Self-esteem and body image start in the mind and not in the mirror. Unrealistic beauty standards set by social and mass media have us all obsessing in the mirror criticizing our figure, weight, complexion and hair. But who sets these standards? And who said beauty equals confidence and worth?
What is Self-Esteem?
Self-esteem is a subjective sense of how we feel about our personal worth or value. In simpler terms, it is our overall evaluation of ourselves. Many factors influence our self-esteem; being loved, feeling heard and successful. However, being criticized or feeling ignored can have a negative impact on our self-esteem and body image.
Low self-esteem has dire consequences for individuals. It can lead to self-sabotage, poor decision-making, and unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substance abuse. Additionally, individuals with low self-esteem may struggle with personal relationships, especially in romantic partnerships or friendships.
Low self-esteem can manifest as clinginess, jealousy, and a need for constant validation from others. In the workplace, low self-esteem can manifest as a lack of confidence in one’s abilities, making it harder to advance in a career.
On the other hand, high self-esteem can significantly increase an individual’s quality of life. High self-esteem can lead to greater emotional resilience and healthier reactions to stressors.
It can lead to more fulfilling romantic relationships, where individuals are confident and secure in themselves. In the workplace, individuals with high self-esteem are more likely to take risks and speak up, leading to career advancement.
What is Body Image?
Body image is the perception a person has of their physical self and the thoughts and feelings that result from that perception (National Eating Disorders Collaboration, 2017).
Body image is relevant to how we perceive our appearance and attractiveness. However, our perception of our body does not always reflect reality. From healthy to unhealthy, a person’s relationship with their body can vary.
Body Image & Self-Esteem
How we perceive our bodies can have a significant influence on our self-esteem, mood, relationships and behavior; both inside and outside of the workplace.
Negative body image can influence the development of body dysmorphia, eating disorders, depression, low self-esteem, decreased motivation and other mental health illnesses. Individuals may have concerns about their, weight, size, height, shape or appearance of a specific body part. However, body image is not just associated with what we see in the mirror. Research has shown body-image is highly influenced by our self-esteem and confidence levels (Mellor, et, al., 2010).
Positive body image is associated with one being able to accept, appreciate, and respect your body for how its looks and what it can do. Research has shown individuals with higher levels of self-esteem and confidence are associated with positive body image; recognizing that their self-esteem and worth is not merely defined or limited by their appearance (Szabó, 2015). Healthy body image is associated with having a perception of one’s physical self that is stable and emulates compassion, self-esteem and self-love.
Body image is complex. An individual’s body image can fluctuate between positive and negative, as body image can concern people of all ages, genders, non-genders, cultures and ethnicities. Body image has shown to be heavily influenced by various factors such as culture, media, family environment and our peers (Barlett et al, 2008; Uchôa, et al., 2019;). These influences try to tell us what we should look like and how we should live our lives. Hence, who we spend time with and the media we consume can have an influence on our self-esteem and body image.
Research has shown that people who experience negative body image are more likely to experience low self-esteem and engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as disordered eating and compulsive exercise.
Conversely, individuals with positive body image are more likely to have high self-esteem and engage in healthy behaviors, such as regular exercise and a balanced diet.
Social Media Influence
It’s important we are aware of the impact social and cultural standards of beauty are having on our mental and physical health. We must also be mindful of the role we play in maintaining these standards in our own lives.
What is your most liked physical feature? This is probably not a question you think about much. Though, if I asked you to name something you didn’t like about your physical appearance, the answer might come to mind quicker. The media has us constantly comparing ourselves to models, fitness influencers and celebrities, judging our bodies and lifestyles in comparison to theirs.
This often ends up with individuals criticizing themselves for not being able to complete 20,000 steps or attend a gym daily or having that ideal ‘muscular’ or ‘thin’ physic. These social comparisons, often neglect the fact we have to work, maintain our relationships, upkeep essential chores and look after our families.
Social media creates a culture of comparison. With the ability to constantly compare ourselves to others’ highlight reels, it is easy to feel inadequate in comparison. Additionally, social media is curated – only the most polished and perfected aspects of one’s life are shared. This leads to a skewed and unrealistic view of reality.
It’s unrealistic and unethical to expect ourselves to ‘do it all’. For most influencers and celebrities, their gruelling work-out routines are a part of their job and their schedule and support system facilitate this lifestyle. Even more so, it’s important to critical asses the content you are exposed to through the media is often not a true reflection of reality.
