by Nancy Travers,LCSW
The way we see and value you ourselves has a huge impact on our actions, our quality of life, our happiness, and even our relationships with others. Body images is a simple term that describes how an individual views their body and appearance?whether that is â€œaverage,â€ â€œattractive,â€ or â€œbad.â€ Negative body image plagues many Americans, both male and female. Today\’s society has a very strict image of beauty that is displayed in magazines, television and film. It is extremely easy for people, especially those who are depressed or have low self worth to feel inadequate in comparison to the super-toned, super-tanned bodies that we see displayed in every advertisement.ï¿½ Many people feel pressured as they try to live up to seemingly unrealistic cultural expectations of physical perfection; this can lead them to feel badly about themselves and their bodies if they feel that they fall short of these expectations.
While many of us logically know that how we look should not determine our worth or how we feel about ourselves, unfortunately many people with negative body image issues do not have the same grasp on this idea. Negative body image leads to feelings of worthlessness and self-dislike that can be a trigger for everything from depression to eating disorders! It affects the actions that we take day-to-day, our sociability, our overall happiness, and even how we interact with our significant others.
People who are in a serious relationship and struggling with body image issues are in an odd place. While the individual might devalue himself or herself, they are intimately connected with someone who feels quite the opposite. A partner in a healthy relationship values his or her significant other, both internally or externally. However, one person\’s negative body image can wreak havoc on a relationship for two major reasons.
Negative body image may affect the way that a person talks about himself or herself. People who are unhappy with their image and have begun devaluing their body and their abilities often talk disparagingly about their bodies and their worth. They make negative comments about their appearance, what they can do, and sometimes even what they perceive that others think about them. No one wants to listen to their partner talk negatively about his or herself. The partner of an individual with negative body image may attempt to add positive comments in return; however, telling this person that they are beautiful, attractive, and capable often is not enough to put their mind at ease. In fact, many will refute these ideas. As one person in the relationship is unhappy, this feeling will spread to their partner and the relationship will suffer. Two unhappy, unsatisfied people will have trouble maintaining a healthy relationship. Unfortunately, a deteriorating relationship may increase the negative image that a person with body image issues already possesses.
Body image issues affect more than just the mental and emotional aspects of a relationship. They can also affect the physical and intimate portions of a relationship. When individuals are feeling particularly negative towards themselves or their appearance, it can be difficult for them to be intimate with another person. Many people with body image issues have trouble maintaining relationships because they are unwilling to allow their partner to see their body. This can often be troubling for their significant other. One person\’s negative body image will affect their partner if they are leaving the partner feeling as though they have done something wrong or even feeling helpless if they perceive that they cannot contribute to making the problem go away.
If you are worried that you are dealing with negative body image issues, and it has begun to affect your life and your relationships, consider these thoughts:
- Focus on your accomplishments rather than your appearance: If you spend your time comparing your appearance to everyone around you, you will always fall short; unless you have a twin, no two people will look exactly the same. Instead, focus on what you can do. Think to your college degree framed and displayed on your wall, your time volunteering at a shelter, or how well your adult soft ball league did in your last game! Focusing on achievements can help you boost your self-esteem.
- Stop all negative self-talk: It\’s very common for women to look in the mirror and see flaws; everyone has something that they would like to change. However, the difference between a confident person and an unhappy one can be as simple as the affirmation that they give themselves. If you look in the mirror and think, â€œMy thighs are huge!â€ of course you will be unhappy with your appearance. However, if you look in the mirror and think, â€œRunning is really helping my thighs!â€ you\’ll feel better throughout your entire day. It can be difficult to flip the switch from negative to positive thoughts; if it takes a while, that\’s OK. In the meantime, keep your negative thoughts to yourself, or to a minimum. Don\’t constantly say these negative thoughts to your partner or your friends. You\’ll only spread the discontent!
- Make small changes: If you are truly unhappy with your body and your appearance, thinking negative and harmful thoughts will not help you feel better. Your options to achieve happiness with yourself are limited. You can either accept yourself as you are, or change the features that you dislike. If you truly feel that you are overweight and would like to be thinner, talk to your doctor, a nutrition expert or a physical trainer. A professional can help you determine exactly what you need to do to achieve your ideal self, and might have a better perspective on just how much work needs to be done. Whereas you might you think you have 25 pounds to drop to feel good about yourself, a professional could see that you are only 5 pounds away from your goal.
- Talk to someone: It can be hard to share your concerns with others, but it is important to let people know how you\’re feeling. This is especially true if you are in a close intimate relationship with someone. Your partner should be aware of your concern and anxiety associated with your body image. Talking to your partner will allow them insight into your actions and comments, and they may even be able to help you through tough times.ï¿½
Some people who suffer from negative body image are not able to talk themselves out of these feelings. Many benefit from talking with a counselor. A counselor can help you gain perspective on yourself and these negative thoughts. Professionals are able to help individuals discover the trigger of these negative body images, and work with them to change the way that they see and feel about themselves. These changes can be the key to regaining your life, your happiness, and your healthy relationship.
Nancy Travers is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She specializes in all types of relationships; We all want them, We all need them; How to get em and Keep them. Nancy’s office is located at 1600 Dove Street, Suite 260, Newport Beach, CA 92660.
For more information or to make an appointment, call 949-510- 9423 orÂ contact us.
copyright a division of Counseling Corner, Inc.
As seen in The Blade magazine June 2005.