Body image is our psychological experience of embodiment, providing us with a tangible shape or form for our intangible perception of our body. Got that? Body image is where it all begins as an infant, something we develop, order, and re-order throughout our lifespan. What we think of our body may range between delight, disregard, and disgust and it profoundly influences our quality of life.
Negative Body Image, A Global Issue
Powerful attention to the body and the idea of having a perfect body is transmitted through the media and in everyday conversation with family and friends-parents and peers. For women, the focus is on the pursuit of beauty through cosmetics, clothing, hair styling, nail enhancement, and dieting as well as cosmetic surgery.
Body image assessments reveal that a negative body image is experienced by virtually all women and girls, with men and boys also afflicted. Dissatisfaction with the body is a major contributor to a negative body image and low levels of self esteem-of how we feel about ourselves as a whole. Depression, anxiety, and eating disorders often follow.
Instilled in every society, negative body image is now a global issue of concern. Pressure is on sub-cultural groups of individuals that idealize the perfect body. This includes fitness buffs, gymnasts, athletes, dancers, models, and movie stars. They do register higher rates of body dissatisfaction and eating disorders. They, in turn, influence us so that satisfaction or dissatisfaction with our appearance will be a result of the degree to which we do or do not meet the socio-cultural ideal set up according to worldly standards.
The socio-cultural ideal woman is tall and thin, with moderately large breasts and long legs, large eyes, clear skin. If she’s light skinned, she wants to be darker. If she’s dark skinned she wants to be lighter. The socio-cultural ideal man is tall and muscular, with broad shoulders and narrow waist, thick hair, scruffy beard, and also tan, if light skinned. It is virtually impossible for women and men to achieve these ideals by healthy means. Nonetheless, they are accepted and adopted as the reference by which to judge ourselves-invariably resulting in body dissatisfaction and a negative body image.
Tools To Facilitate A Positive Body Image
Changing our perception of the body often leads to a changed body image. Clothing is a tool for us to use, an agent of change-both body changing and mind changing. Specifically, changing the shape of our clothing can change our body image boundaries-easily improving our body silhouette. Layering clothing works wonders to camouflage a body area or balance our body. In turn, we may perceive and accept ourselves in a more positive manner.
Better yet, dress can effectively prevent body image problems from developing-effectively fostering feelings of acceptance through the ability to regularly recognize, select, and coordinate clothes that flatter the body. The achievement of a more realistic body image allows for the positive application of visual design in dress (or vice versa), therefore enhancing our self-presentation as well as our everyday interactions and relationships with others. This is image management and expressive image therapy in action, something we can do for ourselves.
It is truly more important to be healthy and whole than to try to match some unhealthy worldly standard. My father used to say, “I’m pretty good for the shape I’m in.” That’s a good attitude. I remind us to appreciate our body and all it does for us. It’s the vehicle that gets us where we want to go-even if the pace is slow at times. Knowing your body type directs you to flattering clothing styles and coordination. To learn more, get yourself to my Style for Life Retreat. Be careful in all you do and make mindful dressing part of your everyday life.