Taking this into consideration, it’s important that we realise, we are all individuals, living our own unique lives and have our own responsibilities. Hence, this social comparison behaviour can result in us imposing restrictive and unrealistic routines that can harm our mental and physical health.
Social media can also promote self-objectification and hyper-sexualization. In a hyper-connected world where “sex sells,” it is easy to become preoccupied with appearance and sexualized portrayals of one’s self. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy or inadequacy in areas of one’s life beyond appearance.
Tips for improving Self-Esteem and Body Image
Body image and self-esteem are not fixated. The way we think about our body impacts the way we feel, and how we behave. Improving our self-esteem calls us to look upon our current routines and critically asses what is maintaining our negative body image.
Here are some tips on how to rethink body image and improve your self-esteem:
1. Start by decluttering your social medias feeds.
Limit your exposure. Think about who you are following on social media apps. How do these people and their posts make you feel? Do they reflect reality? If these accounts are having a negative influence on your self-esteem and body image consider muting or unfollowing these accounts. Diversify and curate a feed that promotes positive wellbeing by following body positivity accounts and people whose posts make you feel good.
2. Avoid comparing yourself to others.
Understand that not everything we see on social and mass media is real. Avoid comparing your body to that of influential figures, your family, friends and work colleagues. Instead of criticising or judging yourself, pay yourself a compliment. We all have an inner-critic, try to recognise when your thoughts are unhelpful or unkind. Practice reframing this negative self-talk by making a list of things you like or appreciate about your body. If you’re finding this exercise difficult, ask a friend to help!
3. Learn to love yourself.
Embrace your uniqueness. We have to be proactive and engage in meaningful change if we want to improve our self-esteem and body image. Note your trigger situations and reflect on your thoughts. Shut down the internal conversations that tell you your body is not “right” or that you are a “bad” person. Think about what you would say to respond to a friend who was thinking this way? Keep practicing body positivity, mindfulness, compassion and self-care.
4. Wear clothes you feel comfortable in.
Avoid wearing clothes that make you feel self-conscious or uncomfortable. Declutter your wardrobe and throw out the clothes that don’t fit or you use to hide your body. Respect your body. Curate a wardrobe that makes you feel good about yourself and your body.
Your clothes can have a massive impact on your confidence levels. When you wear clothes that fit well, are comfortable, and complement your body type, you feel confident and comfortable in your skin.
Wearing clothes that make you feel good about yourself can help you feel positive and confident in who you are and how you look. This sense of confidence can have a cascading effect on other aspects of your life, such as your productivity, relationships, and even your mental health.
5. Define goals, ensure they are reasonable, ethical and measurable.
Don’t compare your lifestyle to that of others. While it is imperative to lead a healthy lifestyle, avoid restrictive diets or exercise regimes. Eat a healthy and plentiful diet, exercise regularly, and rest enough so you can fully enjoy the present moment.
Speak with your doctor before changing your diet or exercise routine to ensure your goals are attainable and safe.
6. Tap into your support network.
Before diving into the importance of a supportive network, we must first define what it is. A support network can consist of friends, family, mentors, acquaintances, or even online communities that offer a positive and uplifting environment.
Essentially, it’s a group of individuals who are there to support and encourage us through life’s ups and downs. It’s important to cultivate a network that values positivity and wellness, as we’re often influenced by those around us.
Lean on your family and friends for support. Surround yourself with people who appreciate you for who you are. Spending time with people who make us feel good about ourselves boosts our self-esteem and we are less likely to base our self-worth off societal beauty standards.
7. Reach out for support.
Know your limitations, it’s ok to feel ‘stuck’ or to be unsure of how to manage low self-esteem or negative body image. Seek the advice or support of a medical professional with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.
Sometimes, no matter how supportive our network is, we may need professional help to work through body image issues. Seeking help from a therapist, counselor, or even a dietician can be instrumental in achieving a positive body image.
Here are support-lines in Ireland than can offer you support in times of crisis:
- Bodywhys 1890 622212 (disordered eating)
- Text ‘HELP’ to 50808 (crisis)
- Emergency 999 (crisis)
Zevo Health host many trainings on various nutrition and mental health topics that help enhance an individuals self esteem.