you may do and say about your body happen automatically, without you even realizing it. And the self-bullying only worsens body image. Your body hears everything you say or think about it.
The good news is that overcoming body image issues is possible.
Although no one article, tool, wisdom, fad, or behavior that will flip a switch. But, when you use a combination of these 9 steps, you’ll know how you can successfully fall back in love with your body.
Toddlers rejoice about the size of their thighs and round bellies!
The 9 Steps:
1. Be aware.
“Thoughts turn into actions and actions turns into character. The mind is the powerful aspect of the human body.“
- Awareness of how you speak to yourself means you recognize and can therefore change your self-talk to make it more accurate and neutral. By self-talk, I am referring to thoughts.
- Instead of thinking “my stomach is disgusting and looks like I am carrying twins”, you could simply say “right now I am feeling dissatisfied with how my stomach looks and feels.” The first thought is mean, untrue, and self deprecating. The latter is true and in the moment. Awareness of thoughts means you can gently question their validity and reframe them.
- Every time you think a particular thought, that thought is strengthened. We are always practicing something. When we think a thought, we are practicing thinking that thought. Be aware of what you’re thinking/practicing and therefore what you’re strengthening. (The fancy term for this is neuroplasticity.)
- Neuroplasticity means we can actually change thought patterns and behaviors. We can develop a new mindset, new skills, and new abilities.
- Your body hears, internalizes, and feels everything you say about it. Be aware. Be deliberate.
2. Be here, now.
“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.”
- Your body carries history and brings you into the future, yet the here and now, in time and space, IS your body.
- In any given moment, your relationship with your body is a blend of the past and present; biology, culture, and the environment; emotions, perception, and behaviors.
- The more immersed in the past or the future your body image is, the less present you are in the here and now. And, the here and now is all any of us has.
- If you are not in the here and now, you are missing out on presence in your own life. Instead, you’re immersed in judgey, self-critical chatter about the past and future.
- When in the here and now, you are more likely to notice the deep burgundy color of leaves, melody of robins chirping, and the overall beauty surrounding you.
3. Be-yond objectification.
- Body image is a relationship. It is the relationship you have with your body. Like all relationships, the depth of the relationship is something over which you have some agency.
- When we objectify our body, we relate to it as if it is a thing. An object to manipulate. Something to focus on, i.e. size and shape. Unidimensional. Like a shoe, pillow, or toaster.
- Consider if an objectified relationship is the kind you want with your body.
- Cultural messages are designed for you to believe your body is not good enough, that your relationship must be conflictual.
- Advertisers and social media are brilliant at promoting body as enemy. Relationships with enemies are rarely neutral or happy.
- What if you embraced with delight, or at least accepted with neutrality, the whole of you?
4. Be on your own side.
- Your body is with you for life. It will carry you through life’s ups and downs.
- Your body will age, experience illness and injury, and change. Everything does.
- Your body provides you with feedback about emotions, health, the environment and so much more.
- The more friendly you are in the relationship with your own body, the more you will be able to access its wealth of knowledge.
5. Be joyous.
- Your body is your own personal pleasure source. Sensory capacities are your gateway into joy.
- Stop for a moment. Look, listen, feel, taste, smell.
- BREATHE. That breath of air? That is life.
6. Be active.
- Your body is a type of instrument, and not just an ornament.
- Your body, in water or on the ground, is meant for you to enjoy; it is not just something to decorate.
- Regardless of age, health, or size, your body has the capacity to move.
- Maybe the movement is dipping your toe into an ocean’s wave, as it comes to shore. Or stretching your fingers. How about expanding your lungs with a deep breath in, and contracting them with your exhale. Or skateboarding in purple sparkle sneakers.
7. Be courageous.
- How about tapping into your well of courage and experimenting with these body image recommendations?
- Be a rebel and be the change you wish for the world.
- Choose one of these 9 ideas and notice how you feel in and about your body.
- You DO have agency with your body….especially when you are on your own side.
