A Look At Four Aspects of Body Image
The healthier our body image, the more resilient we are when our self-esteem is bruised or takes a beating.
There are four aspects to our body image. Knowing these aspects, and considering them separately, can help us assess our body image with clarity, and consider how we might strengthen it.
The Four Aspects of Body Image
1. Perceptual Body Image. The way we envision or picture ourself is a perceptual body image. To perceive the body differently than it actually is creates a distortion. For instance, someone might see themselves as being overweight when they are really slender, or even underweight.
We can support ourselves better by seeing the body as it is, and even if it is not entirely to our liking, accepting what we see. Acceptance is not approval. It is acknowledging the way things are, and working with the body nature gave us.
2. Affective Body Image. Affect is related to the experience of emotion or feelings, so an affective body image is how you feel about your body. The feelings will reflect the satisfaction or dissatisfaction you have about your weight, shape, and different body parts.
It is helpful to stop thinking of liking or disliking the body, and trying to accept it without making judgments. One way to begin doing this is to acknowledge negative thoughts when they arise and silently say, “I let this judgment go.”
3. Cognitive Body Image. Since cognition is thinking, a cognitive body image is our thoughts about our body, or how we think about it. Those who think negatively can become mentally preoccupied with their weight or shape. They may have frequent thoughts such as, “If I was more muscular (or thinner, or shorter) I would be more popular, people would like me better.”
Instead of trying to thing positively about our looks, we can think appreciative thoughts about our body—for the many things it allows us to do.
4. Behavioral Body Image. A behavioral body image refers to how our body image influences our behavior. For instance, if a person is preoccupied with being overweight, they may stop eating or exercise excessively. Should someone dislike their body shape, they might avoid social situations or dress in baggy clothing.
Our behaviors, at the extremes, will tend to either correct what may be uncorrectable, or to lovingly nurture what nature has bestowed. Most people’s behavior falls somewhere between these two poles, but the more nurturing we are the healthier and more resilient we will be.
Photo credit: jb (@flickr)