Poor body image is fast becoming an issue across the globe especially with the younger generation. In this modern era of technology, focus on body image and selfies it’s no wonder we can get hung up on how we look or how we are perceived by others. The need to belong, dress well, look good and keep up with fashion trends puts many people under pressure financially, socially, emotionally and psychologically.
Social media, peer pressure and society at large has showcased what is classed as ‘desirable’ and ‘undesirable’ the concern is how unrealistic some of these expectations are and how difficult it can be to achieve the ‘perfect look’. With airbrushed images in magazines and painfully thin catwalk models photographed to model make up, clothing and perfume it’s easy to become obsessed with how we look in comparison.
From researching the topic I have discovered that increasingly men are just as affected by poor body image and the impact is widespread with young men and teenagers feeling inadequate, unattractive and becoming obsessed with going to the gym, following specific diets to boost muscle tone and some resorting to steroid use. All in the name of looking good and feeling socially accepted or attractive.
Low self -esteem and low self-worth resulting out of being unhappy with our appearance can cause many side effects, anxiety and depression naming just two. The thing about hating one’s appearance is that it is not limited to the young, indeed it cuts across all ages, races, and cultures, people experience daily self-shaming thoughts about their appearance. We are often our own worst critics and can be so damaging in our views of ourselves. We all live with an ‘inner critic’ it’s that internal voice that only we can hear telling us how awful we look, or that we are ugly, too fat, stupid or unworthy of love. In order to combat these thoughts and change them from harsh, unkind, cold and critical to warm compassionate, caring and accepting we have to first acknowledge the voice exists, and then recognise how damaging it is to our reality. Then effectively cast out the negative voice replacing it with a more loving voice that appreciates and understands the challenges and struggles you face. Allowing yourself permission to stop, hear and reflect on the inner dialogue ongoing inside can help you to realise just how harmful your own thoughts are and how effectively they attack the core of you.
By taking control of that inner critic by expelling it you create the space needed to practice self -compassion and allow yourself to feel warmth and kindness towards yourself. A technique that can be used and may sound a bit odd- but bear with me here- is to look at yourself in the mirror when alone and say out loud to yourself the opposite of what your critical inner voice is saying. For example “I am attractive” or “I am worthy of love” because the only person saying otherwise is often the enemy within, our inner critic.
Our inner critics didn’t just explode into existence out of nowhere they were created by a series of negative events, thoughts or experiences we may have had growing up, that imprinted on our psyche from childhood into adulthood. These thoughts become so familiar that we own them even though they harm us and keep us stuck in negative self- hating positions. We struggle with issues of low self-esteem, humiliation, rejection, and disappointment due to experiences we had in childhood. As children we may have internalised the negative emotions from significant adults around us and looked within ourselves rather than finding fault with adults upon whom we were dependent. Thus beginning the cycle of critical inner thoughts.
In general children are quite receptive to what is happening around them and will often blame themselves for things going wrong- some may blame their physical appearance, feeling that if they had been more attractive then they may have received more love and attention. Others may feel if they had behaved better it may have prevented some family tragedy following a bereavement, parental separation or divorce.
Children develop their sense of being by how significant adults around them perceive them, the messages they give “you’re a good girl because you don’t get angry” or “stop wimpering and man up” these voices are internalised and can become debilitating in adulthood. Not only are adults passing on strong messages of how to behave to be accepted but also how they cope in times of strife. Children role model parents and many parents do not realise how their own low self-esteem can be passed on to their sons and daughters. Picture this scene, a parent preparing to go out with friends wears an outift and then exclaims “gosh I look so ugly in this” and then discards it for another looking at themselves with disgust in the mirror- this could be a mother, father, older sibling- the impact is there. Don’t think for a second that any child witnessing this scene is not taking in the messages about poor body image and so it continues down the line in families from generation to generation.
Conquering the enemy within..
- When you catch yourself thinking negative thoughts, tell yourself to stop being so mean.
- Don’t let the inner critic beat you down emotionally, stand up against it and recognise it for the bully it is.
- Know your worth, value and respect yourself, if somebody else said those hurtful things to you- you wouldn’t stand for it- so why allow your own voice the pleasure?
- Flip the script, whatever the inner voice says- you externalise and be objective about it. So if the inner voice says “I am so ugly” externalise it by saying “you are so ugly” and allow yourself to hear the words it will highlight how cruel this inner voice can be and how it is an enemy not a true reality.
- Write down responses that are more compassionate and accepting of yourself “I am not ugly, I have lovely features”
- Never give in to the inner critic- don’t despair or feel defeated by it. If it tells us not to bother changing because we will never succeed then do the opposite- take control of your life and make the changes you want to make you feel stronger and more confident. Just persevere and overcome that negative voice inside. Don’t give it power by listening and acting according to it. It will eventually fade out.
- Remember you are not alone in this struggle, just about every person in existence is battling with their own inner critics and waging their own inner wars in battles that you may never come to know about. So be kind, compassionate, and accepting not just to others but first and foremost to yourself.