Body image: a new way to look at a growing issue

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Body image: a new way to look at a growing issue

Body image is becoming more and more a growing issue for men and women around the world. It is an issue that is having a detrimental and very damaging impact on society.

This is ranging from self worth and self-esteem issues right through to causing out of control bulimia and suicide rates.

Contra to how it is usually thought, this is not just an issue for women, and “It is believed that men's body image dissatisfaction has tripled in the previous 25 years, from 15 per cent to 45 per cent (of all western men)”.

Figures released on Better Health Victoria website reveal:

  • approximately 17 per cent of men are dieting at any given time;

  • one in 10 people with anorexia are male;

  • four per cent of men purge after eating;

  • three per cent binge eat;

  • and an estimated three per cent of adolescent boys use muscle enhancing drugs (including steroids) to help achieve the ‘ideal’ body.

It is not news to people where the outer body image influence comes from and it is now almost common knowledge amongst society the damaging impact of all the pressure to be and look a certain way that comes from magazines, movies, social media etc.

But… even with knowing all this information about where the influences come from and with all the support and education that is out there to address these issues, how come the problem is still around and further growing more and more, now getting out of control? Is it possible that we are trying to address and or fix it in the wrong way?

Is body image really the issue, or is it the way we have been taught to perceive and deal with body image that is causing the problems?

The first thing we need to clarify when considering the ‘body image’ issue is there is nothing wrong with wanting the body to look and feel good.

Not pertaining to ‘body image’ is not about avoiding taking notice of how your body looks and really having ‘a look’ can actually be a very supportive thing.

For example, if I were to stay up really late working strenuously all night to finish my work, then naturally the next morning I am going to be tired. If I then went to look in the mirror, my body would look not so good due to the tiredness.

But consider, is this really how my body naturally looks or is it just the effect of staying up late? If so, could this be the body’s way of telling us what choices it likes and which ones it doesn't?

Another example and known fact is a lot of doctors use a visual assessment of a person and their body to gather more information for their diagnosis, e.g. if someone comes in who is overweight they will be tested for diabetes or possible heart conditions.

What if how the body looked was just showing us the results of our life choices? We could say that looking at the body or our body image might not be a bad thing.

Now considering this, it would actually be better for our health and wellbeing if we were to take notice of our body, as this could then support us to remain healthy and live a healthy lifestyle.

So if body image can potentially be a good thing, then why is it having such a damaging impact to people in society? Why has body image gone from something that can potentially support our health to now further damaging and increasing health risk?

Surveys and studies have shown that in most cases body image issues stem first from the way a person feels about themselves. There has been a vast amount of studies that have shown that depending on how someone feels that day is how ‘good’ they deem themselves to be in the mirror.

So could it be possible that a different way to deal with the “body image” issue would be to start looking at how we feel and what in life is making us feel a certain way?

Consider, as our feelings about ourselves can change daily if not hourly, should we not look at the impact that life is having on the way we feel, and furthermore what things in life make us feel better and which make us feel worse and therefore changing the way we feel we look.

Could we say that a lot of issues with body image actually stem from our lifestyle choices?

Is it possible that it begins first with things in life that then makes us feel not good about ourselves and from here we start to look outwardly for a better solution or an answer to make us feel better? Hence the influence from the known outer sources (magazines, movies, social media etc.).

The damaging part comes in when someone is trying to fix a deemed ‘problem’ with their body image. This is when they start to look outside for an influence of how it should be and what to do to fix what they have deemed as wrong.

This is where things like exercise are used in a damaging way.

The reason for exercising becomes driven by a desire to look different and the goals tend to be set very short and very high and at times unattainable, especially in men which links to the enormous rise in steroids (to get bigger faster).

A 2006 study that surveyed 500 anabolic steroid users, found that almost 80% of these users were not competitive athletes or bodybuilders, but instead average adult physically active males. Despite the known health side effects of steroid use, rates are rising, along with body supplements sales which are becoming a leading food industry.

New ways to address body image issues

A new way could be to not just inform people about the effects these outer influences of body image are playing but is to give them a platform in which they are able to see through it.

Consider if next time someone had an issue with their body image, they were encouraged to find out what that issue is and backtrack it to the lifestyle effect that has come before it.

Secondly, what if we were educated and taught how to look at real body image; to take the time to stop and feel how healthy is and what is the quality of life of the image we are seeing, in which we are choosing to aspire to?

For example, what if we were taught to look at the images being shown to us by the media and know how to see the truth of how their body was feeling. Just like doctors are trained to do in assessing the body. In most cases the people who are in the magazines have just as many, if not more body issues than everyone else.

Studies have shown that models are one of the highest career categories of women with body image issues, with some starving themselves and some even dying because of this. So it makes no sense that someone should pick up a magazine and aspire to look like an image of a person, having the same issue.

As the reader of this considers, rather than being told not to take notice of the image you are being influenced by, but rather to look and feel deeper, to further assess and to check the whole package of what you are looking at and aspiring to.

What if furthermore to this, you were to develop a relationship with your own body image, one that tells you when something is wrong?

Take the time to look at what ideals you have, pertaining to this life and look at the possibility of what you truly see beyond the front. Take time to consider your own body image, not from a self-criticising point of view, but rather one that is seeing previous choices you have made that have had an effect on the way your body looks.

Filed under

LifestyleBody imageSelf-esteem

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    Photography: Matt Paul