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Body Image & Mental Health: Part 2


Illustration of nine diverse bodies

Body image is an integral part of identity and it impacts how you feel about yourself and how you navigate through the world.  How your body image and mental health intersect and interact with each other can present challenges when it comes to how you feel about yourself and what you deserve. 


This piece is part of a series, and here we will be discussing who can be disproportionately affected by poor body image, how challenges with body image can show up in behaviour, and how to start setting the stage for a healthy body image.


Who Does Poor Body Image Affect?


Everybody is affected by body image, regardless of factors such as gender, sexuality, ethnicity, age, and/or socioeconomic status.  All of us have a concept of what we look like to the world, and any of us can struggle with body image at different points in our lives.  There are some factors that are associated with more body image challenges, and this include (but are not limited to):


  • Femmes and women-identifying people

  • Younger people (adolescents, teens, young adults)

  • People of colour, especially living in a society where ideals associated with whiteness is normalized as the standard

  • People living with disabilities, both visible and invisible

  • LGBTQIA2+ folks

  • Trans, non-binary, and gender diverse people


Intersectionality involves looking at how overlapping (intersecting) identities interact under systems of oppression, domination, and/or discrimination.  In applying an intersectional way of thinking to these different aspects of our identities, we can see how some people may be vulnerable to negative body image.  This matters because (as discussed in the first piece of this series) poor body image is associated with mental and emotional health challenges.


When Body Image Affects Behaviour


We have established that poor body image can have damaging effects on mood, stress levels, self esteem and confidence.  These things matter, and anything that presents a challenge to your wellness and daily functioning is something that deserves attention and care.  If you’re feeling down about yourself and your body image, that is reason enough to reach out for support.   Behavioural changes are another area to focus on when it comes to poor body image.  Some behavioural changes that may be a response to poor body image and the stress associated with a negative self concept include:


  • Changes in food and eating behaviours - dieting, food tracking, food restriction, bingeing, purging, labeling foods as “good” and “bad” or “allowed” and “not allowed”, hoarding of foods, a general preoccupation with or hyper focus on foods

  • Changes in physical activity - overexercising, tracking of physical activity, avoidance of physical activity, disinterest in activities someone previously enjoyed, feeling shy/unconfident about physical movement, a general preoccupation with or hyper focus on physical activity

  • Isolation - avoiding social situations with others, avoiding situations where one’s body might be on display (like at a pool, in a locker room), a withdrawal from people you care about

  • Self-harm - cutting, burning, hitting, picking, or pinching oneself can be some examples of self-harm


If you notice the emergence of these behaviours in yourself or in someone you care about, it’s time to talk about getting some support. 


Basics of Healthier Body Image


In this piece we looked at how body image can be affected by various factors related to identity, and how behaviours can change when body image is poor.  It is important to remember that while body image can be damaged, body image can also be restored.  Think of your body image as a garden - if you take time to prepare it, to invest in it, to care for it, and to check in on it, you are setting the foundation for a bountiful future.  By setting the tone for a better body image, you can set yourself up for a brighter future when it comes to behaviour, mood, stress management, and general mental/emotional wellness.  The next piece in this series is going to help you set a foundation for a healthier, happier body image and the benefits that can provide.  By being intentional about the messages you absorb, by surrounding yourself with people who build you up, and by learning to be a fan of yourself, you can set a positive foundation for your body image and all the positives that accompany it.


This post is part of a series about body image and mental health. If these topics are resonating with you, consider reaching out to a member of our team to schedule a free consultation to explore how therapy can help. 

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