8. Be respectful.
- Your body does hear everything you think.
- Be kind to yourself. Be kind to your body. Or at least not cruel.
- Speak to yourself as you would a friend.
- Consider all your body has carried you through.
- Have thanks. Give yourself grace.
9. Be you
- “You” are made up of all the amazing people who came before you. You may have your mom’s hips. Or your grandmother’s ears. Or your dad’s eyes.
- Your body contains the genetics of your ancestors. You are a walking family tree.
Body image issues are complex. Overcoming them takes time, awareness, and trust.
Start with one of the ideas. Add another as you are ready. You don’t need to do all at once. One step at a time.
Remember to love yourself. Once you do, everything will fall into place.
I am a non-diet, Certified Intuitive Eating specialist and clinical psychologist in MA. If you’re struggling with your body image and/or an eating disorder, and want to chat with me, please contact me here.
Some days, inspirational body image quotes may help you love your body more. Other days, body image quotes may seem feeble.
Regardless, every single person deserves to feel at least neutral and safe in their body. That’s your birthright.
Before you read inspirational body image quotes, nonjudgmentally notice how you feel. Especially about and in your body. And then check back in with yourself after reading them.
Be curious about any differences in how you feel before and after reading inspirational body image quotes.
If you feel even a smidge better –or less bad — after reading them, it’s a win.
Body image is important for lots of reasons. It’s linked with self-esteem and health.
It does not have to be this way – normative discontent is more than sad; it is bulls*it.
An alternative that’s within reach for everybody is called body neutrality.
It’s the concept that you can simply exist, worthy of respect, without thinking about your body. Or, maybe you feel good about your body one day and not so great about it the next.
Body neutrality is a bridge between body loathing and body positivity. And a worthy pursuit in its own right.
Consider these inspirational body image quotes. They may help move you toward body neutrality…. or beyond.
2. “Your body hears everything your mind says.”
3. “We cannot heal our own body image by judging, shaming, objectifying or pedestaling other bodies”
5. “You can’t hate your body into a version you will love.”
6. “Apologize to your body. Maybe that’s where the healing begins.”
— Nayyirah Waheed
7. Losing weight does not cure negative body image.
8. “Of course you look different. You aren’t made with a cookie cutter.”
9. Love your body back.
10. Girls don’t just decide to hate their bodies. Culture teaches them to.
11. My ideal weight is my weight holding 5 puppies.
12. You have to stand up and say, ‘There’s nothing wrong with me or my shape or who I am; you’re the one with the problem!’
13. Life is so much more beautiful and complex than a number on the scale.
14. Your body provides pleasure. Access it!
15. “Mother Teresa did not walk around complaining about her thighs.
She had shit to do!”Sarah Silverman
Where thoughts go, energy flows. Notice your thoughts. Ask yourself if you would speak to a friend in the same way.
More often than not, you may automatically think about your body harshly. As in using words you’d never ever say to a friend about her body. And, if you heard her use the same harsh language about her body, you’d probably correct her right away. And be sad that she is being such a bully toward her body.
Speak to yourself as you would a friend.
Back to inspirational body image quotes:
16. Who cares if there are lumps on my thighs? I’m guilty of having human legs made up of fat, muscle, and skin, and sometimes when you sit, they get bumpy.Kristen Bell
(Ever hear a toddler complain about her thighs?)
17. “I don’t look in the mirror and go, ‘Oh, I look fantastic!’ Of course, I don’t. Nobody is perfect. I just don’t believe in perfection. But I do believe in saying, ‘This is who I am and look at me not being perfect!’ I’m proud of that.”
19. “Don’t waste so much time thinking about how much you weigh. There is no more mind-numbing, boring, idiotic, self-destructive diversion from the fun of living.”
21. “People often say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I say that the most liberating thing about beauty is realizing that you are the beholder.” -Selma Halyek
You, yes you, are the Beholder.
Who defines you? YOU define you.
Sociocultural norms for beauty ideals are constructed.
