The reason I’m writing this blog post, is that body confidence is a subject very close to my heart, as I experienced problems with it for some years. Today I don’t experience those issues with the same intensity and with the same behavioural results. I have to be honest and say I have occasional pangs of sadness about grey hairs and I’m aware of my tummy flap, but I think in general I’m kind of okay with things. Having some distance and objectivity means I can write about this without distortion and hopefully offer some advice:
The simplest place to start with this question, is by asking a search engine. If you ask for a definition of body confidence, the results throw back terms such as self-esteem, body image and weight issues. It might be useful at this point to look at some of these definitions:
‘Body confidence: The belief that you are your most beautiful when you are healthy–both in body and mind. A feeling that results when you give up the mission to mold and shape yourself and make a commitment to take care of yourself. Body confidence breeds positive body image–it enables us to see ourselves through a meaningful lens, not a superficial one.’ From: Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat? The Essential Guide to Loving Your Body Before and After Baby
‘Healthy body image is about feeling comfortable in your own skin:
- Feeling happy most of the time with the way you look.
- Feeling good about yourself.
- Valuing yourself by who you are, not by what you look like.’
This is interesting because these quotations suggest body confidence as something a little more complicated than just being happy with the way you look. They emphasise the notion of internal worth, and of individuals placing more value in themselves than just the superficial notion of ‘I am my body’. It seems that body confidence is not just a case of ‘I’m happy with my body therefore I am happy inside’. It is the ability to move away from a superficial notion of worth and reverse things, so that it becomes ‘I am happy inside, therefore I am happy with my body’.
This is something which really interests me. For some people, when they feel a sense of disatisfaction with the way that they look, they will make a change, for example getting their nails done or changing a hairstyle. And they will be happy with that, until another change is made further down the line. But for others, behaviours can become a reflection of distorted thinking, of a lack of self-worth and even of self-hatred. Behaviours such as food manipulation can start to creep in. So a lack of body confidence can present as a spectrum, with harmless activities such as hair dyeing at one end and more harmful issues such as bulimia at the other. So what are the symptoms of disordered or distorted thinking with body image?
‘Over 1.6 million people in the UK are estimated to be directly affected by eating disorders.’
‘….it is estimated by the Dept of health that the true figure for those affected is more like 4 million as so many who struggle do not seek help and therefore do not enter the figures.’Anorexiabulimiacare.org.uk
Poor body confidence can become an issue or problem requiring help when any of these factors become pervasive, obsessive or controlling.
Simply put – anyone. However, the eating disorders charity Beat suggest that there are more adults with eating disorders than children and young people in the UK. Statistics suggest that more women than men are affected. However, a growing concern is the number of men who are being affected by body confidence issues, an issue not highlighted in a recent programme on anorexia by Louis Theroux:
‘One group not highlighted….. are males, who, according to some studies, account for up to 25% of all people with an eating disorder.’ From Beat.
Ok, so I did another search for the answer in an attempt to narrow down a myriad possibilities!
The excerpt below is one of the best explanations I found. It suggests that for whatever reason, the individual starts to think negatively and those negative thoughts are then aimed at their body. The suggestion is that the negative thoughts have their origin in several factors. Certainly for me, my body confidence issues manifest themselves in me feeling different, and then looking to external influences to see how I could make myself fit in. Somewhere along the line, there was a thought process for me which said something along the lines of ‘If I look pretty and thin, then I will be accepted – I will be like everyone else, I will be worthy and I will belong’. There are of course other thoughts and emotions tied into this such as wanting to be in control, excessive anxiety, self-punishment etc. Every individual will have their own reasons and distorted thinking. But as the quote suggests, the relationship between the individual and the ‘outside’ world is a major contributory factor.
‘When a person has negative thoughts and feelings about his or her own body, body dissatisfaction can develop. Body dissatisfaction is an internal process but can be influenced by several external factors. For example, family, friends, acquaintances, teachers and the media all have an impact on how a person sees and feels about themselves and their appearance. Individuals in appearance oriented environments or those who receive negative feedback about their appearance are at an increased risk of body dissatisfaction.
One of the most common external contributors to body dissatisfaction is the media. People of all ages are bombarded with images through TV, magazines, internet and advertising. These images often promote unrealistic, unobtainable and highly stylised appearance ideals which have been fabricated by stylists, art teams and digital manipulation and cannot be achieved in real life. Those who feel they don’t measure up in comparison to these images, can experience intense body dissatisfaction which is damaging to their psychological and physical wellbeing.’ From National Eating Disorders Collaboration.
So, hopefully within this post I’ve managed to answer some questions about body confidence. Before I go, I’ll just leave you with these quotations, which I think provide some hope and comfort:
“You are not a mistake. You are not a problem to be solved. But you won’t discover this until you are willing to stop banging your head against the wall of shaming and caging and fearing yourself.” (p. 84)
― Geneen Roth: Women, Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything
‘“That’s sad. How plastic and artificial life has become. It gets harder and harder to find something…real.” Nin interlocked his fingers, and stretched out his arms. “Real love, real friends, real body parts…”’
― Jess C. Scott: The Other Side of Life