What WHO do you see?

Body-mind or ‘tann-mann‘ are the two commonly used terms when describing who we are as people, and what we need to protect for a healthy life. However, often people fail to accept their ‘tann-mann‘ as it is. When the focus shifts from health to validation, be it one’s own or from society, a distorted or negative body image occurs, causing people to view their bodies in a detrimental light. Too thin, too fat, a pigmentation that doesn’t match, the smallest scars, and the finest lines, all seem to bother the person all the time.

Growing globalization and multiple social media outlets for self-expression have given us new ways to connect, interact and adjudge. Social media often works as a lens through which one starts to build their perspective of the world. These distorted, airbrushed and edited perspectives often result in harsh and misleading judgment of one’s own body. A negative body image is not just limited to how a person evaluates their body, but also comes along with cognitive and affective implications impacting overall self-esteem, relationships, confidence, future choices etc.

crop sensitive black woman with fragrant flowers
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Beyond the screens of our phone a wider aspect that adds to negative body image is cultural influence. Dominant stereotypes such as light-colored skin being considered more beautiful, chiseled or muscled bodies being considered as ‘manly’, the pressure of men to not show emotion etc. are imbibed in our minds from a young age. Societal customs and traditions enforce these stereotypes by denoting females as their fairer sex, and men as the protectors and wage earners. These are further strengthened by films, media, and cosmetic brands.

A more individualistic facet of negative body image is mental filtration, which states that we are sometimes more likely to evaluate ourselves majorly based on the aspects which we do not like or on criticisms, and ignore compliments and favorable aspects. Our view of our bodies highly influences our cognition and affective component of our overall self-esteem and self-acceptance.

Negative body image and body dissatisfaction are reported higher in females than males. This is vastly due to the cultural influence focusing more on a women’s looks leading to increased mental filtration among women. An interesting observation on the same was found by Fredrickson & Roberts in 1997 through their objectification theory, which postulates that a woman views herself not from her own eyes, but that of the lens of the culture and society. Women are thus commonly more likely to be seen adjusting their clothes, hair, etc. This third-person perspective generates a more conscious self-image and results in the internalization of the negative body image idealizations presented by society.

Preoccupying oneself constantly with the ways to achieve a ‘perfect’ body has found to be related to mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Eating disorders are a group of mental health illnesses that include faulty food intake patterns and preoccupation with one’s weight.  Dissatisfaction with one’s present body has been seen as one of the most important contributing factors in the manifestation of eating disorder symptoms. A person with a highly disoriented body image may even develop anorexia, due to which despite being underweight they refuse to eat.

blue tape measuring on clear glass square weighing scale
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“Body image issues usually emerge from the society’s ideology of how a person should look. The perfect model-like expectations the society puts on us cause a lot of pressure on people, thereby impacting the self-worth of those who feel they don’t check all the boxes of that perfection. This leads to an array of physical as well as mental health issues. Seek help from your therapist and work on the following details:

– The way you see yourself (Perceptual)

– The way you feel about the way you look (Affective)

– The thoughts and beliefs you feel about your body (Cognitive)

– The things you do in relation to the way you look (Behavioural)”

- Manikya Bhatia, Counselling Psychologist at IAMH

Choose your content wisely

It’s not possible for everyone to give up social media completely, but still, we can filter the content we expose ourselves to. Following more individuals and pages which promote body positivity can be a good start towards channeling your thoughts in the right direction. Limiting exposure to magazines and media content that portray edited and airbrushed bodies can limit the internalization and expectation of unrealistic body standards.

Reason with yourself

Self-talk is a major determinant of the way you perceive yourself. While it is natural to be influenced by the preconceived notions and ideals set by society, try to interrupt thoughts like “I am too fat or too thin”, and counter these with a different perspective. Remind yourself that health, and not appearance take priority. It is vital to not compare yourself to others, but rather be content with your individual self.

You are more than your looks

Remind yourself that you are a unique individual, whose identity runs much deeper than their appearance. Your personality, choices, hobbies, friends, opinions, values, and much more define who you are.

Write it down

A lot of times we are able to address our negative thoughts better by penning them down. Journaling is also a popular method to stop overthinking in its tracks.

Start with YOU

Another renowned method of dealing with your emotions is ‘affirmations’. The process includes writing down your thoughts, and identifying the problematic negative thoughts such as “I am a failure until I lose more weight”. The next step is to put down a positive affirmation to this thought multiple times, for example, “I am beautiful with or without those extra kilos, I aim to be healthy not thin”. The idea is to reinforce the positive perspective in your mind and training yourself to believe the same.

The exquisiteness of individuality cannot be captured by the restrictive conventional box of beauty. As a society, we need to be more compassionate and appreciative of individual differences, starting with looking inwards and respecting ourselves, and then extending the same courtesy to others.

Author: Rachita Narang

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