What is constructed can be deconstructed.
P.S. Check back in with yourself: Is your relationship with your body any different after than before you read the post? Remember, a smidge counts!
I am a non-diet, Certified Intuitive Eating specialist and clinical psychologist in MA. If you’re struggling with your body image and/or eating disorder, please contact me here.
Have you ever wondered how media affects body image negatively? Consider the following scenario:
Next thing you know, you’re looking up from your mobile device, comparing your waist to the waist size of the two women ahead of you in line.
The spiral continues. As you glance at the magazine covers, your yoga pants suddenly feel too tight. You can’t help but compare yourself to the perfect, airbrushed, beautiful women with bright white teeth smiling at you from the magazine stacks. All this while you’re scrolling through your Instagram feed, feeling worse about yourself with every image you see. So much so that you remove the Oreos and Ben and Jerry’s from your shopping cart.
More often than not, media affects body image negatively.
Media includes the old fashioned kind, such as television commercials and print ads. It also includes social media and all its networking platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok, Snapchat, and more. Social media is internet based and a way to communicate with the world.
Social media is one of the most popular things online. In 2020, over 3.6 billion people in the world were using social media. By 2025, the number is projected to be 4.41 billion.
On social media sites, users create personal profiles. They then share, view, comment and ‘like’ or love’ peer-generated content. Or even add an emoji if it is an extra special message. People spend hours on social media each day. In 2020, daily use averaged 145 minutes.
How exactly does media affect body image negatively?
First is the way that social media in particular increases exposure to Diet Culture ideals and contributes to negative body image.
Especially when it comes to having the perfect female body. “Perfect” as defined by cultural standards. Keep in mind that beauty ideals often change, making them that much more elusive to attain. What doesn’t change over time is the impossibility for anyone to achieve and sustain the ideal.
Media popularizes images that become the standard for how you evaluate yourself, including your weight, appearance, and worth. The images presented as ‘ideal’ are internalized and become the standard we strive toward. In pursuit of the the unrealistic-for-most-people standard, you can easily get caught up in a futile spiral of feeling increasingly worse about yourself.
Especially when you consider that on social media, people easily optimize appearance by crafting their image.
Airbrushing, use of filters, and creative editing of all sorts create a false image. Sort of like what happens in the worlds of marketing and advertising. In this case, the self —yourself—is the object, the product.
Obtaining as many likes as possible has become a fleeting way to feel good about yourself – especially when it comes to posting “selfies”. The more likes you receive, the more attractive, appealing, popular, and hotter you’re considered. But the likes are never enough. How many loves and added compliments did you receive? Worth becomes quantified and externalized. All based on a thumbs up or a heart. And, the number of reactions you’ve gotten for other people to see. (And for them to compare themselves to you.)
Images are often sexualized. Be it in clothing, posture, or ducky-face lips.
Instagram has been determined to be the most toxic social media site, followed by Facebook and then Twitter.
In the words of CNN reporter Ella Reeve, “I don’t think, as a culture, we’ve grappled with the way social media is a brainwashing machine.”
The main reason media has a negative impact on body image is social comparison.
There’s a theory, aptly called Social Comparison Theory, proposed by Leon Festinger way back in 1954. The gist of it is that we evaluate ourselves by looking at those around us. We define our own value and worth by comparing ourselves to other people. Although this seems obvious, it happens so automatically that you may not even realize it.
Social media promotes upward social comparison.
By inviting social comparison, social media reduces self esteem and worsens body image. And, think of the millions of images social media provides – way more than we had available in 1954!
Even the co-founder of Facebook recognizes it’s a “social validation feedback loop“.
Here is an example of social media’s upward comparison trap, and how it impacts well being.
You look at Instagram posts. They promote the thin ideal (aka “thinspo”).
Thoughts: Disordered eating attitudes. “I am not as thin or pretty or fit as they are.” “I should be more like them.”
