A Positive Mind Equals a Healthy Body

Have you ever thought about how frequently we are told to change our appearance? Magazines, social media and people around us constantly bicker about how to lose excessive weight. Fat jokes can be heard on television and it has become a norm to criticize someone’s appearance. Body shaming is one of the most commonplace habits practiced by people: criticizing themselves or others, which can lead to a vicious cycle of judgment and disapproval. The subtext of messages spread by the media imply that we should want to change, that we should care about looking slimmer, smaller, tanner and most fashionable. And if we don’t, we worry that we are at risk of being the target of disapproval.

Renee Engeln, a psychology professor at the Northwestern University and the director of the university's Body and Media Lab, says, "We've always cared about appearance, particularly for women … but technology has made the focus stronger than ever."
Body shaming is manifested in several ways – criticizing yourself, criticizing others – but no matter how it is done, it leads to shame and comparison and the idea of judging people only by their appearance. Again, if body shaming is so bad then why is it so common? Why is it that when we are upset, annoyed, or intimidated by someone, we start criticizing their appearance as if by default? In some ways, it feels easier to shoot for something that will hurt, like targeting physical appearance, rather than expressing what is really going on emotionally. Weight is not the most important predictor of health — in fact BMI is a pretty inadequate indicator of how healthy a person is — and factors like nutrition, physical activity, and stress play a more significant role. 
Social comparison theory — people trying to assess how they stack up against others — strongly suggests those who compare themselves to others have a lower body-image perception, lower confidence, lower self-worth and are more likely to develop eating disorders, exercise obsession and use of anabolic steroids (more common for males). Those who have been body shamed are 32% more likely to do the same thing to others, "It's often a learned pattern, so someone has seen a parent do it or other family members or a close friend and then they start body shaming themselves and/or others," says Heidi McBain, marriage and family therapist and author of Life Transitions: Personal Stories of Hope Through Life's Most Difficult Challenges and Changes. She says that the damage to one's psyche and health from being heavy is so great that obesity and overweight must be addressed, especially in children. On the other hand, American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warns parents and others to be careful in addressing the issue with their children. "
Negative motivations make people feel bad and are not as effective. People who face challenges may already struggle with low self-esteem. Being too thin can also be unhealthy — and may lead to body shaming. Janet Ruth Heller, president of the Michigan College English Association, who was bullied as a child for being thin, says, "Because of that daily name-calling, I thought there was something terribly wrong with my body. I did not know how to stop the girl who bullied me because there was a grain of truth in her insult. After school, I would go home and cry." She says, "It took years and psychotherapy for me to heal from these verbal attacks."
"Our society still views fat jokes as acceptable and body shaming happens both egregiously and openly," says Ramani Durvasula, clinical psychologist and media expert.
Parental or health provider focus on size or weight usually kicks off a diet-binge cycle. Children who diet — and even toddlers are sometimes put on diets — may end up weighing more. There is a direct link between obesity and early dieting and it is far more pronounced in children than it is in adults. Parents and others also fail to consider basic biology sometimes and forget that young girls plump up before puberty.
How to Deal with Erroneous Body Image 
The question is how to overcome this issue. Addressing the feelings can make a huge difference. Patients often report how they cannot express their frustration except for body shaming others. Practicing and identifying why you are upset about a situation can help. For example, it’s unlikely that you’re mad at a friend because she’s breaking out, and more likely that you’re upset about a miscommunication or feeling of rejection. Practice thinking, and eventually, verbalizing it. Identify who in your life is body-positive – or even body-neutral. Think of people who celebrate their body for what it can do, and people who refuse to comment on others’ physical appearances?  Spending time with these people can be especially helpful while you are struggling with yourself? Confront those who perpetuate body-shaming. Once you’ve become more aware of your own body-shaming behaviors, you may notice how often your friends, family or co-workers do it. Talk to them and discuss why it bothers you and help them see how it may also be hurtful to them.
Instead of talking about weight, model healthy eating habits, physical activity, positive body image and encourage to eat in ways that are attuned with internal signals of hunger and fullness. Moreover, talk about how to choose food that is enjoyable and make the body feel good, and find physical activity that one can enjoy.
Find what you like about your body. We spend so much time witnessing advertisements about how to make our eyelashes millimeters longer and how to get whiter teeth that it would be nice to counter some of that by celebrating what we do have. Speak your negative thoughts out loud and notice your tone of voice; pay attention to sensations in your body as you speak. As you get to know this inner-bully learn not to entertain its harshness. Finally, take small steps to stay positive, because remember a positive mind equals a healthy body. HH

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