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Self and Body Image

What do you see when you look in the mirror? Most women see at least one part of their physical appearance that they don’t like. People come in all shapes and sizes, but our culture tends to only value bodies that fit a limited mold. Constant exposure to idealized media images of flawless human perfection can keep us aware of our own physical shortcomings. Magazines targeted toward women advocate for self-love and acceptance, yet are often filled with articles on how to get a slim summer body, flat abs, a tiny waist, toned arms, and the list goes on. In light of these pervasive messages, it’s not surprising that there is an increasing number of women with body image issues.

Your body image encompasses your perceptions, beliefs, feelings, thoughts, and actions that pertain to your physical appearance. It’s your personal relationship with your body. This definition is helpful because it means that you have control over your body image if you’re using the right coping strategies. It is about embracing yourself instead of trying to replace the qualities that makes you a unique human being.

Let’s discuss the four aspects of body image:

Perceptual- Perceptual body image is how you see yourself. The way that you visualize your body is not always a correct representation of what you actually look like. It's a perception, not the objective truth. If you want your perception to match reality, mindfulness is your friend. Normalizing our perceived flaws in place of judgement will change our experience over time.

Affective- Your feelings about your body and the amount of satisfaction or dissatisfaction you experience in relation to your looks (such as weight, body shape, height, skin tone, aging, etc.) is your affective body image. These are qualities that you like or dislike about your appearance. It’s important to make a conscious decision about the media you consume and the effect that cultural influences have on you. Introduce body image diversity into your life. If you’re going to compare your body to others, find comparisons that make you feel included and not ostracized. This will help to improve your body image over time.

Cognitive- These are the thoughts and beliefs that you hold about your body. People can change their bodies, but never be mentally satisfied with the progress. Set positive, health-focused goals rather than ones based on unrealistic standards. Be realistic with yourself about your goals and your potential.

Behavioral- These are the actions you take in relation to your body image. When a person doesn’t like how they look, they may display destructive behaviors. This can range from excessive exercise habits to disordered eating in an attempt to change their appearance. Others might isolate themselves or not engage in social events. It is important to focus on the function of your body. Our bodies are what tether us to this world If you change your mind about your body, you remove set limits on what your current body and self can experience. It is possible to create an existence of self-acceptance and start living the way you desire.

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