Feelings: Jealousy, inferiority, sadness, low self worth, body dissatisfaction
Behaviors: Increases in: dieting, comparisons, attempts at ‘self improvement’ and social media use
Physical sensations: decreased energy, headache, tension, pit in stomach
Unless you are aware of the trap, getting stuck in it is almost automatic. And it is all – consuming, affecting your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and how you feel in your own body. Unfortunately, we easily internalize the images from social media, and that becomes the standard we compare ourselves against.
Social media driven images are often just an illusion. They aren’t real. But that doesn’t stop most of us from contributing, either by posting filtered selfies or ‘liking’/’loving’ other people’s carefully crafted posts.
There are some basic things you can do to lessen the negative impact of social media on body image.
- Unfollow toxic accounts and instead follow accounts with diverse body types.
- Find inspiration elsewhere – perhaps filling your Insta feed with cute puppies and beautiful nature scenes instead.
- Be selective about the posts you like or love.
- Recognize that true beauty and health can’t be filtered or manipulated.
- Put your device down and go outside. Be in nature! Use your senses to take in the beauty surrounding you.
- Increasing body appreciation may be more effective than decreasing body dissatisfaction. Consider this when deciding what to post on your social media sites, and what to like, love, or comment on.
I am a clinical psychologist specializing in the treatment of eating disorders and body image. For more information, please visit me here.
Body image is the relationship you have with your body. Parents, your body image has likely changed over the years in some ways. But maybe not in others.
For tweens, body image is especially complex due to unique influences associated with age and development. Tweens are especially prone to feel self-conscious and to obsess about their appearance.
First, let’s unpack body image.
Body image includes how you think and feel about your body, and your perception of how it looks. Your body image may have little to do with your actual appearance, including your size, shape and weight.
Just as bodies change over time, body image can too.
As an adult, have you ever joked that you would rather (fill-in-the-blank) than go back to middle school? Tween years are tough: Puberty. Peer pressure. Experimentation. Budding sexuality. Social media.
Almost as difficult as being a tween is parenting a tween.
Especially because tweens don’t know what they don’t know. Yet they think they know. And you do know.
Even though in tweens’ mind, you grew up in the Dinosaur Age. And are of course clueless. (Insert tween eyeroll here.)
Here’s a list of what influences body image for tweens:
- Home environment
- Social media
- Culture and subculture
- And everyone’s favorite, puberty
- Direct comments/bullying/teasing
The most visibly obvious influence on body image for tweens is puberty.
During puberty, a tween’s body goes through lots of changes. But at the same time, fitting in and looking cool or hot become more important.
Tweens are at greater risk of negative influences on body image if they:
- act on pressure from family, peers or media to look a certain way
- have a different body shape from peers or media images
- self-objectify (Only see themselves from the ‘outside’)
- compare themselves to others
- have low self-esteem
- participate in a group or sport that emphasizes a certain body type
- have physical disabilities
- have mental health challenges such as depression or anxiety
One of the most powerful influences on body image is comparisons.
In and of themselves, comparisons are not bad. In fact, we’re hardwired to compare ourselves to others. Our species has survived in part due to comparisons.
However, our ancestors did not have social media. Unfortunately, social media, and Instagram in particular, negatively influence a tween’s body image.
The negative impact is intense. Especially because tweens are bombarded with computer-enhanced images of bodies that are impossible to attain. The messages easily convince tweens that they’re flawed and need to improve upon their imperfections.
Parents influence tweens’ body image too.
As parents you have more influence than you may realize to help tweens with body image, no matter their size or shape.
Some of the ways you influence your tweens’ body image:
1. Role modelling. Be aware of the example you are setting.
Tweens watch you and your choices, even if they roll their eyes and seem to be annoyed most of the time. They are aware of your attitudes toward your body, even if they don’t comment. If you often criticize the size of your belly, for example, they are more likely to be critical of theirs.
2. Feedback. Be positive. Or at least neutral.
Critical remarks about your teen’s body are damaging. Comments only make them feel more down on themselves.
