What is Body Image?
Your body image is how you perceive or see your physical appearance. It can be positive, negative, or somewhere in between.
Body Image and Society
Cultural socialization, interpersonal characteristics, physical characteristics, and personality all impact the way we think about our bodies. The media often reinforces arbitrary and unattainable social standards of beauty by portraying how our bodies should look, and we are likely to experience self- consciousness as we compare ourselves to images we see on television and billboards, in magazines, etc. Society’s obsession with physical appearance also pits us against peers and creates pressure to meet certain beauty standards as social groups and organizations place an increasingly high value on what we look like.
Positive Body Image
If you are happy and satisfied with your physical appearance, including your size, shape, muscularity, and/or weight, you likely have a positive body image. Studies have shown that friend and family support, along with low levels of pressure to attain an ideal body shape, help to foster a positive body image. Developing a sense of self-worth that is not solely based on appearance and building resilience to social pressures on physical appearance are important, too. Shifting your thoughts to health, wellness, compassion, and gratitude instead of criticism, social comparison, and extreme measures to meet unattainable social ideals can also be helpful.
Negative Body Image
Negative evaluations of your body size, shape, muscularity, and/or weight often lead to a negative body image and result from comparing your body to a supposed ideal body. The more you hold social standards as the ideal, the more likely you are to compare yourself to unattainable paradigms and be pressured to look thin or athletic, or to wear certain types of trendy clothing. There is a correlation between negative body image and a person’s internal critical or self-loathing thoughts, which means a struggle with body image is usually associated with an internal battle that negatively affects a person’s sense of confidence, self-efficacy, and self-worth.
Taking Care of Yourself
How to Improve Your Body Image
- Practice accepting (making room in your mind for) parts of yourself that you do not like.
- Changing your thinking should be purposeful. Take time each day to focus on what you are grateful for with your appearance, and start to shift your focus from criticism to gratitude.
- Take note of your internal messages. Recall Scripture (see Related Scripture below) to begin replacing negative messages with the truth—that God created you and loves you as you are.
- Reject unrealistic ideals.
- Give yourself a break from magazines and other mass media.
- Overall health and well-being are key components for maintaining a healthy body image and vice versa.
- Practice empathy and non-judgment toward yourself and others.
How to Help a Friend
- Avoid conversations about triggering topics, such as the experience that you ate too much, or hate the way you look in a certain outfit.
- Compliment them on something not related to their body.
- Reframe and challenge negative thoughts. Helping them recognize when they are being negative towards their body can help them understand that how they feel about their appearance doesn’t determine their worth as a human being.
- Encourage your friend to seek the help of a pastor, Christian counselor, or psychologist to help work through the sources of a negative body image.
- Be available to spend time and listen. Simply being present conveys a message of value and worth.
- If you are unsure of how to approach your friend, talk to your RA or someone you trust to help.
What if these suggestions don’t work?
The Student Life Office and Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) can help you get in touch with specialized help on or off campus. Individual counseling is available on campus in addition to support offered by staff in Campus Pastor’s office, Student Life and Residence Life.
If you need immediate assistance, please call 911, the On Call RD at (805) 565-6273 or Westmont Public Safety at (805) 565-6222.
On- and Off-Campus Support
Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) – westmont.edu/caps - (805) 565-6003
Campus Pastor’s Office: Clark B Cottage, (805) 565-6170
Your RDs / RAs, Spiritual Formation Coordinator
Inner Beauty: 1 Peter 3:3-4
God’s Eyes on Your Heart: 1 Samuel 16:7
Where to Fix Your Eyes: 2 Corinthians 4:18
How You Were Made: Psalm 139:14
Wanting to be Her by Michelle Graham
So Long Insecurity by Beth Moore
Christian Paths to Health and Wellness by Peter Walters and John Byl