Importance of a Positive Self-Image

In the long history of advertising, the most common strategy used to appeal to women has been to highlight something they are missing, that can be filled with a particular product. Despite the development of alternative advertising strategies, this method is still very much in use. Social media and dating apps have been able to bring people together that otherwise would not have been able to connect, but the expectations they create can also take a toll on people’s body image. Above all, building a positive self-image is the best way to combat the commonly experienced pressure to look perfect.

 

Social Media and Body Positivity

Although social media has the ability to unite people from all over the world, it also means that there is a constant bombardment of content from people living halfway around the world. With so many lives on constant display, people are more prone to comparison. This has proven to have detrimental effects on both men and women and their body image, but can be especially difficult for young girls. Cross-sectional and longitudinal surveys have concluded that exposure to media is a predictor of body dissatisfaction, which can lead to eating disorders in young women.³ Hashtags such as #fitspo and #thinspo seem to always be trending, with hundreds of thousands of images portraying unrealistic body expectations.

Influencer Culture

Instagram “influencers” are people that are paid by advertisers to cultivate their lives in such a way that makes their followers believe that their lives are almost attainable. Hover, what is rarely seen are the hours at the gym, the elaborate staging of posts, and of course the image altering through apps such as facetune or photoshop. These influencers also get paid to post products such as magical hair growing vitamins and weight loss shakes, or even appetite-suppression lollipops. The reality is that many of these influencers have chefs, expensive gym memberships, makeup artists, hair extensions, and even plastic surgery to achieve the look that they are selling. This can lead to frustrations by young women who buy these products hoping to model themselves after their favorite Instagram models and celebrities, only to be let down when they cannot achieve the same results.

The Body Positivity Movement

The good news is that exposure to these sources is manageable. Limiting time engaging on these platforms is a good place to start, but this many not be a realistic option for everyone. Most social media apps have a feature that allows for the blocking of content. So, in order to avoid #fitspo posts that may contribute to lowered self-esteem or even eating disorders, it may be time to block out these harmful hashtags. Instead, if looking for content with a healthier message, try looking for accounts that promote the #bodyposi movement, a counter-movement to the “influencer” instagram culture. The body positivity movement is focused on reducing the retouching of photos to make people appear skinnier and instead works to highlight the beauty and power of natural bodies, which can include body, hair, stretch, marks, wrinkles, and cellulite.

 

Body Positivity and Weight Loss   

The body positivity movement is all about embracing natural beauty, and recognizing that bodies come in all shapes and sizes, all of which are equally valid. However, this does not mean that wanting to lose weight or diet is a sign of a negative self image. Rather it is important to ensure that dieting and exercise are done for the right reasons, and done safely.

How to Lose Weight Safely

Deciding to commit to losing weight is a difficult decision, and one that should begin by talking to a physician. A doctor can review medical history, possible medications, and any complications that may arise due to these factors. When talking to a medical professional, it is important to be open and honest,disclosing any physical or medical challenges or past troubles with fad diets.⁴ It may also be tempting to seek a diet regime that promises quick results, but often these fads are merely a temporary solution to a greater problem. The key is finding ways to work healthier practices into everyday routines. This may require a bit of self-reflection as to individual preferences (group classes or solo weight-lifting) and budget (at-home workout videos or a gym membership). The three most important elements to consider when choosing to engage in weight loss are flexibility, balance, and likeability.⁴ Flexibility means that certain foods are not forbidden, and acknowledges that occasional indulgence is ok. Maintaining a balance is about including adequate nutrients and maintaining a food regime that does not focus on eating large quantities of one type of food, such as meat, while completely cutting out others, such as grains. Likeability means choosing foods that are tolerable, even enjoyable, to eat. In order for a diet to remain effective beyond several weeks or months and culminate in consistent healthy eating, it is all about making sure that it can be enjoyable.

How Not to Lose Weight

Although losing weight can be a very empowering journey to building body positivity, it can also be an unhealthy and addictive lifestyle decision if done incorrectly. Weight loss pills and supplements are a problematic weight loss strategy. The 1990’s saw a peak in the abuse of weight loss drugs, or “diet pills” as society standards dictated an aspiration for women to be ultra skinny and wafish. Although many of these drugs were banned by the FDA, versions of these pills still exist and can be prescribed by doctors. Even still, common complications include a constant increased heart rate, sleeplessness, nervousness, and constipation.⁵ In addition to diet pills, diets that advertise the elimination of core food groups or minimization of calories intake are not healthy ways to accomplish positive self-image.

 

Body Positivity and Dating

Body positivity may seem difficult to maintain if using dating apps, where people often swipe quickly and make shallow judgments based off one or two photos. This may seem like harmless fun to some people, but to others, not getting matches on dating apps can have a sizeable negative impact on self-esteem. People report feeling depersonalized and disposable, mainly because this is how they perceive others on dating apps. Remembering that the photos on dating apps belong to real people can help put the human aspect back into online dating.

In a Relationship

A person’s self-concept can have very real effects on their relationships, particularly those that are romantic and/or sexual. Research has found that people with high self-concept clarity--people who are clear about who they are and what is important to them--report higher relationship satisfaction and commitment. There is a direct correlation between the level of people’s self-concept clarity and the level of intimacy they will invest in their relationships. Individuals with low self-confidence can have more difficulty forming intimate bonds with their partners, which can cause relationships to suffer.

 

Relationships benefit when both partners develop positive self-images. Individuals who have a healthy self-concept are often more open, expressive, and intimate with their significant others, which leads to more secure attachments. This is because when people perceive themselves as loveable and trustworthy, they will be more likely to openly and securely love and trust their partners.

Being self-confident also has a positive effect on people’s satisfaction with their sexuality and sexual interactions. Pleasurable sexual activities require disclosure of private aspects of the self that people with poor body images are often uncomfortable with. People who are discontented with their bodies often experience sexual problems, such as the inability to orgasm, while individuals who are comfortable and secure with their bodies often find their sexual experiences to be more enjoyable and fulfilling. Being confident and familiar with your body will improve almost any sexual experience.

 

Concluding Remarks

Building a positive body image will not only improve your general self-image but help improve the quality of your relationships. Whether it be unfollowing Kim Kardashian on Instagram or joining a new workout class, it is important to make healthy choices that are going to make you feel good about yourself. All bodies are beautiful and worthy of love, no matter the size or shape!

 

References

  1. Lewandowski, Gary W., Nardone, Natalie, & Raines, Alanna J. “The Role of Self-concept Clarity in Relationship Quality.” Self & Identity, Vol. 9(4), 2010. 416-433.
  2.  Mashek, Debra J., & Aron, Arthur. “Handbook of Closeness and Intimacy.”  New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc, 2004.
  3. Perloff, Richard M. “Social Media Effects on Young Women’s Body Image Concerns: Theoretical Perspectives and an Agenda for Research” Springer Science and Business Media. 2014. p. 1-15.
  4. Mayo Clinic Staff. “Weight loss: Choosing a diet that's right for you.” Mayo Clinic. Web. 2019.
  5. Shah, Meera. “Is phentermine a good option for weight loss?” Mayo Clinic. Web. 2019.

Last Updated: 6 March 2019.

 
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