3. Teach media literacy.
Help tweens learn to be wise consumers of what they see and read in magazines and online. Definitely teach them about filters, photo edits and other tricks that fuel the beauty culture.
4. Emphasize interests and pursuits.
Encourage your tweens’ interests in whatever they show interest in. Maybe it is community service, music, sports, arts, or something else? Focus on their efforts rather than on the outcome.
Body image, the relationship tweens have with their body, is important. Their body image is a function of many factors. As parents, you’re among the most powerful of all influences. Keep communication open with your tweens so they can talk with you about the ups and downs in their life. Remember, your tweens are paying attention to what you say, and to what you communicate through your own behaviors and comments.
I am an anti-diet clinical psychologist in the Boston area, specializing in helping people of all ages improve their relationship with body. To learn more about how to support your tween during the turbulent tween years, please contact me.
Body image issues are common and not just “a female thing”. Boys and men have body image problems too. Male body image issues can be harder to identify than females’. So how can you tell if your son is struggling with male body image issues? And what do you do?
Let’s back up and talk about body image more generally.
Perception of how attractive, acceptable, and healthy your body is begins early in childhood.
And, body image continues to develop as you age, and as you’re given feedback on your body.
Feedback can be direct (e.g. from parents, pediatricians) or indirect (social media, cultural messages). Wanted or unwanted.
Internalizing an image of your body is automatic and not necessarily accurate. Rather, it is subjective – a kaleidoscope created by lots of different images, feelings, thoughts, and experiences.
So, at its most basic level, body image is the relationship you have with your body.
In other words, if you have a body, you have a body image. And relationships, of any sort, can at times be rocky. Body image is no exception.
Why’s body image important?
Having a decent relationship with your body means you:
- feel OK about how you look
- accept your body
- feel proud about what your body can do
- take care of your body
A poor relationship with your body means you’re more likely to have:
- low self esteem
- unhealthy weight/eating behaviors
Identifying if your son is having body image problems can be difficult for many reasons, including:
1. Body image problems are historically thought just to affect girls or gay men. (Hear this: The gender gap is closing. And body image issues among boys/men are catching up.)
2. Boys are less forthcoming about negative body image because of societal beliefs that body image is just a girl thing. (See #1 above!)
3. Negative body image for boys tends to be different from the type girls report. Boys’ body image issues are more often something like not having a 6 pack (ab muscles) or not being ripped (muscularly defined) enough. Rarely is their negative body image due to a drive for thinness. Rather, it is more often a drive for muscularity. (There are of course exceptions.)
What are some signs your son might be struggling with body image issues?
- Preoccupation with his appearance
- Restrictive eating
- Use of supplements
- Spending lots of time at the gym
- When participating in a sport (wrestling, skating, gymnastics) where weight and/or appearance are central, body image issues intensify
- Increased emphasis on weight, appearance, food
- Denial that there is a body image problem
- Compulsive body checking
- Intense interest in workouts, steroids, protein shakes, ‘clean eating’
- Referring to himself or his body pejoratively.
Most often, male body image issues arise in puberty. No surprise!
Puberty is typically a time of massive change, internally and externally, for everyone – regardless of gender. The same is true for boys.
Determining if your son is struggling with body image issues is challenging. You wonder if it is ‘just the age’ or something more concerning.
Generally, experts suggest you step back and determine the extent to which his behaviors are interfering with relationships and causing problems at school or in other settings.
And talk with your son. Parents often say that conversations occur more naturally during a car ride with just the two of you, or while doing an activity together (e.g. doing yardwork, washing the car).
So as a parent, what can you do?
Notice any changes in behavior. Be aware of patterns. (See the list of 10 signs above.)
