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Body Image: How To Overcome Negative Body Talk

In an ideal world, we would all be content with our bodies and wouldn’t feel the need to compare or criticise ourselves (or others) based on physical appearance. Realistically though, it is common to engage in negative body talk and this has almost become normal for men and women especially to openly talk about the dissatisfaction with their physical appearance. Negative body image is something that we all may experience from time to time and has been something I personally have needed to overcome, especially leading up to the summer months.

Body Image

Body image is a complex phenomenon that involves how an individual perceives, thinks and feels about their physical self. Holding a negative body image can affect a person’s sense of well-being and can be related to many mental health conditions including anxiety, depression, social anxiety, body dysmorphic disorder and eating disorders.

Sociocultural Influences

Due to societal expectations of what is considered beautiful or attractive and the media being saturated with particular representations of ‘healthy men & women’ and ‘#fitspo’, it is no surprise that people tend to perceive their bodies negatively and often engage in negative body talk. For example, if you were to search ‘healthy women’ into google images, a particular representation of this would appear that might not include the different body shapes that can also be considered ‘healthy’.

A recent Melbourne study of more than 1100 Australian adults found that women felt worse about their bodies after viewing pictures of super thin models. This is often really hard to escape in today’s society where we are constantly exposed to this particular body image through a range of multiple communication mediums. Both men and women can be negatively affected by viewing these idealised images and can unfortunately cause them to develop unrealistic body expectations that may leave them dissatisfied with their appearance. This dissatisfaction can then result in a negative cycle involving low self-esteem, depression leading to dieting, binge eating or excessively exercising to achieve or maintain these body image ideals.

BMI

Body Mass Index (BMI) is the measurement that is commonly used for defining whether a person is underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese. This measurement has however been heavily criticised for being an inaccurate way of measuring a healthy weight range by not taking into account muscle, bone structure or different body shapes. For example, I am 165cm in height, weigh 73kg and a size 12 (average Australian woman size). I exercise 4 times a week and maintain a healthy diet. According to the BMI system, surprisingly, I am considered ‘overweight’. Encouraging individuals to lose weight to fit into this expected normal weight range can be harmful and result in unhealthy lifestyle choices including extreme dieting, substance abuse, over exercising and development of eating disorders.

Negative body talk

Even though you may expect only teenage girls to engage in negative body talk and body shaming, it actually exists among various ages, all genders, ethnicities, and body sizes. In a National Institute of Health study, it was found that 25% of males and 90% of females constantly engage in negative body talk. Negative body talk involves voicing concerns or talking negatively about our appearance in relation to weight, body parts or comparing our bodies to others. You would be surprised what is considered negative body talk and how often we may unconsciously engage in it on a day to day basis. Even asking someone if they have lost weight, which is meant in a positive way can be negative as it is reinforcing the stereotypical view that everyone should aspire to be skinny and lose weight.   

 

How to recognise and avoid negative body talk

Notice your inner critic
Try and be aware and acknowledge when you engage in negative body talk and try to turn down the volume on those negative thoughts and counter them with your strengths even if they are not body related

Avoid body chat
Stop engaging in conversations where you feel the need to talk negatively about yours or other people’s physical appearance

Change your language
In other words; remove the word fat from your vocab

Minimise exposure to idealised images presented in the media
Even though it may be very difficult, try and avoid following pages, magazines, blogs, etc. that emphasise unrealistic body images or engage in negative body talk/fat shaming. Attempt to seek out and follow media that reinforces positive self-image

Drop the comparisons
Try to stop comparing yourself to others or idealised versions of yourself and instead focus on your individuality and strengths

Adopt healthier habits
Find a type of exercise you enjoy and aim to reframe your thinking in a way that you are exercising because you love your body and want to be healthy instead for the sole purpose of losing weight and being skinny or muscular

It is important to recognise and acknowledge when we might be engaging in negative body talk and realise that we do have the power to not engage in it. Hopefully this article will encourage us to think twice before engaging in negative body talk and avoid criticising ourselves and others based on physical appearance as steps to ultimately possess a positive body image. 

Resources

“What the average Australian woman’s body looks like”, written by Jen Kelly (Herald Sun)
www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/what-the-average-australian-womans-body-looks-like/news-story/f3e05ebee9013b3d7a42d701eda12656

“Body Mass Index (BMI)”  information (BetterHealth channel)
www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/body-mass-index-bmi

“Why the Body Mass Index (BMI) is a Poor Measure of Your Health”, written by Peter Janiszewski
www.blogs.plos.org/obesitypanacea/2012/02/10/why-the-body-mass-index-bmi-is-a-poor-measure-of-your-health/

“Body talk: use the power of your words to feel great” (Dove self-esteem project)
www.selfesteem.dove.ca/en/Articles/Written/Body_talk_use_the_power_of_your_words_to_feel_great.aspx

“How Do I Improve My Body Image?”, written by Mary E. Pritchard (PsychologyToday)
www.psychologytoday.com/blog/diet-is-4-letter-word/201402/how-do-i-improve-my-body-image

 

Written by Amelia, ADAVIC Volunteer

 

 

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