Body Image is often a central issue for individuals with eating disorders like Anorexia, Bulimia or Compulsive Overeating. The body can be looked at as a canvas that the eating disordered individual paints their inner emotions on. Self worth is often entangled with physical appearance. As an example of how emotions can be tied to our bodies, complete the following word association questionnaire:
Write the first word or words, that come to mind when you read the following words:
When you read the word fat, did you envision a substance that is necessary for the proper function of all your major organs? Or for the word thighs, did you think of a major muscle group necessary for walking upright? Unfortunately the words usually associated with our body parts are negative in connotation. Individuals are usually more comfortable talking about those parts of the body they dislike than those they do like.
To begin to develop more positive feelings towards our bodies, it is helpful to look at our first experiences in learning about our bodies. During infancy, physical sensations of the body are the way we begin to formulate the separate sense of ourselves from an otherwise seemingly shapeless and boundless space. How we feel about our bodies developed in direct response to how our caregivers treated our bodies during infancy and childhood. The ways in which we were touched, held, caressed and nurtured even before we could communicate sent us the message about how we should feel about our bodies. Individuals who were touched apathetically, held insecurely and neglected often develop poor and distorted body images later in life.
During childhood we explored our bodies. If we were told touching ourselves was "bad" we may have inferred the message that our bodies were something to be ashamed of. Comments about weight and teasing by family members can also lead to negative feelings about one's body. Not only the messages we received about our own bodies, but also, how our parents related to their own bodies influenced our level of body image acceptance. Parents who displayed dissatisfaction with their bodies were likely to have children with body image disturbances. Families of eating disordered individuals also tend to be too concerned with social appearance or physical attractiveness.
Did you know that 20% of girls who visits 'thinspiration' sites are between the ages of six and eleven?
During adolescence the influence of peers became important. Self monitoring and comparing ourselves to others becomes central to our psyche. This may have been a time when we were particularly vulnerable to images in the media and the pressures from our peers. As our bodies developed and changed, how others and we reacted to these changes influenced our eventual body perception. Accepting and supporting these body changes is especially important for an adolescent girl's father. If a father feels uncomfortable or threatened by his daughter going through puberty and subsequently distancing himself from his daughter, the adolescent girl may also try and reject her changing body. Other possible catalysts to a poor body image could have included physical abuse, sexual abuse, controlling coaches and oppressive relationships.
Not only a poor body image, but also an overemphasis on appearance, can lead to an eating disorder like Anorexia, Bulimia or Compulsive Overeating. Being labeled as a beauty can be both a blessing and a curse. When a child gets attention, admiration, and acceptance mainly for their looks, their self worth can become intertwined with their appearance. Any real or perceived physical flaw is viewed as a flaw in their very essence. Their physical appearance becomes indistinguishable from their identity. They will often do whatever it takes to continue to get attention for their looks. This is often the case for individuals who were once an ugly duckling and since blossomed into a swan. For these individuals, nothing is worse than the fear that they may return to their perceived unattractive state.
So now that we know some of the influences of body perception, how do we begin to develop a positive body image? In essence we deprogram ourselves from the negative messages we have internalized over the years. You can accomplish this by connecting with, taking ownership of, and appreciating your body. Start by making a list of the parts of your body you like and the amazing things you can do with your body. You are probably more use to and comfortable concentrating on those aspects of your body you dislike, but instead concentrate on the positive. Constantly weighing yourself can be a negative experience that can lead to dissatisfaction and obsession. Many individuals who have come through our program have chosen to smash their scales and in the process have freed themselves from having their emotions tied to a number that has nothing at all to do with who they really are. It will also be important for you to reprogram yourself by replacing any false messages you have received about how you should look with realistic goals that take into account the beauty and uniqueness of you. You may even want to avoid and not purchase fashion magazines that promote a body type that fits less then three percent of the population. Lastly, take time to give yourself the things your body needs. You may be familiar with nutritionally nourishing your body but you also need nourish your body emotionally.
We have discussed how images of our own bodies may have been influenced by our experiences during infancy, childhood, and adolescence. Fortunately, as adults, we have the opportunity to deprogram ourselves and hopefully reverse these negative images. As humans we all need to be touched, caressed and pampered. At Rader Programs, we help individuals find ways to receive these essentials in their life.