There are things NOT to do, too. Which of course may same obvious but can be anything but obvious if you are doing any of them without realizing it. Here are some examples:
- Putting pressure on him to conform to ideals
- Reinforcing media messages about the importance of appearance
- Saying offhanded comments about somebody’s appearance
- Modelling dislike of your body
Boys have bodies too! Your son’s feelings about his body are important. Helping him improve his body image includes respecting all body types – regardless of body shape, weight, physical ability, sexual orientation, ethnicity or gender.
I am a clinical psychologist specializing in body image. If you are interested in learning more about male body image, please contact me here.
“Oppression spares no body. Injustices are both systemic and intimate, taking root in the flesh.”–Mary Watkins
You’re thinking it’s time to begin overcoming negative body image and eating disorders. But you aren’t 100 percent certain. And you’re not even sure it is possible. That’s ok. You can still move forward to improve your relationship with your body.
It is normal to want to change, but not want to change, at the same time.
Here is what you’d probably like to change:
- Preoccupation with food, weight, and your body
- Constant comparisons, especially on Instagram and other platforms
- The Groundhog Day way of living your life
First, that’s awesome! Being open to change is not easy.
Especially in our image oriented, Instagram -ridden culture.
Recommendations for overcoming negative body image and eating disorders are nuanced.
“Do this” and “don’t do that” recommendations are oversimplified and generic. And, they tend to focus on personal responsibility and ignore context.
Body image issues and eating disorders are not ‘just a phase’, your way of getting attention, or due to vanity.
So what is the “more to it?” I am talking about the bigger picture. More specifically, the sociology and anthropology of negative body image and eating disorders, which affect us all.
We know now that strong economic, political, environmental, and social forces are at the center of developing and overcoming negative body image and eating disorders.
Racism, sexism, patriarchy weight bias, and other ism’s are key to understanding how/why you developed body image and eating disorder issues. The “isms” need to be recognized in your own healing journey. And not “just” if you identify as a feminist, social justice proponent or political activist.
We can’t heal our relationship with our body with a plan (i.e. diet) to make our body into what dominant culture says it should be.
Healing negative body image and eating disorders is challenging for a lot of reasons. (Remember nuance?). The biggest challenge of all is the backdrop.
An underappreciated force is Diet Culture. Actually, it is more than a force or backdrop. It is the air we breathe.
Diet Culture is everywhere. Because we live in it, we often don’t even know of or recognize its existence. Kind of like fish not knowing they are wet.
What is Diet Culture anyway? Christy Harrison, RD, MPH, is an expert on this topic. (Check out her weekly podcast.)
Her definition of Diet Culture is that it is a system of beliefs that:
- Worships thinness
- Equates weight and morality
- Promises weight loss will lead to higher status
- Demonizes some foods and elevates others
- Oppresses people who don’t match up
Diet culture is the single biggest reason for negative body image and eating disorders.
Remember, Diet Culture refers to an entire system of beliefs. (See above). The beliefs equate body size with worthiness, morality, and health.
The origins of fixation on weight go back to colonialism, racism, and sexism. The purpose of the beliefs has always been – and still is – to establish social hierarchies. And to control people.
Oppression derails the ability to be ok with differences and damages the relationship we have with our own bodies.
Certain groups of people (e.g. women, fat people, people of color) are most vulnerable to internalizing cultural messages. Doing so causes damage. Preoccupation with weight and appearance is a way to keep the focus on meeting “ideals” rather than on more meaningful ambitions, be it political, social, or economic.
How can you eradiate Diet Culture? Or at least diminish its impact? What an excellent question. We have to start somewhere, right? Now is a good time.
Here are some of the things you can do to whittle away at the backdrop known as Diet Culture. To chip away at it, bit by bit, and empowering each of us along the way.
You and everyone else, regardless of size, shape, color, history, background, or anything else, deserves to feel at least neutral about your body. And good enough about yourself not to be detrimentally influenced by Diet Culture.
- Change the way you talk about food, bodies, and weight. Especially the way you speak of these topics to yourself.
- Call out companies who promote diet culture practices. Join influencers who are doing just that, such as Jameela Jamil.
