Society and body image

What is body image?

Our ‘body image’ refers to our thoughts and feelings about our appearance. Lots of things can affect our body image for example;

  • Feeling that we are expected to look ‘perfect’
  • Making unhelpful comparisons between yourself and others
  • Thoughts that you don’t meet society’s expectations of how you ‘should’ look
  • Being teased or bullied about your appearance
  • Having to adjust to a change in your appearance

If you have a negative body image this can lead to feeling low, anxious and unconfident.

The pressure to conform to society’s unrealistic idea of physical beauty is constant, but I find that by being happy with who I am actually prompts a more positive response from other people and they see beyond my physical appearance to the person inside. My body is where I live, not what defines me as a person…. “Learning to be comfortable with your appearance is the first step. Once I accepted that my disfigurement was never going to change I was free to concentrate on the things over which I did have control – my personality, my sense of humour, my clothes and being a kind person.

Alison

Society and body image

Society’s fascination with celebrity and looks has narrowed our definition of beauty and attractiveness. We are exposed to many images and messages which link ‘good looks’ to success or emphasise physical ‘perfection’. Sometimes when we watch television or look at social media, we might see people who we think are very attractive and feel we cannot measure up. Even though images are often enhanced by airbrushing, clever lighting and photography, many of us still find it difficult not to judge ourselves against them. Research shows that exposure to media images of the ‘ideal body’ can lead to unhelpful appearance comparisons which can affect our self-esteem and confidence.

Visible difference in the media

If you have a visible difference it can be more difficult to see idealised images of the ‘perfect body’ due to lack of representation of people with a visible difference in the media. In addition, films and TV shows, often perpetuate the stereotype that being ‘beautiful’ means being ‘good’. We frequently see beautiful stars and heroes… but have ‘baddies’ who look different with scars, or a damaged eye for example.

Moving forward

There is a lot of work to be done to increase representation of people with a visible difference in the media. In the meantime it’s important to think about how to reduce the impact of the media on how we view our own appearance, and this applies to pretty much everyone, not just those who have a visible difference.

Think about what your body can do rather than what it looks like

Research suggests that focusing on what our body is capable of, rather than how it looks can be beneficial and boost self-esteem.

Focus on positive social media

One current trend is to the show comparisons of ‘perfect’ images (with all their airbrushing) compared with untouched images using people who are more representative of our population. Whilst these images provoke a lot of humour, the principle is a serious one. The use of idealised images as something to be humoured rather than a beauty standard.
You can find more advice on using social media in Making social media work for you

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