What is Body Image?

It saddens me greatly to see people who are so intensely preoccupied with a dislike of their body based on their perception of how they look.

Having worked as a clinical psychologist for a number of years now, I have never failed to be struck by the large numbers of clients who present to me with issues associated with poor body image and resultant low self-esteem. Men and women of all ages and those from differing social and cultural backgrounds are vulnerable to issues of negative body image.

For so many people the size and shape of our bodies can become an intensely negative preoccupation. This preoccupation – or constant negative self-focus – has understandable consequences for our self-esteem, mood, relationships, confidence, and our general satisfaction with life. This includes our ability to extract pleasure from our lives.

So, what is body image?

Essentially, body image is not about the way we actually look. Body image describes our perception of how we look. Therefore, rather than our body image being based on objective reality or a realistic appraisal of our physical self, instead, body image is a complex interpretation of the way our body looks based on such things as our expectations of how our body should look, our past body experiences (perhaps of how we remember our body to have looked 10 or 20 years ago), and unrealistic expectations driven largely by the media, showing us how our body should look.

It saddens me greatly to see people who are so intensely preoccupied with a dislike of their body (based on their perception of how they look) that they cannot fully engage with their lives. Work, friendships, relationships, and family can’t be nurtured when the look of our body becomes our primary focus. One might think that at least a preoccupation with the way we look might motivate us to engage in positive behaviours to enhance our body, but in my clinical experience the opposite tends to be true —the more negative feelings we are about our body, the more unmotivated we become, and the more helpless we feel.

Enjoy the journey offered by the Body Image Movement.

Author: Dr Emma Johnston, D Psych (Clin), MA, BA (Hons), MAPS

Since completing her Doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology in 2000, Emma has worked as a Clinical Psychologist in a variety of public mental health care settings and in private practice. Emma has a special interest in body image issues and has worked with a number of clients of all ages who have experienced depression, anxiety or other forms of emotional distress as a result of poor body image and low self-esteem.

Emma is keen to bring her expertise to the Body Image Movement to assist people in understanding more about poor body image and finding ways to achieve a healthier and more functional body image.

You can read more about Dr Johnston and her work here.

Dr Johnston co-wrote the Body Lovin’ Guide, for more info, tips, and inspiration on all things body image, check it out here.

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