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Body Image Issues: Causes, Warning Signs & Improving Body-Esteem

Body image issues affect nearly every person at some point in their life. In this post, we break down the basic signs that you or a loved one may be suffering and what to do to help.

Diet culture wants us to believe that thinness is a symbol of power, moral superiority and even a measure of fitness/wellness itself. Unfortunately, few of us have peace of mind when it comes to our bodies and our appearance. No one is immune to the ever-changing cultural beauty standards and the pressures to look a certain way. Many believe that their lives will be magically transformed when their goal weight or dress size has been reached.

This keeps us caught up in the relentless pursuit of thinness—a quest that all too often results in body-shame and body-loathing, low self-esteem, body image disturbances, and eating disorders.

What Is Body Image & Where Does It Come From?

Body image is an extremely complex concept. It goes far beyond simply feeling that “I love my body” or “I hate my body.”

Our body image begins to form at an early age and is influenced by our parents, caregivers, peers, cultures, and life experiences. The development of self-esteem, clear values, a strong identity, the capacity for pleasure, and the ability to connect emotionally to oneself and to others are all linked to a positive body image.

Each of us has a picture of ourselves in our mind’s eye. That image, coupled with our belief about how others perceive us, constitutes our body image.

Body image also involves how we feel living in our bodies. Many individuals, although obsessed with their bodies or individual body parts, have cut themselves off from physical feelings and sensations. Others continue to perceive themselves in outdated images left over from childhood and tend to consistently overvalue and distort their size and shape.

Warning Signs Of Body Image Disturbance

Body image problems occur along a continuum that ranges from mild dissatisfaction to severe body-hatred. Body image disturbance is generally seen in conjunction with self-esteem issues, depression, eating disorders, or trauma.

A person may be suffering from body image disturbance if they:

  • Are unable to accept a compliment
  • Are overly affected in their moods by how they think they look
  • Constantly compare themselves to others
  • Only post edited and/or re-shaped photos on social media or follow accounts that glorify thinness
  • Call themselves disparaging names: “Gross,” “Disgusting” or “Ugly”
  • Attempt to create a “perfect” image
  • Seek constant reassurance from others that their looks are acceptable
  • Consistently distort their body or body parts
  • Believe that if they could attain their goal weight or size, they would be able to accept themselves
  • Subordinate their enjoyment of life’s pleasures or pursuit of personal goals to their drive for thinness
  • Equate thinness with beauty, success, perfection, happiness, confidence, and self-control
  • Compartmentalize their body into parts (thighs, stomach, buttocks, hips, etc.) rather than feeling connected to their whole body
  • Have an ever-present fear of gaining weight, regardless of size
  • Have an overriding sense of shame about themselves and their body

How To Help A Loved One With Negative Body Image

No matter their size or shape, individuals can learn to make peace with their bodies through body neutrality and acceptance. Studies indicate that self-esteem and body-esteem are very closely linked and have little relation to actual physical appearance. Thus, the true indicator of a good body image is high self-esteem—not the ability to fit into a certain size.

Here are some ways you can help someone with a negative body image develop better body-esteem:

  • Base your compliments on attributes other than appearance, size, weight, or shape
  • Eliminate “diet” and weight talk
  • Never joke about or shame anyone because of their weight or size
  • Examine your own attitudes about weight and size
  • Raise your own and others’ consciousness about fat phobia, weight stigma and weight discrimination
  • Believe that a person’s body image distortion is real for them (rather than attention-seeking) and respond with compassion and empathy
  • Be knowledgeable about professional resources for help. These include dietitians, psychologists, body image specialists, etc.
  • Support and honor their core values and passions
  • Discourage dieting or weight-loss fads; instead, broaden your definitions of health and wellness
  • Don’t equate thinness with happiness or success
  • Remember that society’s “ideal” body is an unachievable ploy invented by the diet industry to make money—we are so much more than a body


If you or anyone you know is exhibiting the warning signs of body image disturbance, consider seeking professional treatment from an outpatient therapist or joining a support group. Individual therapy, nutritional counseling, group therapy, and more intensive structured programs are available at all Renfrew locations.

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