Exploring the Connection Between Body Image and Mental Health

Posted February 16, 2024 by in Health + Fitness

We live in a society where we keep receiving conflicting messages about body image. On one hand, we’re told to love ourselves, no matter what we look like, because ‘beauty is only skin deep.’ But then, mere seconds later, we’re bombarded with examples of people who are praised for their physical appearances.

What’s the truth?

Over the past few decades, significant research has unearthed the dangers of equating your body image with your value. We’ve seen the damage unfurl as celebrities like Karen Carpenter passed away from anorexia, bringing the topic into the headlines. More recent role models actively speak up about body image and mental health concerns.

Having a loved one with an eating disorder is a complex problem to deal with since they often don’t recognize that they have the issue. Still, there are significant connections between body image and mental health. Here, we’ll explore those links and provide tips to help you strengthen these two elements for better overall wellness.

Understanding Body Image

When we talk about our body image concerns, the term refers to anything on your physical appearance that causes you to be less than confident. This might be your weight, your skin, your height, your facial features, or anything else that you don’t like about yourself.

Body image is broken down into four components: perceptual, affective, cognitive, and behavioral. Each of these aspects plays an integral role in how you view your self,’ which directly affects your mental health. Let’s look at these pieces and why they matter.

Perceptual

‘Perception’ is defined as how one sees the world around them, and it varies from person to person. How you see your body isn’t always the same as how others see you. You may see yourself as overweight or too skinny, while someone else covets your shape and wishes they looked like you. But you aren’t happy with your body and constantly strive to change it.

Affective

Your desire to look different changes your affective body image — how you feel about yourself. Until you accept yourself for who you are when you look in the mirror, your emotions are negative, which diminishes your overall mental health.

Cognitive

Cognitive refers to thinking, and what you ‘perceive’ that you see regarding your body and your affects/emotions will impact how you think about yourself. If you’re consistently criticizing your features, your thoughts will be negative, and your mental health will decline.

Behavioral

Finally, those three components of body image impact your behavior. Say you’re unhappy with specific features that you can’t easily change. Your perception is that the features are unattractive, making you feel ashamed about them and causing you to think that you’re ugly. This will result in behaviors such as restrictive diets, cosmetic surgery, or social avoidance.

Red headed woman in black overalls smelling a white rose

Accepting Your Body As It Is

It’s easy for some people to accept their bodies as they are, but for others, body dissatisfaction is a real struggle that impacts their overall happiness.

Keep in mind that body acceptance is rarely an overnight outcome. Those who are content with their appearance usually strive to reach that level. It comes through education, practice, and support from others.

To accept your body as it is, you can practice body positivity, in which you regularly tell yourself how much you love each part of your body and develop confidence, no matter what you look like. If that seems like too much, body neutrality may be more your style. This outlook says your body is your body, and your appreciation of it is neutral.

Still others express their body image through liberation, which actively focuses on diversity and autonomy, saying all body shapes and sizes are beautiful.

Whichever way you can learn to accept your body image, it begins with a mental decision to love yourself. This step may take time to reach, and the outcome of body satisfaction might always be a work in progress. But your mental health will improve as your body image perception increases, taking your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors along with it.

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