Five Signs of Poor Body Image (and What to Do About It)

How do you feel about your body? If you’re like most girls, you’re probably your own worst critic. According to Teen magazine, 35% of girls ages six to 12 have been on at least one diet, and 50 to 70% of normal-weight girls think they are overweight. Poor body image is striking at younger ages with the Canadian Women’s Health Network reporting that girls as young as five are trying to control their weight.

What is Body Image?

Body image is the way we interpret our physical appearance. Our earliest sense of body image comes from our parents and family members whose disparaging comments about their bodies can influence the way we think about our own features.

Body image also stems from cultural messages. In Polynesian culture, bigger once meant being healthier and stronger. After the introduction of Western TV, people on the island of Fiji started to adopt the thin ideal and the incidence of eating disorders tripled.

The media contributes to our beliefs about what is ideal. What people don't realize is that the images we see are airbrushed or Photoshopped to make models and celebrities appear thinner than any human can be in real life. Yet we continue to hold ourselves and others to this unrealistic standard, leading to low self-esteem, eating disorders, bullying and other problems.

Poor Body Image Warning Signs

1: You constantly weigh yourself on a scale, check yourself in the mirror or obsess about a body part that isn't the way you want it to be.

2: You're willing to go to extreme measures to change the way you look, such as repeated plastic surgery or extreme dieting.

3: You continually use negative terms to describe the way you look.

4: You desperately want to look like a model or celebrity and are willing to go to extremes to get just the "right" look.

5: You feel that you have to do something to change your appearance before you can have fun, go on vacation, buy a bathing suit, go to prom, go on a date or enjoy some other life event.

Improving Your Self-Image

You can develop an appreciation for your body by recognizing what an amazing organism it is. Even though we focus most of our attention on how our bodies look, its true purpose is to help us get through each day and have long, fulfilling lives. Did you know that your heart beats over 100,000 times each day?

Instead of focusing on the negatives, think about the parts of your body you do like and remind yourself how lucky you are to have a body that keeps doing its job despite stress, overeating, avoiding exercise, undergoing surgery, child birth, grief/loss, abuse or trauma.

If you want to change your body, go about it in a healthy way. Exercise regularly and eat a variety of nutritious foods that improve your health. Yoga is an excellent way to reconnect mind, body and spirit. Develop an appreciation for all that your body can do.

Our bodies have a type of intuition that, if we listen to it, can guide our lives. The body sends cues when we are in danger (like when the hairs on our neck stand up) and tells us which types of people to get close to or avoid. Our bodies also tell us what foods to choose, when we are hungry and when we are full. If we can tap into this wisdom by listening to what our body needs and nourishing it, we can make better choices and have healthier relationships.

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Dr. Carolyn Ross is an internationally known physician, author and speaker on addictions, obesity and eating disorders. She serves as a consultant to The Ranch's eating disorder treatment program in Tennessee, maintains a private practice in Denver, is the author of The Binge Eating and Compulsive Overeating Workbook: An Integrated Approach to Overcoming Disordered Eating as well as The Joy of Eating Well and also hosts a weekly radio show, The Vital Life. 

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