- Join like minded communities to help you unlearn diet culture and relearn body respect. Examples could include Facebook groups, Instagram accounts, podcast communities, or other such groups.
I enjoy working with people of all backgrounds to take down Diet Culture. Join me!
Most of us judge people by their appearance. And more specifically, by their weight. Weight stigma, weight bias, and weight discrimination are real. Even though we know we shouldn’t “judge a book by its cover”, we often do. Judgments can be so automatic that breaking free from idolizing body image ideals is challenging. Or maybe not even on our radar as something worth doing.
But, breaking free from idolizing an ideal body image is totally worth doing. That is, if you want to have a better relationship with your own body, improved self esteem, and a sense of worth based more on who you are than on your weight.
So where do you start? Let’s start with the concept of judgment.
Judgments are based on a reference point.
Most of us automatically judge attractiveness and worth using the culturally defined reference point of the” ideal body”. Culture values thinness at all costs and automatically equates it with beauty and worth. We tend to accept and even idolize the cultural definition of the ideal body image. No questions asked.
But questioning the cultural ideal body image is exactly what we must do in order to break free from it.
Otherwise, we buy into idolizing unrealistic cultural standards of body image ideals. Colluding with culturally defined standards contributes to chronic dieting, negative body image, eating disorders, and overall disempowerment. Hence, buying into this system is known as colluding with “the Life Thief.“
The cultural definition of the ideal body image changes over time. The idolization of it, however, does not. Beauty standards are typically based on whatever is most difficult to achieve in that time in history.
There are lots of reasons breaking free from idolizing the body image ideal is hard to do. For one, it means you must distance yourself from the culturally defined reference point. And rejecting Diet Culture makes you a rebel who risks being viewed in a negative light. Another reason breaking free from idolizing the body image ideal is challenging is because you then have to find other ways to feel worthy.
We live in a society where looks and first impressions matter. And define worth.
So do the number of Facebook/Instagram ‘likes’ we receive. The ‘likes’ are considered evidence that we’re attractive, liked, and worthy. Even though the images are altered. And the likes are not based on much substance beyond what meets the eye.
To get more social media likes, we use filters to make us look more “attractive”. Usually more “attractive” means editing selfies so we look thinner or more toned. More attractive. Sexier.
All of this sheds light on why resilience in the world of the powerful beauty/body image ideal is such a big ask.
So much of an ask that you may wonder if it’s really possible to break free from idolizing an ideal body image.
In our visual and virtual culture, our bodies are ourselves.
We define ourselves in a culturally prescribed way. The cultural prescription says “thin is good. Fat is bad”. If you’re not thin, then you’re fat. If you’re fat, you’re ugly, bad, and destined for misery. Or so says Diet Culture and its idealized body image.
Feeling ashamed of our bodies translates to being ashamed of our selves.
If you’re feeling shame about your body, telling yourself you shouldn’t feel shame makes it worse. Or at least does not help.
So how do you reject, rather than idolize, a prescribed ideal body image?
Consider these three suggestions for how to break free from idolizing an idealized body image:
1. Remind yourself of the historical, socio-cultural, and environmental roots of the idealized body image. Recognize that you have a choice in the degree to which you drink that Kool-aid.
2. Remember the quote attributed to Ghandi’? “Be the change you want to see in the world”. Why not? If not you, then whom? If not now, then when?
3. Another person in history to keep in mind is the anthropologist Margaret Mead. She is quoted as saying, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world.” YOU can be part of such a group.
You are free to choose to idolize culturally defined body image ideals as the way to define your worth.
You have other options, though. Including the option to find your own unique values to define your worth. Especially values that come from the inside. As opposed to values based on appearance, weight, and the number of likes on your Instagram posts.
Explore, discover, and be curious about your Authentic Self.
Living authentically is more rewarding than living your life based on cultural values about ideal body image will ever be. At least give it a try!
I love working with people as they discover the choices available to them, especially when their relationship with their body and self is involved. Begin within! Please contact me to learn more.