People commonly think of body image as the way we “see” our body—a mental picture of our physical attributes. While this is true, body image also includes how we think and feel about our body, how it feels to be in a physical form, and all the messages we receive about appearance—especially misinformation about the relationship between weight, health, and beauty. It is influenced by how we take care of our body, how other people respond to us, and any medical issues we might have. So, body image is a very important and complex issue for everyone.
As children, we adopt beliefs about how we look based on feedback from family, friends, classmates, and culture. The opinions we develop become ingrained as we age, and unfortunately, those messages are often negative. More than 80% of women and men are dissatisfied with their bodies, although for the majority, this does not dominate their lives. But it does for people with eating disorders. In fact, disliking the body is such a crucial symptom of anorexia nervosa and bulimia that both DSM diagnoses include the criteria that a person’s self-evaluation is “unduly influenced by body shape and weight.”
For someone with an eating disorder, whose body is the battleground where daily wars are fought, improving body image is essential. Your recovery is not complete by simply stopping the food-related behaviors; you must also make peace with your physical self. It’s a package deal. This is because body image and self-image are so closely tied. The approach you take with your body is a reflection of the approach you take with yourself.
So, the best way to improve your body image is to get to know and appreciate who you are as a unique, multidimensional person. Being mindful of your many facets will lessen the emphasis you place on your appearance, while helping you to be grateful for the mystery and miracle of even having a physical form in the first place.
Instead of obsessing about your body, recognize the many ways in which it serves you. Obviously, without it you wouldn’t be alive! It is the house for your mind and spirit, a means to experience pleasure and joy, the vehicle in which you drive through life. It will pass through stages from childhood to old age, and there is nothing you can do to control that process. However, even as your body transforms, who you are at the core of your being remains the same. When you place a higher value on your inner self, you become more accepting of your exterior. You can then appreciate it for taking you on the journey of life itself—a tall order, but entirely possible.
Reprinted with permission from Bulimia: A Guide to Recovery By Lindsey Hall and Leigh Cohn